I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2010-11: Amending Report 2010-11 (House of Commons Paper No. 47), which was laid before this House on 10 June, be approved.
The Government’s top priority is to reduce the unprecedented budget deficit that this country faces. As a first step towards achieving that aim, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 24 May a £6 billion package of savings across the public sector. The Home Office share of this spending reduction is £367 million. In order to minimise the impact on the police service, the Home Office has cut a greater than proportionate share of its central budget by bearing down significantly on overheads and reducing waste, including cuts to consultancy services, marketing costs and travel. National policing organisations have been required to make significant savings too. For example, the National Policing Improvement Agency will make a saving of £40 million this year, on top of a £73 million saving already planned for this year. That is a greater proportionate cut than we are asking police forces to make.
However, the police account for well over half of Home Office spending, so we cannot make the necessary savings at the centre alone. We need the police to contribute to the drive to efficiency. On 27 May, I announced my intention to reduce this year’s core Government funding to the police by a total of £135 million. I propose that this will mostly be achieved by a £115 million reduction in rule 2 grant, for which the Government today seek the House’s approval. Those proposed reductions to police funding are fair and reasonable. Every force is treated equally, with a cut equivalent to 1.46% of their core funding from central Government.
Obviously the Minister regards those reductions as fair and reasonable; others might not regard them in that light. At the end of the day, he must have received some advice from his officials, so will we have fewer police officers on the front line as a result of what the Government propose to do?
We do not believe that there need be fewer police officers as a consequence of the savings that we are asking the House to approve today, for the simple reason that, as I said, the savings amount to less than 1.5% of the core funding that forces receive from central Government. Police forces can make those savings and the front line can be protected.
My right hon. Friend clearly makes the point that there will be equal cuts throughout the country, yet the previous situation meant a massive imbalance thanks to corrupt formula funding and the damping effect, which affects my county of Northamptonshire immensely unfavourably. Will he consider the matter and tell the people of Northamptonshire that he will review formula funding and remove the damping process?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and hear the passion with which he intervenes on me. The purpose of damping was to ensure that no force received less than a minimum increase in funding each year and therefore to provide financial stability, but I appreciate the concerns about the process, not least from forces such as my hon. Friend’s in Northamptonshire, which feel that they have lost out by subsidising others. It has been the intention for some time—it was the intention of the previous Government—to remove the damping mechanism, and I shall look again at those issues and the position of individual forces once we know the situation in the spending review, to which I shall come. I shall try to ensure fairness, but I should say to my hon. Friend and to right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House that there is no pot of gold or easy solution to the situation that all forces currently face and will face. Whatever the funding formula and the adjustments, we and every force will all have to make significant savings, and I should not pretend otherwise to my hon. Friend.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in constituencies such as mine, where the police are already having to make efficiencies, these further efficiencies—of £6 million throughout Wales, I think—will inevitably lead to cuts in front-line policing, and that, alongside cuts in education, which will lead to more drug abuse, and cuts in the number of public service workers, which will lead to unemployment, there will be greater pressure on the police and fewer police to sort out that pressure? Will we not see an increase in crime, as we did under the previous Conservative Government?
No. I accept no part of what the hon. Gentleman says. We are talking about in-year cuts in relation to police forces of less than 1.5% of their Government funding, and we do not believe that that will mean that police forces have to cut front-line services. We believe that forces can make efficiencies, albeit in in-year services, so we do not believe that it will impact on crime levels. Indeed, I should say that the reason we have to make these savings is this Government’s inheritance from the previous Government, which left us with a budget deficit. It is our responsibility to tackle it, and if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have concerns about future police funding levels, they should address them to their right hon. Friends who were in charge of the country’s Exchequer and finances, and who supported the misjudgments that have left us all in this position.
Obviously we want an honest debate that is essentially focused on the evidence. Is it therefore noteworthy that on 20 April the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), specifically ruled out guaranteeing that police numbers would stay the same or increase? That is important for Opposition Members to take into account.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. On 20 April, in a “Daily Politics” general election debate, the right hon. Gentleman, now the shadow Home Secretary, was asked in terms whether he could guarantee that police numbers would not fall if Labour formed the next Government. He replied, “No.” He could not offer any such guarantee. But more than that, we know that the Labour Government were planning—indeed, we inherited spending plans—to cut departmental budgets by £44 billion a year by 2014-15. That would have been £44 billion of unallocated spending cuts. Where did they think they were going to get that money from? What services were they going to cut? They would not tell us, but the figure implied an average real reduction for unprotected Departments of 20%. Let us be clear: where cuts have to be made to police forces, they are Labour’s cuts; they are the cuts that Labour bequeathed to us because of its financial mismanagement.
We will shortly say more about the policy of directly elected individuals. It was a manifesto commitment that we made, and that reform will be valuable in protecting front-line policing and neighbourhood policing. I shall come on to that shortly, if the right hon. Lady will forgive me.
Does the Minister accept that 50% of a police officer’s time is actually spent at the police station doing paperwork, and that if we get rid of such paperwork and targets we will get more police out on the street and therefore save the taxpayer money?
I strongly agree. There would be little point in recruiting additional police officers—if we had the budget to do so, and we do not—if they did not spend their time out on the beat, delivering the visible and available policing that the public want. One paradox of the past 10 years is that, in spite of a substantial increase in police officer recruitment, the public still feel that the police are not sufficiently visible or available.
What discussions has the Minister had with Boris Johnson about the impact of these cuts in London? I ask in the context of the Mayor having already decided to cut 455 police officers, and refusing to guarantee the long-term future of safer neighbourhood teams in each London borough.
I have discussed these matters with the deputy Mayor who has responsibility for policing. I shall discuss them with the Mayor, and I have had a number of discussions, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. They do not believe that the budget cuts, which the House will vote on today, amounting to—I repeat—less than 1.5% of what the Government provide to forces, require them to reduce the number of officers in the force. However, we will take no lessons about cutting police numbers from Opposition Members, as they clearly would not guarantee force levels and left this Government with the responsibility of managing the public finances properly.
When my local police make an arrest, it takes them seven hours to complete the paperwork. There are great savings to be made in police time, and some of that work can surely be passed to civilians. There are savings to be made, but we can still keep front-line police on the beat.
I agree. Of course there are savings to be made through more efficient working practices. We are determined to try to drive down bureaucracy in order to free up more police time, and there will be better management of police officers’ time. For instance, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner pointed out this week that he had increased the availability and visibility of the police by requiring officers to patrol individually rather than in pairs.
I am going to make some more progress, if my hon. Friends and others will forgive me.
I made this announcement at the earliest opportunity to enable forces to plan ways of managing reductions that will not impact on the front line of policing. I am aware that forces will have slightly less money this year than they expected, but this is still £124 million more grant funding than was received last year. Let me repeat: even after this reduction in grant, police forces will still have more cash this year than they did last year, and Government funding for the police in this financial year will be £9.6 billion. To put the grant reduction further in context, it represents, for every force, less than 1% of their expected spend this year.
It is for chief constables to use their expertise to decide what savings make most sense for their force, but I am quite clear that these can be achieved by driving out wasteful spending on support functions, reducing bureaucracy and increasing efficiency in key functions, leaving the front line of policing strong and secure. We expect forces to be held to this by their police authorities and by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, ensuring that they are delivering the most effective service possible.
It will not be comfortable to stand up and defend the reduction of almost £1 million in the police grant for Wiltshire. However, we can see that this process offers enormous opportunities to improve efficiency. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees, for example, that police forces waste about £400 million a year by not procuring together. We have 43 police forces which all buy their own uniforms, all in the same shade of blue, thanks to the fact that Labour Members taught them that money was a free commodity. Police forces waste about £17,000 a day on renting cars because they procure them separately. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are enormous efficiency opportunities, the value of which could be about £10 million for each police force in the country?
Order. Before the Minister responds, may I say, first, that I hope the hon. Lady will now have an opportunity to breathe, which would be a very healthy thing; and secondly, that I encourage Members who intervene to bear in mind that the total duration of the debate is three hours?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Of course there are greater opportunities for the 43 forces to share services and to procure collectively. I will say more about that later, if she will forgive me.
I promised, perhaps unwisely, to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley.
I agree with everything that the Minister has said so far: nothing that he is announcing today will in itself cause a problem to the police. My concern is not what he is saying but things said by other Ministers that will drive up pressures on the police. For example, the Secretary of State for Justice has decided not to send persistent offenders to prison but to let them out into the community, and to stop the police using CCTV and DNA to their full capacity. Does my right hon. Friend accept that these things are putting upward pressures on the police that are not consistent with what he is announcing?
I knew that it was a mistake to give way to my hon. Friend. He must not inadvertently misrepresent what my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary said about the use of imprisonment. We have said that we must do more to reduce reoffending. Reoffending rates, particularly in relation to short-term prison sentences, are far too high. We must break the cycle of crime. That means doing far more, innovatively, to ensure that offenders can be supervised and supported using “payment by results” models. I am sure that when my hon. Friend investigates that more closely, he will welcome the radicalism in what we are saying.
The Government will play their part in helping to protect the front line by reducing the burden of bureaucracy on forces, which several of my hon. Friends have mentioned. The Home Secretary has already announced that we will scrap the central targets, overt and back-door, that have bedevilled policing, and we are reviewing the nature of force inspection with the same aim. Labour’s 10-point policing pledge will go. The previous Government spent £6 million of taxpayers’ money on promoting that pledge, including on totally misleading advertisements that claimed that 80% of police time would be spent on the beat—adverts that were censured by the Advertising Standards Authority. We know what that pledge was about—propaganda and spin. That discredited Government have gone, and so has their approach.
In place of the centralised, bureaucratic accountability of the past decade, which undermined professionalism and added cost, we will introduce local democratic accountability. The introduction of directly elected individuals in 2012, together with a new focus on outcomes rather than processes, will not only strengthen the links between the police and public but unshackle police forces from Whitehall’s tick-box tyranny. We want the police to be crime fighters, not form writers. We want forces to work for local people, not for Whitehall officials or Westminster politicians.
As regards the democratic election of these police officers, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a danger, first, that they will no longer engage with the wider democracy of MPs, Assembly Members, councillors and so on; and secondly, that they will be hijacked by a small group about a niche issue and ignore some of the important things that the police do, such as counter-terrorism?
No, I do not believe that either of those two things is a risk. In relation to London, for instance, we now have policing arrangements that Members of Parliament in London find it perfectly possible to engage with, and we have a system whereby those who are responsible for supervising policing still attend to the functions of policing that reach beyond the local. It is perfectly possible to institute a more democratic arrangement that addresses that requirement. The important point is that there is an exchange in this regard. If we want to reduce the amount of central direction on policing and free the police to take more decisions for themselves and to have the ability to manage their forces and address local issues, then the police must answer to someone, and that is why we propose to enhance local accountability.
Unlike the deficit deniers, the Minister has pointed out that there is no golden pot of money. Can he confirm that the previous Government wasted £500 million on the idea of forced police mergers, and that there is a far more efficient way of providing the democratic accountability that our police service needs and directing the money to the front-line policing that we need?
I agree with my hon. Friend, who had experience of the problem of force mergers as leader of West Sussex county council, where such a merger was strongly resisted. Huge sums of money were wasted by the previous Government on attempting, and failing, to drive that policy through. That is not a course that this Government will pursue.
I am going to make a little more progress.
Of course, the challenge of tackling the deficit does not end this year; as we go forward, it will be vital for the police to deliver better value for money. The Government’s spending review will report in October, and we will not know until then what future police funding will look like. However, the Chancellor made it clear that unprotected Departments, including the Home Office, will face spending reductions, implying an average real cut of around 25% over the next four years. Whatever the outcome of the spending review, value for money considerations will become a new imperative for police authorities and forces.
We have been working constructively with the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss how forces can meet the considerable challenge of reducing spending on this scale. Our joint ambition is to do everything possible to protect front-line services. We appreciate the importance of police functions that the public do not always see. Those can still be front-line services, but as I have repeated to chief constables, the people’s priority is to maintain visible and available policing, and that is what we must all strive to protect.
The Northumbria police force is expected to make in-year cuts in the region of £3.5 million this year, which causes great concern to people in my constituency. We all experienced the massive manhunt in Northumberland only last week, which ended on Saturday morning. It has cost Northumbria police something in the region of £3 million, making a double whammy of about £6.5 million. Does the Minister agree that that is unsustainable, and will he review the initial £3.5 million cut?
I do not think it would be appropriate to review the spending reduction that we are asking every force to make on an equitable basis, which we announced some weeks ago subject to the approval of the House. However, there are special arrangements that can apply in relation to unforeseen expenditure by police forces. Northumbria police and its authority are well aware of that, and we will happily discuss the matter with them.
The Government’s view is that more can be done to achieve greater value for money in policing through national procurement, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes suggested, and through sharing services, outsourcing and working more efficiently. If 43 forces can buy equipment more cheaply together, we can no longer allow anything to stand in the way of that. If tasks can be performed just as well or better by civilian staff, and so reduce costs and release sworn officers for other duties, ideology should not stand in the way. If some forces can use modern systems to improve business processes, so can others, and if some forces can show that collaborating with each other or with other local agencies delivers savings, others can take the same path. We need to see new solutions, innovation and strong local leadership. The first resort must be to drive out cost and the last resort must be reductions in police numbers.
Yes, I have had the misfortune to read all the previous Government’s documents. The problem is that despite the suggestion that greater savings could be achieved, for instance through collaboration, it has not always happened. Today we find ourselves in a different environment in which forces and authorities face a new imperative to find those savings. The Government are willing to ensure that those savings will be made, in return for greater local accountability.
The quid pro quo for returning power and enabling far greater local decision making is that we will be tougher about driving savings through central procurement, and about collaboration between forces where it is clear that there is a policing need—for instance in relation to serious crime that crosses force borders—or that by working together, forces can achieve better value for money. We do not support the compulsory merger of forces, as I reaffirmed to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), but a great deal more can and must be done through enhanced collaboration.
The Government have also already announced a full review of remuneration and conditions of service for police officers and staff. We want to ensure that pay and conditions support the delivery of an excellent service and provide value for money, so that they are right for both those who work in the service and the public. Spending on the work force accounts for about 80% of police expenditure. It is therefore right to examine carefully arrangements such as the use of overtime. We will provide more information about the review, including its timing, shortly, but we will expect it to report by January next year.
No, I am going to draw to a conclusion now, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I know that many Members wish to speak.
This Government inherited a £155 million budget deficit, one of the worst in Europe and the largest in our peacetime history. This country cannot sustain a situation in which, without action, in five years’ time we will be spending over three times more on debt interest alone than on the entire criminal justice system. Achieving savings will mean driving value for money and delivering more for less. The criminal justice system, including policing, is no more immune from those imperatives than any other public service.
It is our responsibility to tackle the deficit, restore the health of the public finances and ensure that we are able to fund high-quality public services in the years ahead. We have not ducked that responsibility. It means taking tough decisions but the right decisions, and it means showing leadership. Chief constables and police authorities must show leadership, too, in demanding the savings that we can all make. For those reasons, I commend the proposal to the House.
I welcome the Minister to his position. He will know that it is an excellent job to have, and it is one that I certainly enjoyed in government. He has great support in the Home Office from a fine team of officials and staff in doing that job.
Having got the niceties out of the way, I come to the crunch. I am disappointed and unhappy about the approach that the Minister has taken to the in-year funding cuts for allocations to police authorities in England and Wales for 2010-11. There are a number of new Members in their places, and I do not think that they will realise that this debate was held, done and dusted, in the House in February. We had a debate then on the 2010-11 police grant. I stood at the Government Dispatch Box when we debated the third year of a settlement for the police in England and Wales. We had already announced the three-year settlement two years before, and the House was to confirm the third year on 3 February.
At that time, I challenged the Liberal Democrat spokesman, who sat where my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) is sitting today, and the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), who was sitting where I am now. I asked whether, if they were in government in any way, shape or form—much to my surprise, the Liberals have found themselves in that position—they would reduce or change this year’s grant. The answer was that they would not. In fact, the Liberal Democrats called for more spending on the police—a point that I shall return to later. Our proposals for the third year of the agreed settlement were supported by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in opposition but are now opposed and torn up by them in government.
One of the most distressing aspects of the debate is the fact that the third-year settlement has been agreed, is known and has been put to police authorities across England and Wales. Police authorities went into their precept-setting meetings in February, March and April based on that grant and on what they expected their income from Government to be for 2010-11.
The right hon. Gentleman is moving to the crux of the issue, despite his engaging and emollient beginning. We would take his protestations slightly more seriously if his own Government had brought forward a comprehensive spending review last autumn, and specifically if the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) had ruled out cuts in police numbers during the election campaign. Neither happened, so we have to take the right hon. Gentleman’s protestations with a pinch of salt.
I look forward to the hon. Gentleman voting today to reduce Cambridgeshire’s policing grant by £1.2 million. That is what he will be doing. He needs to go back to Cambridgeshire and explain to the residents of Peterborough why he is voting to reduce the budget by £1.2 million this year. I and my 257 colleagues on the Labour Benches stood on a manifesto commitment to ensure that policing resources were maintained after the general election. We won our seats on that basis, and we are being consistent in putting forward our arguments today. The hon. Gentleman is voting to remove money from his police force.
I look forward to the hon. Gentleman going back to Crawley and telling the people how he voted today to remove £2.4 million from West Sussex police’s budget. I look forward to him explaining that, and I am sure that he is looking forward to that discussion.
I have already started to explain to many of my constituents, who have of course been writing and e-mailing, why we have to reduce the police support grant. Most people understand that there is no money, thanks to the Labour party’s disastrous economic policy. Labour Members have been unspecific about where they would cut. This is the sort of ideology that led to the former Cabinet’s conclusion that the Labour Government were “finished”, “futile” and—finally in opposition. People are looking for an engaged and informed discussion about what we can do to get the deficit under control.
I look forward to the people of Devizes learning that the hon. Lady has voted for £1 million to be cut from their police grant—unless my speech convinces her to vote with Labour Members to oppose those cuts. She asked an important question about what the Labour party would do to reduce the deficit. We went into the election campaign with clear commitments. Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Members did not oppose the settlement that we debated on 3 February; we agreed the grants for this year in February. For future years, we agreed that we would spend money above the rate of inflation on policing, health and education, and make the savings that we needed through a deficit reduction plan for other matters.
Does my right hon. Friend remember his visit to Harrow police station in January to hear from yet another borough commander about the need for a new police station to help Harrow police do the job that they need to do? Does he share my disappointment that the cuts will reduce the capital available to the Metropolitan police, and are probably yet another excuse for the Mayor of London to continue to refuse to help Harrow police get the equipment and facilities that they need to do their job?
Today’s cuts not only reduce the capital budget but take some £28 million from London’s budget. I believe that the Mayor is still one Boris Johnson, who has already agreed not to raise the precept this year. That means a real cut not only, through inflation, on the precept, but in the grant.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that suggesting that today’s cuts and the huge cuts to come can be achieved by getting rid of backroom staff who apparently do nothing is a cruel deception of the British people? There will be more pressure on front-line police to do the jobs that civilian staff currently undertake.
My hon. Friend is right. Not only that, but he knows that some 80% to 85% of all policing costs are for police officers and staffing. Today’s reduction, and potential future reductions, will hit staff hard.
Police forces have set their precepts on the basis of the grant agreed in February, so they will now find it difficult to fulfil their strategic commitments this year. Cutting services and police numbers ultimately cuts the ability to reduce crime. I am particularly disappointed, given that Members called for support for the police during their election campaigns, that members of the coalition will go back on their commitments and vote through this unfair cut today.
I pay tribute to the police’s excellent work. They work under extreme pressures, risking their safety to keep us safe. Often, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck said, they have to deal with severe emergencies. We want to ensure that we give—as we did in government—the police the powers and resources to get on with their job. As a result of investment under the Labour Government, there were record numbers of police on our streets—17,000 more police officers than when we came to power in 1997—cutting crime and making our communities safer. We have some 16,000 police community support officers—positions that did not exist when the Labour Government came to power—engaged with communities and helping reduce crime. Consequently, crime fell by 36%. In the past year alone, car crime, robbery and burglary were down. Even in a recession, firearm offences decreased by 17%, robbery was down 5%, and overall crime reduced by 5% last year. The chances of being a victim were the lowest since records began. Confidence in policing was nearly 60% and rose over the year. Labour Members fought the election on a manifesto commitment to give the police the resources to maintain that record, to ensure that they had funding and to continue that investment for the next three years.
The Minister’s points about efficiencies did not escape the Labour Government. There were real concerns about how to get best value for the Government’s police funding. That is why I referred to the White Paper that we produced last December, which examined cutting police overtime by some £500 million; ensuring support for merging back-office functions properly and effectively, and supporting the voluntary merger of forces. We got burned by the forced merger but wanted to ensure that voluntary mergers went ahead. We accordingly supported voluntary mergers of forces. I allocated £500,000 to Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire to consider how to develop such a merger in due course. I note that the Minister for Housing, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), opposes such a merger. So much for concerted activity on backroom costs.
We considered national procurement, which the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) mentioned. I initiated national procurement proposals for the next few years for uniforms, vehicle support and air support. We considered removing resources and saving around £1 billion from that budget while maintaining the provision of more money to support forces’ crime-fighting activities.
On force mergers, does my right hon. Friend agree that it was a question not only of saving money, but of operational efficiency? We have too many police forces that do not have the capacity to deal with serious organised crime. We face that threat alongside what happens in our neighbourhoods and on our streets. The cut in grant will have an even greater impact on that work, but we must also consider structures that inhibit effective policing on such serious matters.
My right hon. Friend is right. She knows that serious organised crime often requires a cross-border, regional approach. Crime in my area of north Wales is, sadly, often generated from Manchester and Liverpool, and the forces need to co-operate—and they do—to tackle those problems. Regional co-operation is particularly important for tackling terrorism, and it will be hit not only by spending cuts this year, but by the potential for cuts in future years.
The right hon. Gentleman said that in the 13 years for which his party was in government, it took waste seriously. Why, therefore, at the end of that time, did we still have separate procurement, the cost of which the Home Office estimates to be more than £400 million a year?
Again, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the White Paper. We considered a range of things in the 13 years. In the year that I was Police Minister, from last July, I initiated procurement proposals on uniforms, vehicles, air support and other matters. Procurement is one of the subjects about which we are very concerned. There are savings to be made on it; that is a matter of common agreement.
I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. I agree with him that there are savings to be made on, for example, uniforms, vehicles and air support. We were trying to do that, and I will fully support the Minister’s attempts to get those contracts. However, that does not detract from the fact that the core grant for this year, which we agreed in February—without a vote, with Conservative and Liberal Democrat support—is being cut today. And we face further cuts down the line because of cuts in the Home Office grant.
The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. He was candid earlier when he said that the Labour Government were burned over the mergers. They were burned because there was no consultation and a top-down approach was forced on individual forces. Ten, eight or six years ago, the previous Government could have given police forces a fiscal incentive to share back-office functions, procurement, equipment and so on, but they failed to do that. That is a fair point to make to inform today’s debate on budget reductions.
Let us revert to the subject before us. I think that there is scope for mergers of police forces. As a Minister, I encouraged the provision of a grant of £500,000 to help move that process on. I agree with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) that we were burned by forced mergers. I wish the Minister a fair wind if he can continue to encourage forces that, with local support, want to merge. Mergers should not be forced from the centre, but agreed locally. Let us not disagree about that.
Labour supported mergers and procurement measures when in government, and I support the Minister for Police on them in opposition. The key is that we still require resources to undertake policing. This year, resources are being cut in-year, despite an agreed settlement; the 25% that might be cut in future years will also be damaging. That will have a serious impact on crime generally. I do not very often agree with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), as I am sure the Minister does not, but he knew what he was talking about on DNA, CCTV, appropriate prison sentences, reducing reoffending and investment in police. He is right on those issues, and the Conservative party will be proved wrong.
All MPs value the increases in police officers in their constituencies in the past 13 years. Today’s cut could result in the loss of about 4,100 officers from our streets this year alone, according, I should tell the Minister, to House of Commons Library figures.
With due respect to the hon. Lady, I think I know the Labour party manifesto better than she, so we can stick with that for the moment.
Today’s reduction means a £3.5 million cut for Northumbria police, which will interest my hon. Friends the Members for Wansbeck, for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott); a £28 million cut for London; a £3 million cut for Lancashire; and a £5 million cut for West Yorkshire, to name but four police areas. This year will be really difficult.
The Home Secretary, who is no longer in the Chamber, will today vote for a £4.3 million cut for Thames Valley police, and the Prime Minister will vote for a £3.4 million cut for his local force. When he visited west Yorkshire during the general election, he assured residents that the Conservatives were committed to PCSOs and police funding, but he will today vote to make a £4.8 million less available there this year. The Police Minister will today vote to reduce the amount for his force, Sussex police, by £2.4 million, after the previous Labour Government increased the number of officers by more than 100 in their 13 years in power. Those are real issues.
In January, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), now a Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) to complain that the funding in the February settlement was not enough for Sussex forces, but today he will vote to cut £2.4 million from the budget. Let us get some facts straight. The Conservatives should support the grant that they agreed in February and should see it through for the police officers and police forces that knew it had been agreed in the third year of a three-year settlement. They should have seen it through before the precepts were set, so that people knew what their funding would be.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it is important to get the facts straight. I have not seen the letter sent by the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden. Did he ask for a fair share of the funding provided to police forces for Sussex, or did he in fact make the point that Sussex’s needs were not properly recognised compared with other areas? If the latter is the case, will the former Minister apologise for suggesting that my hon. Friend merely called for extra money? Perhaps he did so, but will the right hon. Gentleman spell out precisely what was in that letter?
The Energy and Climate Change Minister wrote to complain about the level of cash that the grant had given to Sussex police authority, but he will today vote for a £2.4 million cut. Indeed, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) will today vote for a £1.8 million cut for Humberside police. I presume that the people of Humberside look forward to that.
I have thrown a lot at the Conservative part of the coalition, but I have saved my ire for the Liberal Democrats. In the debate in February, the Liberal Democrats did not vote against the order before the House, but called for more resources. I asked the then Member for Chesterfield how much more he thought we should give to police this year. Sadly—it is always sad when someone loses their seat, but I am always glad for people who win one—he was replaced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) at the election. The hon. Gentleman answered by saying:
“The Liberal Democrats have clearly said that we would divert money by abandoning particular…programmes—identity cards have been a long-standing option.”—[Official Report, 3 February 2010; Vol. 505, c. 340.]
He said that the number of extra police resulting from abandoning identity cards would be “about 3,000”. As I recall, the process of abandoning ID cards is coming to an end, so those savings can now be made. I look forward to the Liberal Democrats therefore voting not to cut resources from forces in England in Wales, and to them using their influence so that the money saved from ID cards can be used to save the resources that will be cut today.
I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman. Will he say how, when he goes back to his constituency in London, he will explain the £28 million that he is to take off the Greater London authority this year, in-year, when his former hon. Friend argued for 3,000 extra police officers in the debate in February?
The hon. Gentleman knows that Labour had a structural deficit reduction plan that involved looking at deficits and tax increases next year, which would have made a difference. We would also have looked at cuts in certain areas of expenditure, but police funding was not one of them.
In the light of the abandonment of ID cards, will the Liberal Democrats vote for the £28 million cut in London and the cuts in other forces this year, and against a measure that they supported earlier in the year? The Deputy Prime Minister campaigned for more funding and officers during the general election, but today he will vote to cut £2.8 million from South Yorkshire’s budget. During a televised election debate on crime on 20 April, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who was the Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman, said that there would be no reduction in police numbers under a Lib Dem Government. He probably never expected to find himself in a Lib Dem Government, but sadly he has got one, and he will go through the Lobby today to take that money off his own force in Hampshire.
On her website, the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), said:
“A Liberal Democrat Government would recruit 10,000 extra police.”
I look forward to her walking through the Lobby today to cut £28 million from London police. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech) said that
“Withington Liberal Democrats are launching a petition to stop any further cuts in Police numbers”.
I look forward to signing that petition and to the hon. Gentleman walking through the Lobby today to cut money from Greater Manchester police.
While the right hon. Gentleman is on the subject of misleading election promises, does he agree that there has been a major change in the fiscal reality with which the Government must now deal, as indicated when, after the election, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, left a note in his Department to say that there is no money left? If he had said that before the election, we might have had a rather more honest election.
I cannot be any clearer than to tell the hon. Gentleman that we would have implemented our deficit reduction plan and that police funding was ring-fenced.
Before I leave the subject of the Liberal Democrats, may I tell the House what the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) said on ID cards? In March 2009, he said
“West Yorkshire Police Force could get an extra 362 officers if the government scrapped its plans for ID cards and use the money to recruit new front-line officers.”
I look forward to him walking through the Lobby to remove money from West Yorkshire police today.
Chief Constable Peter Fahy of Greater Manchester police was quoted saying recently:
“We’ve got the lowest crime in Manchester for ten years, the lowest gun crime for eight years. We are really determined as a force to make sure we maintain that record”.
However, he added:
“Eighty-six per cent of my budget is spent on people and if we want to make significant savings in policing there is only one way of doing it—which is to reduce the size of the workforce…. It is having a big impact on the morale in the force and the way it is affecting people.”
The chair of Durham police authority has said:
“If you are looking at cuts of this nature so quickly, clearly it will affect jobs”.
Devon and Cornwall police authority has said that these in-year cuts will result in the loss of at least 180 officers.
The cuts undermine the relationship between the Government and the 43 police forces that have already set their precepts. In my constituency in north Wales, we are set to lose £1.1 million this year, putting a real strain on the services provided. I met with the chief constable last week and I know that not only is his force worried about the £1.1 million cut, but it is bracing itself for far worse to come.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), who is no longer in his place, mentioned the cut to the capital grant of £10 million. The cut of £10 million from the counter-terrorism budget is also of concern.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that North Tyneside was fortunate to have its new police headquarters completed under the Labour Government? It is due to open in September. Does he agree that the 27% crime reduction that the people of North Tyneside enjoyed last year will not be improved on if these cuts are implemented?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, because there is a link between the investment by the Labour Government and the fall in crime. Whatever assessment we make, that investment in police officers on the streets and in other areas, including capital build on new police stations, has had a direct impact in reducing levels of crime—[Interruption.] The Minister is chuntering from a sedentary position to the effect that police buildings do not contribute to crime reduction. A brand new police centre in Newcastle will help to put together some essential savings and help the police to organise effectively to fight crime—[Interruption.] We could go on all day, but my contention is that the resources that the Labour Government put in—and had agreed to put in this year—made a real difference.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, at a time when we face massive cuts and with more to come, it is bizarre that the Government intend to introduce these directly elected characters, who will end up costing a fortune but do nothing for front-line policing?
I concur with my hon. Friend. I have not met a single member of the police family who wants directly elected police commissioners. I look forward to having that argument with the Minister when the time comes.
The cuts to the police grant this year, coupled with the potential cuts of up to 25% to the police grant next year, will be really damaging to our crime-fighting capability. Coupled with the scrapping of the national policing pledge and the sustained attack on community policing that is coming, I do not believe that we will be able to sustain the fall in crime that we have seen to date. I hope that I am wrong about that, but I believe that these cuts will be damaging in the long term.
This year’s grant was approved by the House of Commons and should be reaffirmed—
Unlike the Minister, I believe that it is important that people know their rights, know what services they can receive, know that the police are on their side, know who to contact in the police, know where their local police officers are situated and know who their local police officer is. I have always believed that the police are a public service. That spending was about ensuring that the public knew those things, so that the public and the police could work in co-operation to reduce crime.
This settlement is wrong and will be damaging—
I am fascinated by the right hon. Gentleman’s latest statement. Surely to goodness we were meant to be seeing the police on the street and going to their police stations. Why on earth did we need £6 million of advertising when £5 million a year was taken from Derbyshire police? If we had had that £5 million, we would have seen the police.
I look forward to the hon. Lady voting to remove £1.6 million from her police force later. She argues that Derbyshire is underfunded by £5 million, but she is happy to vote through a £1.6 million in-year cut—[Interruption.] That is up to her, but I am sure that the Labour party in her constituency will make that fact known to the residents of the area.
This settlement is wrong and should be opposed. The original settlement was agreed in February, when it was supported by the Liberal Democrats. The House should agree it again today. I will vote against the motion and urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in the Lobby.
I shall start with the one point of agreement I have with the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), and that is the excellent work that the police do. He is right that we last debated this matter five months ago, and there is a sense of déjà vu about this. However, what has changed—I regret that he and his colleagues have not recognised it—is that we now know, for example, about the £12 billion structural deficit underestimate by the previous Government. He may also have noticed what has happened in other countries such as Greece in recent months, which has given an added urgency to what the coalition Government have had to do.
I can certainly confirm that five months ago I did not expect to be standing here today defending the proposals we have before us. However, as my right hon. Friend the Minister said, it is the previous Government’s economic scorched-earth policy that leaves us with no alternative. My hon. Friends know that some challenging efficiency savings will have to be made, and we will need a degree of prioritisation that has perhaps not had to happen before. It is right to berate the Opposition for their failure to acknowledge even a modicum of responsibility for the current financial difficulties that we are trying to address. However, it would be wrong not to acknowledge the increase in police numbers in recent years. The safer neighbourhood teams were positive developments, and the trend has been towards a reduction in crime, although we can argue about the statistics and the measures used to calculate that.
Efficiency savings, especially as used as euphemism for withdrawing valuable services, are never popular, but we are in a stronger position to take those measures now with the downward trend in crime than we might have been if the trend had been upwards. I am sure that the Minister, when he was preparing for this debate, will have looked at the report of February’s debate. Several points were raised then that I hope can now be clarified. One is what is happening to recruitment across forces—an issue that Paul Holmes, who is no longer the Member of Parliament for Chesterfield, raised. In the autumn, we have the comprehensive spending review and I am sure that the Minister will argue the case for the police service strongly. Can he provide any more information about how he will push the case for police funding in those discussions?
In February, the issue of special grant funded allocations was also raised and the concern expressed that while the core budget might be maintained—although we now know that unfortunately that is not the case—their removal might have a greater effect on the number of police officers and of PCSOs. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that point.
On flexibility of funding, I am signed up to the agenda of greater localism and giving local authorities greater powers to deliver services. However, I am a little perplexed about why we are pushing that agenda in relation to a freeze in council tax, which goes against the proposition that local authorities should be able to take more decisions. I appreciate that at this particular time when everyone is struggling financially, we need to promote that, but I wonder whether in the future—particularly when MORI polls, which were mentioned in the February debate, have confirmed that in certain circumstances people are willing to pay a little more through their precept if they can see that additional police services are delivered—we will have the flexibility to allow that to happen.
Another important matter raised in the February debate was linking police funding to the census, and how responsive it was to it. It has been announced that the census will not happen, so I hope that the Minister will provide some clarity about what funding will be linked to. That would give us a greater degree of confidence that, under the coalition Government, we will in future be able to reflect an increase in population more promptly in the funding that flows through not just to the police, but to other services as well.
Finally, it is clear that in times of adversity there is more ingenuity around. I suspect that Members on both sides of the House might have received suggestions from people about how efficiency savings could be identified. Force mergers have been discussed. A constituent contacted me to suggest that we need a London police force and that there might be scope for incorporating the City of London police into the rest of the Metropolitan Police Service. Another constituent made suggestions about the way in which detectives are rotated. There are ways and means of ensuring that efficiency savings are achieved without having an impact on front-line services.
Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, can he help me to understand how it is in these straitened times that the Conservative manifesto commitment to increasing the cost of the elected commissioner experiment persists, while the Lib Dem manifesto commitments have been dropped? How did that come about, or is it that the hon. Gentleman did not have any influence? Is he at all worried that Lib Dem broken promises are going to create a broken Britain?
I will leave it to the hon. Gentleman to promote the idea through his literature that the Liberal Democrats have broken their promises. If he looked at the coalition programme, he would find that, in practice—there is no secret about this—some proposals that we wanted to promote as a party before the general election are not included in it, while some proposals that the Conservative party wanted to promote when it was in opposition are equally not in it.
On that precise point, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Deputy Prime Minister came to my constituency to launch the Liberal Democrat plan for more police officers by getting rid of ID cards, and that although we now have no ID cards, we not only have no additional police officers in Durham, but face substantial cuts to them?
All I can do is go over the same response that I gave earlier. First, I am very pleased that we have started the process of getting rid of ID cards so quickly. Secondly, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister would have said something different if the hon. Lady’s Front-Bench team had provided greater clarity on where we stood as a nation in terms of our finances. I am afraid that the only example of clarity we have had is the single-sentence letter on there being “no money”. That was a good example of a very honest Minister making it clear where the new Government stood and what problems they would have to tackle.
To return to detective rotation, about which a constituent contacted me, it may be a good example of how more money could be saved in the service. As I understand it, detectives are often rotated a matter of months before retirement. They then have to undergo a new raft of training for a new role before—literally, just a few months later—retiring. That does not seem a very sensible investment. Perhaps it could be looked at to ensure that detectives are allowed to continue in their present posts so that the police service does not incur those training costs for a role that they will not carry out beyond a couple of months after starting it.
No reduction in funding is ever going to be welcomed. I believe, however, that the scale of efficiency savings being proposed is manageable and that it is possible for our police forces to deliver both value for money and security on our streets at the same time.
I want to clarify something about the deficit from the outset. Labour Members clearly recognise that something had to be done about the deficit, which is why we set out plans to halve it over four years and looked at other areas to see where we could increase growth. What we have here is a Government—a Liberal Democrat-Conservative Government—deciding to cut the deficit harder and faster. That is a choice that the Government have made. In doing so, they are choosing dramatically to take out of the public finances investment that could contribute in some ways to our growth. By taking that money away—whether from local authorities, the police or other agencies—as they have chosen to do, they put us at a greater risk, as many people are now saying, of a double-dip recession. They are also relying on a 40% increase in exports to make up the difference as a contribution to growth. That is the dividing line here. Perhaps the reason why the Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition wants to cut so hard and so fast is that down the road in five years’ time there will be a general election and they want to be able to offer tax cuts to gain re-election. That is really what is going on here.
I am interested in the right hon. Lady’s case. What she is effectively saying is that a future Labour Government would have introduced cuts, but not quite yet. Then she criticises the way in which this Government have chosen to tackle the debt. What she is saying is not that her Government would never make cuts, but that they would not make them yet. As we got closer to a general election, her Government would have done the same thing. What she says is absolute nonsense.
I direct the hon. Gentleman to the £2.6 million of cuts that his area is going to face. There are choices to be made. We said that we would cut the deficit by half over four years, but your Government are suggesting that we go faster and harder, posing the risk of going back into recession, putting more people out of work and affecting employment in both the public and private sectors. We will watch very carefully to see whether the outcomes that you have chosen to pursue are really in the best interests of the country.
I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman will have to look at the outcomes of the decisions that his Government have made over the course of the last few weeks.
There is concern across the country about the announcement of cuts in police funding. I have listened to some of the comments made by Government Members. The hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) has left the Chamber. I believe that she asked why we were spending money on police buildings. One reason why we did that over the past 13 years is that some of the buildings were not fit for purpose. If we are to modernise our police force and have civilian staff carrying out jobs such as following up on crime reports by using the best technology we need buildings that are fit for purpose. It is about investing in a police force for the 21st century.
We should also look at the partnerships created over the past 13 years. It should be recognised that the police cannot do the job of ensuring the safety of our communities, neighbourhoods and streets on their own. They have to work with others in local government, and I worry about how the cuts in the police grant will affect partnerships that have been nurtured with local authorities and community organisations. As those partners will be affected by cuts as well, the pot that is available to them, enabling them to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour in a flexible, dynamic, innovative way, will be further diminished by the lack of flexibility that is being imposed on police forces and local authorities throughout the country.
My constituents will be keen to know how the £3 million cut in funds for South Yorkshire police will affect them, particularly given the Government’s refusal to provide the guarantee to protect overall police numbers which we included in our manifesto.
The right hon. Lady must appreciate—once she gets past the rhetoric—that there are difficult choices to be made about financial restraints. She mentioned her constituents. Would they be concerned about the choice to spend £6 million on advertising the policing pledge rather than on front-line services designed for their safety? If they were able to make that choice themselves, what would they decide?
I am interested in the coalition Government’s attitude to the way in which information is given to the public in order to ensure that there is transparency about the provision of public services. They seem to think that that is not an important part of the compact between the people and those who enforce the law. Regardless of the debating points that are made between the Front Benches, it is clear from the findings of all the surveys in various force areas about public attitudes to the police and crime statistics that crime has fallen. However, as a constituency Member I often find that the public do not know about those figures—or, indeed, about the monthly meetings held by the police, the activities of the safer neighbourhood teams, and who is working with whom. When I give them that information in my surgeries, when I am out on the doorstep or in my newsletters, they are very pleased to receive it. I am not saying that a blank cheque should be handed to those who deal with communications. The issuing of information must be thought through properly. It must be established why the information concerned is important, and sometimes we have to pay for that information to be issued.
I will say this to the hon. Gentleman. We currently have some 43 police forces. All of them have communications departments and press officers, and I believe that that is one of the functions that could be managed better across police force areas. The most important element of local policing for the residents of Don Valley is at borough command level, and the most important public face for people in Doncaster is our borough commander. Most of those people do not know the name of the chief constable; they are interested in what is happening in the Doncaster borough. Discussion about what is the most appropriate organisation and structure at force level, and about the elements beyond local crime that require particular attention, should be part of a debate about efficiency savings, value for money and outcomes that genuinely deal with organised crime better than we are able to at the moment.
The right hon. Lady is making a passionate case, but I fear that she is demonstrating one of the worst aspects of the record of new Labour governance, namely an obsession with processes and the policing pledge. Is not the real issue, and the real driver for elected officials, the fact that there is currently a huge gap in accountability? At present accountability operates only between senior police officers and the Home Office, and elected officials and residents are squeezed out. That is why local people across the country support elected officials, and why our manifesto commitment has been such a success. The police family, as it is called, is hostile because vested interests are being challenged by ordinary people and elected officials.
One of the most dramatic changes in the nature of police accountability has been brought about by neighbourhood policing teams. In various parts of my constituency, local people can attend monthly meetings to engage in discussion and hold the police to account. Information from those meetings—along with other information about where antisocial behaviour is happening, which is collected and captured on computers—is tasking the police in a far more intelligent and accountable way than we have ever seen before. However, that did not just happen; it had to be driven by Government, and it was driven by a Labour Government.
My right hon. Friend is making a brilliant speech, but does she agree that what is most important to our constituents is being able to see police officers on the beat, as well as police community support officers? Is it not absolutely disgraceful that the coalition parties have not guaranteed to protect front-line policing from cuts?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Fine words about law and order and sanctimonious speeches about how we support the police family and the reduction of crime in our neighbourhoods are all very well, but if we do not will the means, that is not going to happen. Up and down the country, as budgets are stretched and pressures are put on the police, the good work that has been done will take two steps back rather than forward, and that is a crying shame.
I have a long-standing interest in the handling of serious and organised crime, and the impact on that of reductions in police grant. We should view the cuts in police funding in the context of a number of other developments that undermine the ability of our police to do their job. For instance, police powers relating to CCTV and DNA have been reduced, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies); perhaps I should call him my hon. Friend these days. Last week there was an Adjournment debate on CCTV and DNA, and I must say that I welcomed the support from the coalition Government Benches for the views expressed by Opposition Members on that day. Clearly there is some common ground in this era of new politics.
We need a 21st-century police force that is equipped to tackle 21st-century crime and 21st-century criminals. There is no doubt that technology provides a major opportunity for the police to crack down on criminals, wherever they may be. Like many other Members, I am disturbed by some of the comments that have been made about CCTV and DNA. Obviously CCTV helps to the police to deal with antisocial behaviour, but we should not forget that both it and DNA make a major contribution to tackling far more serious and violent crimes which, I regret to say, are committed on streets throughout the country.
I do not think that the present proposals accord with the front cover, as it were, of the Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition Government. They do not suggest that the Government really have the safety of our subjects in mind when they take responsibility for governing our policing community.
I intervened on the Minister of State to ask whether any assessment had been made of the cost of elected police commissioners. I do not suggest that every aspect of the way in which police authorities are organised is the best thing since sliced bread. I think that some do better than others. Colleagues of mine have worked very well on police authorities and have done a good job, but that does not necessarily mean that some authorities do not need to be looked at. But what will the introduction of elected police commissioners mean for policing in our neighbourhoods? How much extra cost will it involve? Will someone who has been elected expect a higher premium on the services that he or she gives to the police? What will be the relationship between the commissioner and the chief constable?
This brings me back to the subject of serious and organised crime. I fear that elected commissioners could find themselves responding, understandably in some respects, to the demand for attention to be paid to local policing—which is, of course, important—to the detriment of the handling of much more serious crimes which require more cross-border co-operation. I worry greatly about the impact on that. I agree that we need to discuss savings, but why has there been no financial assessment of the cost of elected police commissioners and whether, in these times of austerity, that is a good route to go down? I would suggest that it is not. Taken together, therefore, I fear that these proposals could inhibit our ability to fight serious and organised crime, and also make it more difficult to protect the country from international terrorism.
None of us doubts the need for effective local policing. We need bobbies on the beat, and we need civilians to take on some of the jobs that then allow our fully qualified police officers to be out there fighting crime. We need to work with others, such as community support officers and community safety wardens, too. We also must not forget community organisations and groups; those that have good relationships with their local police are a vital source of information and intelligence, and also help to promote what is being done in the community to fight crime, as opposed to the lurid stuff that is often reported in the tabloid press.
We know that every single day people feel angry and frustrated—and often isolated—by the antisocial behaviour and low-level crime on their doorstep, and that must be attended to. However, although effective community policing is rightly a priority for the police, it cannot be their only priority. As I have said, for people in Doncaster it is our borough commander at Doncaster level who, day to day, is the public face of local policing. Above that, I do not think the public necessarily care very much whether it is a south Yorkshire or a Yorkshire and Humber force; what they care about is that other levels of crime that they do not see on their doorsteps should be dealt with effectively. As the Metropolitan Police Commissioner outlined in the annual lecture to the Police Foundation on Monday night, we still face a real and severe threat from terrorists and from serious and organised crime, which costs the British economy £40 billion a year and, in its own way, affects every person in the UK. The drug dealer at the end of somebody’s street, who usually is a drug addict as well, is just a small fish in a big pond. The sharks that feed that crime on the local street are living in big houses; they are not paying their taxes and they are living the life of Riley. They are the criminal entrepreneurs who put the despair on to our streets, and if we do not deal with the sharks we will not get a grip on organised crime in our country. I am very worried about the implications in respect of the police grant and the fact that the Minister said nothing—I will look at Hansard to check this—about the impact on serious and organised crime. I would be happy for the Minister to respond to that or to indicate anything, if he wishes to do so.
When the public are asked for their view they do not always rank serious and organised crime or even counter-terrorism as their top priority for the police. That is because people do not see that directly or immediately affecting their family and their street and community. However, many of the problems they do worry about—drugs, prostitution, illegal weapons—are intimately connected to serious and organised criminals. The real danger is that with cuts to be made and, I am afraid, with these potential commissioners falling over each over to protect the most popular police priorities, the axe will fall precisely on those areas that the public least understand but most need.
No, I am talking about the cost of these elected individuals over and above what we have at the moment, and priorities being skewed in ways that do not help.
We need to make a better case of explaining how serious organised crime impacts on our neighbourhoods and communities so that people can see the relationship between the drug dealer in their street, the prostitutes in their neighbourhood and the counterfeit goods at the car boot sales and how that leads all the way back up to the organised criminals. I think we should have made a better case of explaining that under my Government, and I certainly think we need to do that in future, so that the link between these policing priorities can be seen. The danger is that that will not be done because these elected individuals will not be interested in that; they will just be interested in getting easy votes, whereas sometimes we as politicians have to explain the big picture so that we get the policy right.
That is a credible and sincere thing to say. I fight every day to make sure that the communities I represent are protected from antisocial behaviour and the other problems they face, but I know, both as a former Home Office Minister and as a constituency MP, that many of the problems in our neighbourhoods develop as the young people and adults involved in antisocial behaviour become more hardened criminals, and that hardened criminals at the top end are often behind the low-level crime my constituents experience. We have to deal with both aspects. The Minister said nothing about that or about looking at better operational capacity—and in doing so saving some money along the way.
Why is it perfectly okay for people to elect councillors, MPs and all sorts of other representatives, yet the right hon. Lady does not trust people with the responsibility of electing someone who will provide an overview of the kind of policing they want for their neighbourhood?
We already have elected councillors as part of the police authorities, and I think that model could be improved. At the local level through the safer neighbourhood teams, we already have monthly accountable meetings which the public can attend and talk about their local policing priorities. This is not about being against accountability; it is about what is right and what is fit for purpose—and, to be honest, what is good value for money, which is part of the debate we are having this afternoon.
I want to make some progress, as I have taken lots of interventions and I am very conscious that other Members want to contribute to the debate.
The reality is that as a result of improved communications, new technologies and international mobility, serious and organised crime is becoming more sophisticated and increasingly global in reach, making the police’s job more difficult. As I have said, we are dealing with 21st-century criminal entrepreneurs. They are involved in all sorts of rackets from counterfeit goods to human trafficking, prostitution and, of course, drugs, and what we need is a 21st-century police response.
The reality, however, is that many smaller forces—there are 19 in England and Wales with fewer than 2,000 officers—already struggle to meet the challenges of modern crime, and across the board, as Sir Paul Stephenson made clear in his speech on Monday evening, police resources for tackling serious and organised crime are “unco-ordinated” and “inadequate”. I am afraid to say that that is partly due to the police structures we have and a parochialism that does not address some of these serious crime issues. Many Members—probably on both sides of the House—will defend their force structure, even though it might not help or deliver the capacity to deal with some of the crimes I am talking about. That is why I believe there is a very strong case for borough level local policing, but I am certainly not convinced that at the force level some of the sizes of organisation we have are either manageable, good value for money or even delivering what we need.
The police believe that there are 68 criminal organisations with assets in excess of £10 million. These are organisations whose operations are complex and do not respect national borders, let alone police force borders. While inter-force collaboration is certainly improving—there are many good examples of it up and down the country—as the Bichard report clearly highlighted, the way our police service is structured means that all too often individual forces act separately and fail to share information with other forces. In an age in which criminals can escape quickly across police force boundaries, it is not sustainable for police forces to have to notify other forces in advance, or have protocols in place, before they can track and apprehend criminals. It slows everything down; it is not a good use of resources.
In the case of the London and Glasgow bombers in June 2007, when terrorists placed two car bombs outside a nightclub in London’s west end before driving to Scotland to ram their jeep into the entrance at Glasgow airport, detectives from London following the getaway car were concerned that if they had to make arrests en route they would have to ensure that local forces were notified and put on stand-by. Later there was also confusion about which force should lead on the case—whether it should be the Metropolitan police which had started the investigation, or the Strathclyde police in Glasgow where the case finished up.
It is also difficult for smaller police forces to invest in the assets that are needed to run complex, and often international, investigations effectively. There is a case for investigations into serious and organised crime being led by larger, more centralised crime-fighting units, and merging some functions or responsibilities, or even forces, could offer economies of scale and reduce bureaucracy and costs and lead to better outputs. Alternatively, as Sir Paul Stephenson suggested, we could have a nationally co-ordinated, federated structure for tackling organised crime, whether led by the police service or as part of an extended Serious Organised Crime Agency remit.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has had an opportunity to look at the Select Committee’s detailed report on the Serious Organised Crime Agency that was concluded earlier this year, in which we raised the issue of targets as opposed to cost. If the Government are right, we are spending £500 million on SOCA, but it sees only £23 million. Does she not think that these targets need to be improved if we are to get value for money?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, and the Select Committee did very good work on SOCA. I am very proud to be the former Home Office Minister who established SOCA. We brought together the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the drugs investigation arm of Customs and Excise. However, things have gone wrong on asset recovery, on which we needed to make more progress. Also, when we developed SOCA and since, we failed properly to consider its relationship to forces around the country. It is not just a question of having a national body, but of what is happening on the ground. The link between local policing and national police services such as SOCA is absolutely crucial, and I agree with my right hon. Friend that much more needs to be done to get that right.
The point is still well made that we can look for savings as well as better outcomes, but given that we are discussing the police grant, we must task the Minister with explaining how we are to protect the existing situation. Yes, there needs to be improvement, but we do not want to go backwards in our efforts to tackle organised crime through these reductions in the police grant.
Examining this issue has the potential not only to make the police more effective, but to help to deliver the savings that need to be found without necessarily reducing the number of police on our streets, and to become more effective in tackling serious and organised crime. The cost of such crime to the country is £40 billion, and there are 38,000 organised criminals and 6,000 criminal organisations. There will be no new resources for dealing with organised crime and even if there were, they would never be enough to tackle terrorism, for example.
This is a serious issue that needs to be looked at as these cuts are made, in order to ensure that we do not lose our capacity, which is already varied throughout the country, to tackle the most serious crimes that our neighbourhoods face.
Thank you. Except that on this occasion, of course, I am on the opposite side of the Chamber. I remember the debate on 3 February with the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who delivered his lines in a typically amenable way.
It is appropriate at this point to welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) to his position. He is a seasoned reformer, and if anyone can get to grips with delivering more for less, it is he. I also wish his predecessor as the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), all the best of luck in returning to good health; I am sure I speak for the rest of the House in that respect.
The key word in this debate is “legacy”: the legacy of the fiscal disaster we inherited from the previous Labour Government on 6 May. The shadow Minister made a good fist of synthetic outrage and faux anger at this “swingeing cut” by the coalition Government—the precursor to a plague of locusts and all things doom-laden in the state. However, it is actually a funding cut in-year of 1.46%.
The main point made by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), was that there is nothing mutually exclusive about driving forward shared services and back-office functions across different police forces on an administrative basis, while at the same time dealing with serious organised crime through such collaborations. The problem with the previous Labour Government was that their approach was all about compulsion and a lack of proper accountability and consultation. Fundamentally, Labour did not trust people to make the right decisions, which is why it still does not trust them now and is so hostile to police commissioners.
As I pointed out in an intervention on the right hon. Lady, there is no point in focusing moral outrage on a process-driven issue such as the policing pledge, which people in the Dog and Duck in Peterborough are not talking about at length. What people actually care about is real accountability and whether they have some say in local policing priorities. At the moment, they do not. At the moment, the accountability link is simply between the basic command unit and the chief constable, and upwards to the Home Office. Whether the right hon. Lady likes it or not, what actually drives local policing is what local police forces have been told to do by the Home Office.
I should have prefaced my comments by pointing out that I am biased, in that I made my maiden speech, in June 2005, on the issue of elected police commissioners, the headline in the Peterborough Evening Telegraph being, “We need city sheriff says city MP”. However, it was not as simple as that. It is a question of accountability, but also of understanding that the police authorities model is probably not fit for purpose and does not command the support and respect of the many people who pay taxes and are also afflicted by crime. These are not just people in middle-class neighbourhoods and gated communities who can afford to push crime away; they include people such as those in my constituency who are perhaps not on good incomes and do not live in the most salubrious of neighbourhoods. Such people are afflicted by drug dealing, antisocial behaviour, burglary and other serious crimes. There is absolutely nothing wrong in giving those people a real say by allowing them to influence not day-to-day operational issues, but the strategic overview of the priorities taken by the local police service—in my case, Cambridgeshire constabulary.
That was the problem of 2006, and the shadow Minister will know that it contributed, among other things, to the early departure of his erstwhile colleague the former Member for Norwich South, Charles Clarke, whose successor is in the Chamber today. The problem was one of not listening and forcing things on people, in the typical top-down regional model imposed by the Labour Government, which we have seen in fire control, and in the ill-fated campaign and referendum on the question of a regional assembly in the north-east.
There are a number of key strategic issues that this Government are tackling head on. They are focusing, for example, on the efficiency and efficacy of what is actually done on the ground. Only 14% of police time is spent on the beat; 22% is spent on paperwork. One of the issues we need to look at—hopefully, it will be examined during the Government’s review in the next few months—is the inspection regime that police services are subject to. Not only the police service but local authorities and others are subject to too much onerous, unnecessary and unnecessarily frequent inspection. Constabulary and police authority officers spend inordinate amounts of time preparing for, going through and reviewing inspection, when in fact they should be concentrating their efforts on tackling crime and putting criminals behind bars.
I must take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs, in that this is not a question of getting a key, opening the jail and letting everyone out. However, we do have a massive problem with recidivism and we must deal with it in an innovative way. I should declare an interest, in that Kalyx, which runs the 840-bed category B private prison in Peterborough, has been awarded a contract. It is a very interesting social experiment, and I believe that it will deliver the goods. Kalyx will receive 40% of the indicative cost of incarcerating a prisoner for one full year if it keeps that prisoner from recidivism and reoffending.
I am no tree-hugging lily-livered liberal on this issue—[Interruption.] Well, I guess I am compared with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, whose many contributions on penal policy I fondly remember, not least his comments on prisoners having access to ping-pong tables and Sky television, for instance. I believe it was Albert Einstein who said, “If you keep doing something over and over again and it doesn’t work, try something else.” He probably put it much more eloquently. Our approach has not worked; it costs a fortune to incarcerate people.
When I had lunch with the senior judges at Peterborough Crown court some months ago, they made the point, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has, that there is no point incarcerating people for very short sentences—for instance, serial burglars—if we cannot teach them to read, write or add up, if we cannot give them meaningful work to earn money and if we cannot give them a position where they feel socially useful. Punishment is important, but rehabilitation is too. If we can give them a way forward to be decent members of civil society—Kalyx will do that with the scheme at Peterborough prison—that is good for society, because it will, in the end, save money for my constituents, and those of all hon. Members, in the form of taxpayer funding.
I agree with some of the points that the hon. Gentleman is making—illiteracy among prisoners is a big problem—but what I do not understand, and what I ask him to clarify, given that we have tried everything else with many of these burglars, is why they cannot learn to read and write during six months in prison.
I know that we could wander the byways and highways of penal policy for ever, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I graciously accept your admonition on that particular point and I shall return to the police grant, before you rule me out of order.
We have to be realistic about what we are being asked to accept today.
May I refer the hon. Gentleman to the last words of his speech in the grant settlement debate on 3 February? They were:
“I hope that we get a better settlement when we have a Conservative Government in the next few weeks.”—[Official Report, 3 February 2010; Vol. 505, c. 360.]
How does he square that with the cut that he is going to vote through today?
Having run up the largest deficit in peacetime history, and having got us into a position where we are spending more on the interest to service the Labour party’s debt legacy than we are on school buildings, policing and many other areas, it is a little cheeky of the right hon. Gentleman to pray in aid my own, no doubt eloquent, soaring oratory of 3 February. Funnily enough, I was doing what most Members of Parliament are elected to do, which is speak for their constituents.
The right hon. Gentleman tees me up nicely to return to discussing the situation in Cambridgeshire, which, again, relates to the legacy. The reason why I have spoken about the police grant on a number of occasions is that my local police authority was systematically underfunded during the whole period of the Labour Government. Our area has particular issues to address, although I must pay tribute to the outgoing chief constable, Julie Spence, who has done a superb job, at some cost to her reputation with the previous Government. They probably did not like the fact that she was socking them between the eyes and telling the truth about the actual pressures that she has been under in delivering a first-class police service. I pay particular tribute to the fact that she was willing to tell it how it is, although that may have made her slightly unpopular with Ministers, and I also pay tribute to chief superintendent Andy Hebb of the northern basic command unit.
Labour’s legacy of deliberate underfunding means that Cambridgeshire has 408 fewer officers than the national force average, and Cambridgeshire’s force has 185 fewer officers than similar forces. I make no apologies for saying this, because this Government have been in power for only eight weeks. If anyone has to take responsibility for underfunding the police service in Cambridgeshire it is the Labour party, which so egregiously underfunded my Cambridgeshire constabulary and my constituents’ police service. However, because we have excellent police officers in Cambridgeshire, work is already in train to make the necessary savings to accommodate the £1.2 million in-year budget cut, to which the right hon. Gentleman helpfully referred, while minimising the impact on front-line services.
My area has particular issues to address, which Ministers have known about because I have often articulated them to this House. Between 16,000 and 20,000 EU migrants have come to Peterborough since 2004, but under the previous Government precious little attempt was made by the Home Office to do anything about that, or to recognise the particular policing and crime issues that it brought. For instance, we have had to deal with people who are driving drunk, people who think it culturally acceptable to carry knives, and people who do not have insurance for their vehicles.
People trafficking has also been an issue in my constituency, and I shall give the shadow Minister one example of that. In 2004 Cambridgeshire constabulary noted that there were three sex establishment brothels in Peterborough, whereas by 2007 there were 47. This was one of the big growth areas in the economy under the Labour Government, before they plunged the economy into the disastrous mess that we inherited.
I was a voice crying in the wilderness, despite all the issues that I raised. Such issues included the fact that 10 of the wards most vulnerable to a breakdown in community cohesion are in Peterborough, according to the vulnerable localities index, which was developed by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, and which assists police forces such as Cambridgeshire’s in identifying the communities most at risk of breakdown, tension and fragmentation. Some 27% of Peterborough’s primary pupils have English as a second language, with more than 80 languages being spoken. That is a clear reflection of significant demographic changes, which feed through into the challenges on crime and policing: for instance, Cambridgeshire constabulary’s translation and interpretation bill is more than £1 million a year. However, we received no specific help from the previous Government to assist us in dealing with those problems. More than half of Cambridgeshire’s prolific and priority offenders in the catch and convict scheme in August 2009 were in Peterborough. The northern basic command unit has dealt with more grade A incidents in this financial year to date and has also arrested more suspects in June than the other Cambridgeshire command units. This is because Peterborough is the largest urban conurbation in the county. Those are the challenges. It would be remiss of me not to admit that I see the police grant report and the debate through the prism of being a constituency Member of Parliament. Had the right hon. Member for Delyn been on the other side of the Chamber I would be saying exactly the same thing, so I make no apologies.
New thinking is coming along the tracks. It is acceptable, and it is to be wished for, that the new Government should focus on what is being done in local government and with the Total Place concept. They should carefully examine shared functions, shared purchasing and procurement, training, human resources, payroll and other such issues, and bringing in civilians to do the jobs that front-line uniformed officers hitherto would have done, so that those officers can be put on to the front line. There are plenty of good ideas about.
We all regret the fact that the budget has to be reduced, and we know the reasons for that. My hon. Friends will doubtless rehearse those arguments in respect of their local police authorities before the end of this debate. I do not like to say it, but I will be accepting the argument of the Government that this has to be done and that we have no choice. But it is my belief that when we have got the fiscal deficit under control, and when we are in a position really to tackle these issues after four years of innovative thinking in terms of working together across police authorities and having new police commissioners who focus principally on local people’s priorities, we will be in a position to deliver a better police service at lower cost for our constituents. That is what they elected us to do.
It is always a pleasure to follow the thoughtful speeches of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson). We all thought that his ambition in life was to be the Member of Parliament for his city, but now we know that he really wants to be the sheriff of Peterborough. Whether he goes and hugs those trees is another matter, but the constituency angle that he has taken should be considered by the House when dealing with the police grant.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for his first of what I hope will be many debates on the police grant. I hope that he will pass on our very best wishes to the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), who as shadow Police Minister was a frequent attendee at these events and whose comments from the Dispatch Box were very incisive.
These are difficult times and of course we understand that a new Government are always keen to blame the previous Government for the decisions that they will make. I, too, was present at the debate earlier this year when the police grant was, in effect, agreed by both sides of the House. I do not know what those on my Front Bench have decided to do, but I assume that they will vote against the reduction in the police grant. I am not sure—I am sure that somebody will remind me—but I think that in February the House was unanimous in approving the grant, and rightly so. This is one of the priorities of the people of this country.
I am glad to hear that in the Labour party manifesto the Home Office budget was ring-fenced. I cannot absolutely remember the section, although I imagine that my right hon. Friend the shadow Police Minister wrote it, so he would know. I am sorry that the Government did not do the same thing as part of the coalition agreement. I understand that we have to preserve the budgets of the national health service and education, but as far as law and order is concerned we—or the coalition Government—will regret the fact that they did not work harder to keep the Home Office budget intact. Why? This is a key priority, as the hon. Member for Peterborough has said, for every single Member of this House through the prism of their local constituency.
We know that the demand from local people is for more doctors and nurses, better schools and more police officers. Every single local campaign—not just campaigns launched by the Liberal Democrat party, as some would say—local petition and local survey shows that local people say that they want more police officers. The visibility of a police officer on the beat is the absolute sign that the public are being protected. Anything that cuts into that budget and prevents the reality of the local police officer on the beat will cause each and every Member of this House some pain.
Clearly, Opposition Members will feel some pain because Ministers and Government Members will always say, “Well, this is because of the shadow Chief Secretary’s letter, so we have to do all this.” Looking around the Chamber, I think that I might have been here longer than anyone else who is present—although not longer than every Member put together—and one thing that I remember and that Members should remember as elected representatives is that, ultimately, memories are quite short. Over a certain period, one can use the mantra, “They left us with no money”—eight weeks is not long enough not to use it—but by the end of the year local people will be very frustrated when they pick up their phones and the police officers they want are not there.
That was why I was so pleased to hear the commitment made from the Dispatch Box this afternoon by the Police Minister: he anticipates that, notwithstanding the reduction in the police grant, the number of police officers in front-line services will remain intact. Of course, the actual analysis is out of his hands. At the end of the day, it will be for local chief constables and police authorities to say whether that is what happens, but I know that that is his ambition and it is a very good ambition for a Police Minister to have. It is a very good ambition for a Conservative—even though it is a coalition Government—Police Minister to stand up at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons and to say in his first speech, “We do not want to reduce the number of police officers. We want to keep it the same and perhaps, if we get those structural changes, to increase it.” As he knows, one of the great achievements of the previous Government was a record number of police officers—147,000 police officers, 16,000 police community support officers and 79,000 new civilians working in the police force. These are figures to die for, in my view. Every Police Minister would love to get to the Dispatch Box and say that those figures will remain intact.
We must work with the Government to try to ensure that that happens. I know that it sounds odd, but I have always seen policing issues as above party politics. There is agreement that local people want to see crime reduced, they want to see their police officers out on the beat and they want to be able to see quick responses to their problems, so let us see whether there is a way in which we can help the Government to do that. Tomorrow, the Home Secretary is coming to give evidence to the Select Committee—it will be her first appearance. I am very pleased that the Police Minister is coming in two weeks’ time, and I thank him for the speed with which he responded to my request. That is the appropriate mechanism to analyse the Government’s claims and the concerns of local police committees and chief constables. We want to get to a position where we use the pot of money properly and adequately, so that there is not the reduction in numbers that I think will happen but the Minister hopes will not.
Those changes that we have heard about today have been present in every debate that we have had on policing, certainly during the three years for which I have been the Chair of the Select Committee. The first is structural change, by consent and not for structural change’s sake. The second is collaboration. As we have seen throughout the country, forces are working together, whether that involves borrowing a helicopter, as they did in Cumbria during the Whitehaven tragedy, or the way in which the police force in Northumberland reacted so quickly to the problems of the past two weeks. Such collaboration is ongoing. The third is better procurement, so that we have one set of contracts rather than 43.
The fourth change is ensuring that we do not just have initiatives. I accept what the Minister says when he asks what the point is of a brand-new police station—people do not really want their police officers in a police station; they want them outside. But sometimes we need brand-new police stations. We cannot expect all our police officers to operate from a Doctor Who-type TARDIS. There have to be police stations to hold people in detention, so that officers can deal with those requirements that legislators place on our local police forces.
The fifth change is a reduction in bureaucracy. Of course, we all agree that that should happen. Let us implement the Berry report and the Flanagan report in full. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) was a member of the Select Committee in the last Parliament and he co-authored the report “Policing in the 21st century”, which talked about all those things but also about investment in technology. In the long term, we can cut bureaucracy by giving police officers hand-held computers. The Minister will not win his battle with the Treasury for more money, because he is trying to cope with less money. However, that is what we have to do in the future.
We have an investment in this matter on both sides of the House as constituency MPs as well as a duty to the public to ensure that we work together to try to cut away waste. I do not think that there is a huge amount of waste in the police force. I know that we have heard about potted plants and iPods in certain Government Departments, but there is always a story like that. I assure the Minister that in a couple of years’ time, the Opposition will be coming out with such stories. The fact is that we need to ensure that when we give money it is monitored much more closely. Perhaps there ought to be more strings. The last Government were probably too generous in providing so much funding and not very firm in monitoring it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a question not just of pot plants and mood music, but of the fact that police forces in England and Wales have to deal with some 6,500 pages of nationally given guidelines from the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers? Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary said only a few days ago that putting those documents end to end would reach as high as the Eiffel tower. That is waste and bureaucracy, is it not?
Yes, it is. I do not say that everything the last Government did was absolutely perfect. I have related one example to the House on many occasions. I once went up to Staffordshire and looked at the work of Staffordshire police to reduce from 24 sheets to one sheet the documentation that is required when someone is charged. After that, every time the Home Secretary got up, I asked, “Have you rolled out this brilliant idea across the country?” but the answer was no, because the system worked so slowly. We will expect better from this Police Minister, because he is so keen to deal with waste. We want to make sure that good practice is adopted as quickly as possible and is rolled out. We do not want excuses such as that it takes a long time to write a letter to chief constables.
The points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) are correct. I did not know that she actually invented the Serious Organised Crime Agency; had I done so, we would have called her to give evidence. There are examples of our providing huge amounts of money, such as half a billion pounds for SOCA, which seized only £23 million, and £400,000 for the National Policing Improvement Agency, and spending £79 million on consultants. Those are the kinds of issues that we should have dealt with in the past 13 years, but sometimes Ministers cannot, as the new Minister will find, know exactly what is going on.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In her case, she was promoted to become the Minister for Europe and the rest is history. We need Ministers to stay in place long enough to see what happens when their decisions are implemented.
The Select Committee will be constructive and will not just condemn. We are going to put good practice on our website, without waiting for it to go on the Home Office website, with lots of arrows pointing to good practices and asking, “Why isn’t this followed in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Leicestershire or elsewhere?” We will hold the Government to account on that.
The Minister has repeated the words that were used at the Association of Chief Police Officers conference of 1 July, saying that he wants the police to be crime fighters, not form fillers. We all agree with that—there is no problem with that statement—but a reduction in the police grant is proposed today, and if the comprehensive spending review cuts the police budget by 25%, ACPO has said that would mean 20,000 fewer police officers. There will be conflict between the Government and the police force, because it will not remain silent, just as it did not remain silent on police pay.
I had only one really robust conversation with the previous Prime Minister, which will not be in my memoirs, although I have thought of a name for them: I am going to call them “The 23rd Man” rather than “The Third Man”. That robust conversation occurred when I reminded him that we had a duty to respect the police. There is no point in Ministers and shadow Ministers, every time there is some great tragedy, coming to the Dispatch Box and praising the police but then not giving them the pay rise that was agreed in arbitration. When we are in the position of cutting perhaps 20,000 police officers, we will have a severe problem and the police force will be in conflict with the Government. I hope it does not come to that.
I hope also that Parliament will support the Minister in his battle with the Treasury. I know it is difficult for Ministers to do this in the current economic climate, but policing policy needs defending. The Minister should feel confident that he can go to the Chancellor, quote speeches such as that of the hon. Member for Peterborough and say, “At a local level, we cannot have fewer police officers. We must retain the level and we must invest in our police service.” I joined others on the streets of our capital to oppose what the Labour Government did on police pay, because I think that we need to defend the police not just at the Dispatch Box, but outside.
I am interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman’s eloquent speech. He talks about retaining numbers, but given that 80% of the police budget is spent on staffing costs, which is a huge amount, surely one way of retaining the numbers is by reducing that 80%.
That will, of course, happen with the reduction before us today, even though some chief constables have said that they will not make police officers redundant. Under the proposals that Treasury Ministers have put to the Home Office for a reduction of 25%, I am afraid that that will happen. What I am saying is that the hon. Gentleman will have to go back to Harlow, as I will have to go back to Leicester and other Members will have to go back to their constituencies, and explain why that has happened. The mantra, “They left us with no money,” is not going to be enough, so we need to work constructively. We need to help the Minister to do battle with the Treasury. We need to try to ring-fence this budget, because policing is just as important as the NHS and just as important as schools and education. It needs to be protected. I hope that the Minister understands that in the months ahead, with the CSR and other considerations, he should feel free to come to Parliament and listen to what colleagues are saying about the impact at local level. If he does that, he will understand that the global figures are one thing, but that the cuts at local level will be severe.
This is an important debate and I hope that we will have another opportunity in the near future to discuss all the other ideas that Members have put forward, because the package cannot stand on its own. It has to be done with all the other reforms and changes that are necessary. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) was a pretty good Police Minister, but if he were here doing what the present Minister is doing, I would vote against his Government, because I think it is wrong to reduce the police budget in this way. We need to realise how important this area of policy is and do our best to defend it.
I think we need to be clear about one thing: if the last Government had spent within their means, we would not now be having this debate and we would not be faced with having to reduce the police grant. As a nation, we simply cannot go on spending at the rate we are—borrowing £1 out of every £4 we spend. The reduction of the police grant must be seen in that context. It is a direct consequence of Labour’s economic mismanagement. I am confident that the police will have the managerial abilities to absorb the 1.46% reduction without front-line services being affected. Let us remember that even after the reduction, the police grant for this year will still be higher than it was last year. Compared with last year, this is not a cut, but simply a smaller increase.
In times of economic hardship, every area of expenditure has to be examined and we have to ask whether items of expenditure are really necessary. We have to ask whether what we are doing could be done more economically. The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) talked about neighbourhood policing teams holding monthly meetings; we have to ask whether they really have to be monthly. Has any analysis been done of what percentage of local residents attend those meetings every month? As the chief constable of Greater Manchester police Peter Fahy wrote earlier this month:
“The numbers of staff in front line policing is important, but more important is what these staff are doing, the degree to which they are freed up from bureaucracy and the overall impact they are achieving.”
The Government have already scrapped Labour’s targets for the police force and have made it clear that the police’s only job is to cut crime. The only real test of an effective police force is not what it spends or the number of staff it employs, but how it protects the public it serves. Under this Government, police paperwork is being cut so that the police can spend more time out on the beat. That is what the public want to see, and I urge the whole House to support the motion.
One of the Government’s first acts was to cut £7 million from the West Midlands police budget in this financial year. We are seeing cuts in police numbers, cuts in prison places and restrictions on closed circuit television and the use of DNA. I worry about the start that the Government have made, and I worry about the signal that they are sending on crime. Sir Hugh Orde, the president of Association of Chief Police Officers, has warned that it will be impossible to sustain the current number of police officers under the Government’s plans. Far from being fair and reasonable, as the Minister suggested, Sir Hugh says that it will be impossible to meet the demand for police on the streets.
The West Midlands police force is not an inefficient one. It is quite willing to recognise that it must make savings in these difficult financial times. Under Programme Paragon, it has ripped up its 21 command units and reduced them to 11 local policing units. That should save about £50 million, or about 8% of its budget, over three years. The force is not resistant to the economic circumstances that it faces. It is cutting overtime and bonus payments. It is cutting its training budget by about £500,000—not something I am sure is necessarily a good measure in the long run, but it is certainly not resisting the Government’s suggestion that it should make efficiencies. The reality is that, despite what it is doing, it is being punished by the Government for taking reasonable steps to recognise the economic circumstances that we live in.
The Minister failed to answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) when she asked about elected police commissioners, but the West Midlands police authority’s view is that those proposals are unnecessary and unwelcome. I have as yet had no contact from constituents to tell me that the biggest priority for policing is to elect police commissioners. I have had plenty of contact from constituents about crime and policing issues, but electing police commissioners is certainly not one of them. The West Midlands police authority makes it quite clear that it fears that the Government will politicise the police. That is what that proposal risks doing.
The reality is that not only is the West Midlands police force an efficient one, but crime is falling in the west midlands and public satisfaction surveys are good. The surveys show that the public are happy with the police response and welcome the greater visibility of the police. I can give the figures for attending the local tasking meetings in my constituency. If the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) does not have that information, I suggest that he contact his local commander, because it is available in most forces.
Bishop Derek Webley, who is the independent chairman of the police authority, has warned that the danger in a place such as the west midlands is that an elected police commissioner—a single person—cannot represent our diverse community. Far from such elections being an open step on accountability, they will be a backward step and do the opposite. The reality is that this is simply a Tory party experiment that survived; it is a Tory manifesto commitment that endured, while the Liberal Democrat promise on police numbers was dropped. It is an experiment that, in these straitened economic times, which we have been told about repeatedly today, will cost about £50 million—money that could be spent on policing, including protecting my constituents. If the Government are worried about austerity and the problems of the deficit, this is hardly the time to engage in political experiments with the police. It is an utterly unwelcome step. As Bishop Webley says, it is “a costly exercise” that will put the focus on short-term policing.
The things that we have heard suggested in the debate today, such as the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley that there should be a better connection between local problems and how organised crime develops, will be lost because we will elect someone every four years whose sole priority will be to get re-elected. The whole focus of policing will be skewed as a result of these measures. I have not heard a single constituent say that they are welcome. I have not heard a single rational defence of them today. We are told that the Government are worried about money, but they are prepared to waste money on an unnecessary experiment while they cut mainstream police budgets.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the tried and tested experiments that the last Government made in Northern Ireland was the Policing Board? It was made up of a majority of elected members, not elected directly but drawn from the Northern Ireland Assembly, and a minority of people chosen by the Government from the community. Although it was ridiculed at first, it became one of the most stable ways to hold the police to account, because it included exactly what he suggests: cross-community, cross-sectoral interest groups, holding the police to account on a regular monthly basis. That has resulted in crime being driven down because police performance was put under the microscope monthly.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Policing in Northern Ireland is particularly difficult, but the steps that have been taken there have helped to broaden community support for the police. I am not averse to any measure that will make the police more accountable or broaden community support, but I am averse to wasting £50 million, when we have financial difficulties, on an experiment that has no basis or validity and that no Minister has yet shown any willingness to try to defend. That is what I am against.
The Liberal Democrats told us that they would put more police on the streets by scrapping identity cards. Well, we have considered the Identity Documents Bill in Committee—the Bill to scrap ID cards is in train—but it will not save us money; the Government will spend an extra £500 million this year to scrap ID cards. That money could be spent on the police. If they spent more time thinking about the police and less time pursuing these fantasies and being obsessed with cuts that serve an ideological purpose, which is their real basis, the police would be better off.
The West Midlands police are very concerned that the Government have indicated that they are not likely to give them a special grant, as is the normal custom, to cover the security costs of the Pope’s visit. Perhaps the Minister will want to say something about that at some stage, but as well as having our budget cut, we will incur extra costs, which a Government would normally partly support with an additional grant. That is what happened when the Labour party was in power. I can remember occasions, including the G8 summit, when such funding was provided, but that has not been promised this time.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend caught what Lord Patten said on the radio the other day. As the organiser of the Pope’s visit, he said that there will be a clear separation in that the costs of the state visit will be borne by the state and, where the visit is for Church-related purposes, the costs will be borne by the Church. Clearly, I do not know which category specific events will fall into when the Pope is in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but I recommend that he has words with Lord Patten to ensure that the appropriate funding is received from the appropriate body and that there is no additional strain on the public of his constituency in the west midlands.
I take my hon. Friend’s point. I simply say that it is customary to provide a special grant for such events. That is not what the West Midlands police authority has been promised at the moment. If the Minister wants to correct that, I am quite happy to give way to him. Not only are the Government not giving a special grant, but they will make the West Midlands police authority meet 20% of the cost of Operation Pelkin—to the rest of us, that is the Tory party conference in Birmingham in October. Some £800,000, which could be spent on supporting my constituents in their fight against crime, will be spent on supporting the Tory party conference in Birmingham. I am afraid that it is nonsense to say that this is a fair and reasonable settlement, and that the Government are doing what they have to do because of an economic necessity. This is the Tory party doing what the Tory party always does. It has a pretext for attacking the public sector and the police. It will waste money on political experiments and make my constituents pay the cost. The things that it promised before the election are as worthless as the policies that it is implementing now.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). I seem to have spent most of my short career as a Member listening to him in the Identity Documents Public Bill Committee and in the Chamber—his tones are deceptively Birmingham-sounding.
I shall confine my remarks to the amending report on the police budget and the reasons why I am prepared to support it, despite Derbyshire’s police funding problems. I campaigned on the need to tackle this country’s humungous budget deficit, and we cannot escape the fact that the Home Office will have to do its fair share of dealing with the problem. As much as we would like the savings to be found from admin costs in the Home Office—and perhaps by addressing the 6,500 pages of national guidance about which we have heard—we must accept that police forces will have to find their share of the cost.
My worry about the approach that has been adopted is that a straight-line saving is to be applied to each and every police force throughout the country, despite the different funding that those forces enjoyed—if I can use that word—under the previous Government. Following my discussions with the Minister about this point, I accept that if he was to bring about in-year funding, he had no alternative but to take such an approach. However, if we are to achieve value-for-money, efficient and effective police forces in the long term, we will need to ensure that each force receives fair funding and to implement the existing funding formula fully, instead of showing what each force needs and then giving it a vastly different amount, perhaps to help more preferred regions.
It is easy for a Back Bencher to accept the need for cuts in theory but then to demand that those cuts do not affect their own force and constituency. As a Derbyshire Member, I would find it particularly easy to cite facts to support that argument—I shall talk about them later—but I assure the Minister that I am not asking him to increase the police budget. I even accept that he cannot maintain the current budget for forces, but I hope that he will implement the funding formula properly so that forces such as Derbyshire get the funding that the formula says they need, rather than a significantly smaller amount.
The Derbyshire force is the 10th lowest spending force per head. The previous Government’s failure to implement the funding formula has cost Derbyshire £26 million over the past five years, and £4.5 million in this year alone. That money could give Derbyshire an extra 200 police officers, perhaps 20 of whom would be in my constituency, with seven for each town. Hon. Members can imagine the improvement that that would make to my constituents’ lives.
The cause of the lack of funding is not that Derbyshire is a low-crime area; I am comparing the funding given by the previous Government with the amount for which the funding formula should provide on the basis of Derbyshire’s crime needs. We have heard a lot about how forces could collaborate to save money, but the problem affects not just Derbyshire, because forces throughout the whole east midlands are significantly underfunded. East midlands police forces receive the lowest grant per crime in the country—£1,459—while the Met and north-east forces receive more than £2,400 per crime. That is not fair to the people of the east midlands, Derbyshire or Amber Valley.
I urge the Minister to address the problem. I am not saying that the east midlands and Derbyshire forces cannot make efficiency savings or do things better—the forces themselves would not say that—but surely it cannot be right that we expect the Derbyshire force to make efficiency savings on its grant of £1,459 per crime when other forces receive an extra £1,000 a crime. Such forces must find it easier to make efficiency savings than those that already receive less funding.
I am asking not for a wholesale, lengthy and expensive review of the funding formula, just that it is implemented properly. I am not asking the Minister to do that today, or even in full from next year. However, he needs to accelerate the progress towards removing the damping process so that, by the end of this Parliament, the police receive their fair share of the funding and can therefore do their fair share of tackling crime.
As part of the effort to reduce the £900 billion of public debt, Essex police authority’s budget is being cut in this financial year. Mr Barker-McCardle, the Essex chief inspector, has said that it is his
“absolute priority to sustain front-line operational…services”.
Essex police have made efficiencies of 25% in four years and spend just £153 per capita on policing each year, compared with £175 elsewhere. Given the force’s track record of shrinking back-office costs, the Essex chief constable has said that he is
“optimistic that we can tackle a £2.6 million cut without taking police officers off the street.”
Front-line policing is therefore safe in Harlow and in Essex, but there is a more substantial question: how can we deliver better policing, given our financial constraints? There are several strands to that thread, but I shall concentrate on just one.
If we transform special constables into a Territorial Army-type force, they could cover more policing duties and offer excellent value for money. That could be paid for by rebalancing our police forces over several years. For example, as natural churn and retirement thin the ranks of police community support officers, each PCSO could be replaced by two or three special constables, each on a TA-type stipend. That would increase a force’s overall capacity at times of crisis, as well as save money. It would also do a huge amount to boost retention among specials, who are very expensive to train, recruit and equip. Specials make up a genuinely local force, like neighbourhood watch, and offer an invaluable source of community intelligence.
For the past six years, Essex police authority has been working in harmony and partnership with the Conservative county council and Kent police authority. During that time, Essex’s specials force has doubled from 350 officers to nearly 700. That is a credit to Essex police authority and the brave volunteers who serve the public as specials, often in hazardous conditions. We need to build on that solid base by incentivising specials to work more hours and develop professionally.
I absolutely believe that a larger number of specials would help our front-line policing considerably.
I accept that I am setting out the embryo of an idea and that the proposal’s costs and benefits would need rigorous assessment, but I think that it is worth exploring. In the context of unavoidable cuts to police grants, a better retention rate among special constables would save money. Specials also give communities a tough local police force with full powers. More specials would, like the TA, give us defence in depth at a time of crisis.
I must stress, however—I am sure that this will please the Minister—that I am not calling for more money to be spent. My proposal is about refocusing the resources that we already have. Sadly, this year’s £2.6 million cut to Essex policing is Labour’s legacy, but I am glad that Mr Barker-McCardle has said that it is his
“absolute priority to sustain front-line operational police services”.
If we want to deliver better policing with less money, we must enhance the special constables, because every time that we lose a special, we incur the cost of recruiting, training and equipping another, as well as losing their experience. The cuts are unavoidable and, of course, to be regretted, but they give us an opportunity to transform our police service with a focus on value for money. As part of that process, I hope that we will consider enhancing special constables.
I am grateful to be called in the debate. I will support the Government today, but with the proviso that we look at the funding formula. I am not blessed with the deficit denial that some hon. Members seem to be blessed with. The fact that we find ourselves in such dire financial circumstances leads me to the conclusion that we clearly need to take action, but we need to create a balance amongst some of the police forces. There will always be strains between different regional authorities and regions, but only one region loses out across the board, and that is the east midlands. In particular, Nottinghamshire police has had enormous problems in terms of getting its fair share of the funding formula.
The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) referred to the strain on the Northumberland police created by the Moat case. I know he will have been grateful for the expertise of the Nottinghamshire firearms department, which assisted in that case despite the enormous disparity between those two police authorities. It may be worth pointing out that last year in Nottinghamshire there were 23,122 violent crimes, and in Northumberland there were 20,868. Clearly, Nottinghamshire has more violent crime. However, Nottinghamshire receives £141 per capita, whereas Northumberland receives £171 per capita, an enormous difference of £30. That manifests itself in the number of police officers that are available to each authority. In Nottinghamshire, we have 2,380 officers; Northumberland has 4,028. There is no doubt that such a disparity in the funding formula leads to the criticism of Nottinghamshire police, which many hon. Members will have seen in the press, and praise for Northumberland police. Will the Minister commit to implementing at a much greater speed the recommendations of the Flanagan report, and the Lyons report which preceded it, in balancing the amount of cash to our regions and authorities.
I welcome many of the policies that the Minister is bringing forward. I look forward to elected police commissioners. Many constituents tell me that the police do not recognise their priorities, and having an elected police commissioner will focus the minds of those police authorities on their genuine needs and priorities, and make sure that they are addressed. I welcome the examination of the procurement process nationally. I cannot help but notice that after 13 years, the previous Government started to talk about that in their last year, and within nine weeks of coming to the Dispatch Box, the Minister is driving that forward and moving us in the right direction. That really highlights the difference between talk and action, and I welcome the fact that the Government will take action and ensure that we get the right results.
We have had a good debate and a number of points have been made by right hon. and hon. Members, to which I will try to respond as quickly as I can. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) asked for an assessment of police numbers now, and it is true that some forces were freezing recruitment before the general election. He also asked about our stance in relation to the comprehensive spending review, a point that was also made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who suggested that the police budget should have been protected. We will not know the amounts that will be available for policing until the outcome of that spending review, and those are precisely the discussions that we are having within Government at the moment. Again, decisions will be made about the special grants, including those for neighbourhood policing and so on, which we will announce in good time.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), who I am sorry to see is no longer in his place, was concerned about the Pope’s visit. I understand that a bid is expected from Warwickshire police, whose region the Pope will visit, and from other forces, such as the West Midlands, and they will be considered under the special grant. The hon. Gentleman complained about policing costs in relation to the Conservative party conference that is due to be held in Birmingham. Considerable economic benefits accrue to places where party conferences are held, in terms of the number of people attending and so on. I understand that West Midlands police have bid for £4.5 million of special grant for the costs incurred in policing the Conservative party conference this year. By comparison, Greater Manchester police have bid for £4.2 million for the cost of policing the Labour party conference in Manchester this year. That is more than the amount awarded to Greater Manchester police in special grant for the costs incurred in policing the Conservative party conference in October the previous year. Labour Members might like to reflect on why in opposition their conference should be more expensive to police than the Conservative party conference was when it was in opposition.
The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) made a forceful speech in which I understood her to propose that there should be compulsory amalgamations of police forces. I know that that is a policy that has long since been abandoned by the official Opposition, having failed to deliver it. I did talk about the importance of serious crime and ensuring collaboration to deal with it.
I thank the Minister. I did not suggest that there should be compulsory amalgamation of police forces. I was pointing out the problems in the current force structure that must be attended to to ensure that we have the best possible capacity to deal with serious and organised crime. That is a debate that we should be having, both in terms of value for money and efficiency.
I think that many of us heard the right hon. Lady suggest that there should be forced amalgamations. We will be able to read the record and check. I am happy to have her assurance that she did not, in which case her position would appear not to differ from that of the Government. I remind her that I talked about being tougher and about achieving savings and collaboration where there was a policing need, for instance, in relation to serious crime. I do not believe she was making points that had not been understood by the Government in relation to the importance of ensuring that policing serious crime is protected.
I listened with interest to the contribution of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. He drew attention to the importance of assessing the effectiveness and performance of the national policing bodies, including the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency, which is under review. We do have concerns about value for money and ensuring that those organisations deliver the necessary outcomes, given the large sums of taxpayers’ money that are awarded to them. He was right to draw attention to that.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s warnings about relations with the police in the future, I should point out that we are asking police officers, in common with other public sector employees, to make sacrifices. We expect the police service to be subject to the same pay freeze—dependent on proper negotiations with the Police Negotiating Board—as other members of the public sector, and we want to ensure that the police are treated both fairly and equally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) talked about the importance of special constables, and I could not agree more. In the 1950s, partly as a hangover from the war, there were 67,000 specials; now there are 14,000. Some progress has been made in recent years to recruit more, but there is a huge untapped potential to recruit more policing volunteers, and we should take that seriously, rather than dismissing it, as I thought one Opposition Member intended to do.
In an effective speech about the importance of local policing, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) talked about the faux anger and synthetic outrage that we have seen from Opposition Members. We have seen not only that but exaggerated claims about the impact of the spending cuts that we are now asking the House to approve. I repeat that, for each police force, these cuts represents less than 1.5% of the amount of money that they will receive from central Government, and less than 1% of their total budget this year. I repeat also, whose fault is it? It is the fault of the Opposition, given the economic legacy that they have bequeathed to this country, and it is the responsibility of this Government and our Members to deal with it. We will face up to that responsibility, and I hope that hon. Members will support the motion.
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2010-11: Amending Report 2010-11 (House of Commons Paper No. 47), which was laid before this House on 10 June, be approved.