My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Cabinet and ministerial colleagues, and we regularly meet the Association of Chief Police Officers Cymru, Police Authorities of Wales, the Welsh Local Government Association and other interested parties to discuss matters affecting policing and law and order in Wales.
With Welsh police forces facing budget cuts this year of more than £6 million, which is a real threat to front-line policing in constituencies such as mine, will the Minister tell the House how much it will cost to elect and fund the proposed directly elected police commissioners in Wales?
The hon. Lady will know that we have had to impose budget cuts to make a start on sorting out the appalling economic legacy that we inherited from the Labour party. Elected police commissioners will not cost a penny more than the police authorities that they will replace, and they will add the considerable value of ensuring that there is a democratic link between the electorate and those responsible for overseeing the police.
The Police Minister indicated that police authorities could make savings by reducing overtime, but police authorities such as Dyfed-Powys have already reduced overtime to a minimum as a result of previous efficiency savings. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Wales convey that to the Police Minister, and ensure that not all police authorities are dealt with on the same basis, so that peculiar requirements are taken into consideration?
The Government clearly recognise that any cuts present challenges to our police, as they do to other front-line services, but they also present an opportunity to refocus policing priorities and operational requirements. The Welsh police authorities have already shown an excellent lead by combining procurement, to the extent that they have saved more than £3.5 million in the last financial year, and I hope that that pattern will continue.
Following on from the Minister’s earlier response, the Local Government Association estimates that the cost of these police commissioners will be £50 million, or the equivalent of 700 police officers. Does not he agree that it would be perverse to introduce these superannuated sheriffs at the same time as making cuts in neighbourhood policing?
As I have already indicated, the cost of the police commissioners will not be a penny more than the authorities that they replace. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that I have already held a meeting with the Welsh Local Government Association. I have also seen the letter to which he alludes, and I have passed it on to colleagues in the Home Office. I reiterate that it will not cost a penny more than the police authorities that the commissioners will replace.