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Police (Rural Areas)

Volume 522: debated on Monday 24 January 2011

5. What assessment she has made of the challenges faced by police forces required to police large rural areas. (35094)

Rural areas can present challenges for policing because of their geographical size and the remoteness of their communities. The Government’s reform programme to reduce bureaucracy will help policing in rural and urban areas alike.

I thank my right hon. Friend. Will he urge police forces to work much more closely with fire services and others to share back offices and facilities in rural areas and save taxpayers’ money?

The short answer is yes. Police forces could make huge savings by collaborating with each other and with other authorities. An example is the proposed national police air service, which will save £15 million a year once it is fully in place. I hope that police authorities will agree to it.

Would it not be a mistake to prop up rural police funding by plundering the police resources of urban areas? For example, many people in my constituency are worried about the future of Sherwood police station. Why are the Government cutting the most from the least well-off communities?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that would be a mistake, and we certainly do not make funding allocations on that basis. Of course police forces have had to make savings, but we have decided that the fairest approach is to ensure that all forces make an equal share of the savings. The majority of grant is, of course, allocated according to the formula.

Although co-operation among forces, and indeed between the police, ambulance and fire services, is essential, as the Minister correctly suggests, does he not agree that there is a real risk that if a rural police force such as mine in Wiltshire were to co-operate too closely with, say, Bristol on one side or Swindon or Reading on the other, resources would be pulled out of the rural areas and into the urban ones? Keeping a rural police service is extremely important.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of keeping rural policing services. In the end, these are matters for the determination of chief constables, who must remain operationally independent and allocate resources properly, and their police authorities. We do not seek to interfere with that, but we do seek to drive savings where they can be made by greater collaboration between forces.

The chief constable of North Wales says that it will be impossible to protect front-line services with cuts of £22.6 million over the next four years. Will the Prime Minister please tell us—[Interruption.] I apologise for what may appear to be a promotion. Will the Minister explain what assessment he has made of those figures?

That is easily the nicest thing that has been said to me since I have been in this job—indeed, it may be the only nice thing.

I want to discuss these issues with the chief constable of North Wales. We believe that by making significant savings in their back and middle offices, by sharing services and by improving procurement, it is possible for police forces to deal with funding reductions while protecting front-line services. It is up to the police authority and the chief constable to do everything they can to ensure that that is the case.