I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2011-12 (House of Commons Paper No. 771), which was laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.
As well as seeking the House’s approval for the grant, I want to explain why this settlement for the police is necessary, challenging but manageable, and how the Government are helping the service to meet the challenge.
On 13 December, I laid before the House the Government’s proposed allocations of grants to police authorities in England and Wales. Following that, the Government held a six-week consultation on the proposed allocation of funding, during which 34 representations were received from across 20 force areas. I would like to thank hon. Members, members of police forces, police authorities and other policing organisations across the country for taking the time to share their views on the provisional settlement. Their comments have been considered carefully and fully.
Having inherited the largest peacetime deficit in Britain’s history, the Government had no option but to reduce public spending, and a police service that spends more than £13 billion a year cannot be exempt from a requirement to save public money. The October spending review set the overall cut in funding at 20% in real terms over four years, and it set the profile of the reduction. I accept that the settlement is challenging, but the Government believe that it is manageable, and that if savings are made in the right areas the service to the public can be maintained and, indeed, improved.
The Minister says that the settlement is challenging. Does he accept that it is more challenging for some forces than for others, and that a force in Merseyside depends far more on central Government grant than a force in Surrey, which raises half its funds locally? Will he consider, for the purpose of future years, looking again at an issue that is causing great concern in my constituency?
I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s observation that different forces raise different amounts from local taxpayers, and I shall deal with it shortly. I remain open-minded about the issue, given that the report relates to allocations for the next two years.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that over the past few years Essex police have made efficiency savings of 25%? Helicopter, payroll and legal services are now being shared, but Harlow police station remains open 24 hours a day, and our front-line services have been protected.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. There are examples throughout the country—and I intend to provide some—of police forces that are making significant efficiency savings, and working in a smarter way that improves the service to the public even when funds have been reduced. It is clearly possible to achieve that.
It has been said that the profile of the cuts is front-loaded so that forces must find the biggest savings at an early stage. The profile reflects the need to make early progress on reducing the deficit, and it is set, but we must view the grant reductions in context. The biggest cut does not fall in the first year. The average cash reduction in grant is 4% in the first year, 5% in the second, 2% in the third, and 1% in the fourth.
It is also important to remember that a 20% reduction in Government funding in real terms does not mean a 20% reduction in force spending power. Forces do not receive all their funding from central Government; on average they receive about a quarter of it from the council tax component of precept, which is determined locally. If police authorities and, thereafter, elected police and crime commissioners choose to increase precept at the level forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the settlement represents a 14% real-terms reduction in overall funding over four years. Of course I recognise that the local contribution to police spending varies considerably between forces, and I shall deal with that aspect shortly.
Why does the Minister think that a force such as that in Cheshire should lose 200 front-line police officers while the Government are spending money on an unnecessary switch to political police commissioners? My constituents would much prefer that money to be spent on putting officers on the beat.
I have explained this to the House before, but I am happy to do so again for the benefit of the hon. Lady. If she looks at the allocations that we have made, she will see that the additional cost of holding an election for police and crime commissioners will not come from force budgets, but has been provided separately by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The argument that, because a cost is involved in the holding of an election, that election should not take place is a very foolish one, and a particularly odd one for an elected Member of Parliament to advance. When the Labour party proposed five different referendums in its manifesto, I did not notice its advancing the argument that a cost would be involved. I should also point out that it is now Labour’s policy for police authority chairs to be directly elected, and that the cost of holding those elections would arise every four years. Perhaps the hon. Lady should remonstrate with those on her party’s Front Bench if she considers that that is not money well spent. There is now agreement on both sides that there should be direct elections, and a cost is involved in that policy. If the Opposition did not believe that a cost was involved, they should not have advanced the policy and voted for it, as they did in Committee just a few weeks ago.
Let me return to the real effect of the funding reductions on forces. Humberside’s force raises the average 25% of its revenue through precept. If we assume that it chooses to adopt the freeze in council tax next year, its total funding will then fall by £5.5 million, or 2.9% of its total income of some £190 million. That is challenging, but it is not unmanageable. As Opposition Members have pointed out, the reductions in years three and four will be smaller.
Some forces, and some Members, have argued that the amount that each force raises in precept should be taken into account in the determination of funding reductions. I understand their argument, because forces that raise very little from precept will face a larger cut than those that raise a great deal. After careful consideration, however, I decided that there would be a number of objections to such an adjustment. First, it would be said that we were penalising council tax payers in other areas who already pay far more for their policing services, and who have experienced a big increase in council tax in previous years. That would certainly be unfair. Secondly, by subsidising forces in that way—including large forces with greater capacity—we would be asking others to take a larger cut in central grant than 20%, and that too would have been regarded as unfair. The fair solution, and the one that was expected by forces and authorities, was to treat all forces the same by making equal cuts in grant.
The Minister appears to have borrowed that very doubtful concept of spending power from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and I am afraid that it is no more reputable in his hands than it was in those of his right hon. Friend. The truth is that there will be a 20% cut in grant, and the truth is that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said that a cut of more than 12% will affect police availability. Why does the Minister disagree with HMIC—which has said that a cut of 12% is possible, but that anything beyond that will cut into the front line—and with the chief constable of Greater Manchester, who has said that there will be an effect on front-line policing?
There are two answers to that. First, forces on average receive a quarter of their funding from local taxpayers, so it does not make sense to consider only the amount that they receive from central Government. What matters to a force is its total spending power, and it is hardly disreputable to take that into account. Secondly, although I do not disagree with the conclusions of the important report of the inspectorate of constabulary—with which I will deal shortly—I think it possible, as I will explain, to make savings that were beyond the remit of its report.
I am pleased that Opposition Members apparently agree with the policy of the inspectorate of constabulary that forces can save more than £1 billion a year without affecting the front line and while protecting visibility, because that is very important.
I understand the Minister’s explanation, which, in a sense, constitutes a fuller response to my earlier point, but may I urge him to reconsider in future years? The main reason for the contrast between the sources of funding for forces in, say, Merseyside and Surrey is the fact that Merseyside has a higher level of social and economic deprivation. In recent years, council tax payers in my constituency have paid more for the police and have not experienced a freeze, but in practice they will experience a much bigger cut than those in Surrey.
I said to the hon. Gentleman earlier that we must remain open-minded about the impact in future years, and we will. I think that this is the fairest approach, and it is the approach that I am taking in relation to the cut in central Government funding. Most of the funding that a force receives through the grant will result from the application of a formula that recognises local need. I know that this raises issues, but ultimately I decided that the right approach to the cut in central Government funding was to treat each force fairly. That is why I decided to apply damping at the level of the average cut.
May I remind the Minister that Northamptonshire police’s grant funding will decrease by 5.1% next year, when it should have decreased by only 0.9%? That is due to the damping formula, under which Northamptonshire police will lose £3.4 million in 2011-12 and a further £3.7 million in 2012-13. They are subsidising forces throughout the country. Will the Minister promise to look at this matter for next year’s grant?
I have met my hon. Friend and his local chief constable. He knows that I consider this matter very carefully, and he made his points very well on behalf of his constituents. I will discuss damping in a moment, but my hon. Friend’s comments reflect the fact that there will always be differences of view in this House between Members whose police forces benefit from damping and who therefore do not wish to see any change in its application, and Members whose forces have, effectively, paid out under damping and who desperately wish there to be a change. It is therefore not possible for the Government to satisfy everybody. We have had to take decisions in the round, and in accordance with what we consider to be the best and fairest way to address the totality of policing in this country.
As I have said, I decided to apply damping at the level of the average cut. As a result, each force will face an equal percentage reduction in core Government funding in 2011-12 and 2012-13, thereby ensuring that no one force will face an unacceptably large reduction in its budget. This mirrors the approach we took in the in-year savings following the emergency Budget and, importantly, it is what police forces were expecting and planning upon.
I appreciate that different forces have different views on this decision, as do hon. Members, and I understand why forces such as the West Midlands and Dorset—and, indeed, Northamptonshire—are keen to see damping phased out or removed entirely, while others such as Cumbria and Cheshire welcome its retention. As I have said, in making decisions such as these I must, of course, think about policing as a whole. I also appreciate the wider case against damping, and there is a strong argument for moving at the right time to a full application of the formula, recognising the policing needs of each area, but doing so now would have created real difficulty. I should also point out that the vast majority of funding that forces receive is allocated according to the formula. Therefore, force level allocations will remain as I announced in December.
Historically, there have been a number of ring-fenced grants to police forces. The Government’s general approach has been to remove ring-fencing and to roll funding into the main grant so that forces have greater local flexibility in determining how resources are spent. That has been the case for the rural policing fund. From 2006-07, it had already been amalgamated with four other specific grants to create what is known as rule 2 grant, but we are now rolling that into the police main grant. I want to emphasise, especially to Members representing rural constituencies, that as result of my decision on damping levels the decision on rolling this grant into the main grant means that no force will be worse off.
In some instances, I believe the case for ring-fencing grants remains strong. Outside London, the neighbourhood policing fund will be ring-fenced for the next two years to ensure the continuing funding of police community support officers, who play a valuable role in community policing. When police and crime commissioners are introduced, it will be up to them to make decisions over funding. In London, where the Mayor can already exercise this local determination, the ring fence is being lifted now, but the fund is being maintained at £340 million next year and £338 million the following year. When some Members make their allegations about cuts in front-line policing, they might like to note that that ring-fenced fund has been maintained.
The counter-terrorism specific grant has been relatively protected with a 10% cut in real terms over four years. This is a cut of just 1% in cash terms, and must be seen against a very rapid increase in resource and capital spending—some 49% in the last four years. The Government and the police service are confident that there will be no reduction in police effectiveness in this crucial area, where savings can be made but where well over £500 million will continue to be spent each year.
The Minister has rightly put the emphasis on the local areas, because it is their budget in the end. Does he not agree, however, that there is a responsibility on the Home Office to show leadership in respect of local forces? That is especially the case for procurement; the Home Office should encourage local forces to collaborate and pool resources in order to procure.
I strongly agree with the right hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and I will address that issue later, as I intend to set out the savings that I believe can be made. The Home Office has a role to play in driving that, and in asking for the leadership of forces to share services and collaborate so that we can realise the considerable savings that are possible in procurement.
I was talking about funding to ensure national security. Similarly, funding for Olympic security has been prioritised. Up to £600 million will remain available if required for the safety and security programme, as originally pledged, although we expect that that should be delivered for rather less, at £475 million.
Well, I think it is important that up until the Olympics the pledged sum remains in place in order to ensure security. Such decisions can be taken afterwards.
The Metropolitan police will continue to receive a national, international and capital city grant, recognising the unique duties they perform. It will be worth £200 million next year, although it will be reduced in subsequent years on the same basis as the police main grant.
The Government’s absolute priority is to ensure that the England and Wales police service retains and enhances its ability to protect and serve the public. Understandably, there has been much focus on the impact of the settlement on police numbers. Given the need to reduce public spending, we cannot guarantee the number of police and staff, which had reached record levels—almost 250,000 people—and neither, of course, could the previous Government.
The Minister says that the number of police officers will be reduced. Recently, he is supposed to have said that there is no link between the commission of crime and the number of police. Does he still stand by that statement?
I did not say that; I said there was no simple link, and there is not.
All parties agree with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary that police forces can make savings of over £1 billion a year while maintaining police availability. However, that will mean smaller police work forces in order to support the £1 billion a year of savings HMIC says can be made, which I do not think the Opposition have understood. That is why I regard it as so unacceptable that the Opposition should campaign on the issue of police numbers when they are committed to cutting spending by over £1 billion a year, which will lead to a reduction in police numbers.
The challenge for the service is to improve efficiency, drive out waste and increase productivity so that front-line policing is prioritised and the service to the public is maintained or improved.
I agree that the police can save money, and they might start to do so by addressing some of the equality and diversity politically correct drivel on which they waste millions of pounds each year. If the Government were simply cutting the police budget and savings could be found, that would be fine. However, the problem with the Government’s argument is that they are doing this against the backdrop of restricting the police’s ability to use the DNA database to catch criminals and trying to restrict further the use of CCTV cameras which also help the police catch criminals, and they are releasing people from prison and having fewer criminals in prison. They cannot do all those things with fewer police.
I always know it is a mistake to take interventions from my hon. Friend, but no doubt it is a mistake I will continue to make. I enjoy his interventions, but I note that, although it seemed to me that Opposition Front-Bench Members were giving lots of nods to what he said, they have still not understood the importance of ensuring a proper balance between security and liberty in this country. In spite of everything the new leader of their party has said, they have still not understood that.
There are also areas beyond the HMIC’s report—this comes directly to the point made by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears)—where savings can be made by forces working together. There are 2,000 different IT systems across the 43 police forces, and some 5,000 staff. We estimate that savings of some £330 million could be found through joint procurement of goods, services and IT. The vast bulk of these savings —around a third of a billion pounds or more—will be additional to the savings identified by HMIC.
The time for just talking about IT convergence, collective procurement, collaboration, sharing and outsourcing services is over. We cannot afford not to do these things, and we cannot afford to delay, so, where necessary, the Government will mandate the changes required. That is why I am about to lay regulations before Parliament to require the police service to buy certain IT vehicles, and so on, through specified national framework arrangements.
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time. I welcome very much what he has just said. This issue has been the subject of much discussion in the Home Affairs Committee, driven by its former member, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley). There is a need for central procurement: a list, a book, a catalogue—not quite like Argos, but something that can be used as a template for various police forces to choose from.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support and I hope this approach will command support across the whole House, because it does make sense for the 43 forces to procure together where that will make savings; and the savings are quite considerable.
Pursuing that point, if there is some rationalisation among the 2,000 IT systems, would that not also lead to significantly more effective policing and a reduced risk, for instance, of systems being out of synch and data getting lost between different systems?
I agree with my hon. Friend that making these efficiencies and improvements in business processes is about not just saving money, but improving the quality of the service. Those two things are not incompatible, and it is time we stopped talking as though they were.
I want to make a little more progress, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.
The inspectorate’s report focuses on reducing police force costs to average levels, but why should forces not be able to go further by matching the performance of the best, rather than merely the average? If forces improve productivity and adjust to the level of spend typical of the more efficient forces, that could add another £350 million to the savings calculated in HMIC’s report.
Pay, too, was outside the scope of the report. It accounts for the bulk of total police spending—some £11 billion last year. Any organisation in which the majority of the cost is pay, and which is facing tough times, has to look at its pay bill. The Government have announced a policy for a two-year pay freeze across the public sector. Subject to any recommendations from the police negotiating board and agreement on staff pay, this might save some £350 million. We have asked Tom Winsor to review the remuneration and conditions of service of police officers and staff. The Government have asked the review to make recommendations that are fair to, and reasonable for, both the taxpayer and police officers and staff. I want to emphasise the importance of fairness to police officers, who cannot strike and who often do a difficult and dangerous job on the public’s behalf. Tom Winsor’s first report is due to be published in February, with the second part due in June. Taken together, we believe there are potential savings of some £2.2 billion a year by 2014-15, which is greater than the real reduction in central grant.
These changes require a fundamental redesign of policing, with far greater collaboration, shared services and the potential use of outsourcing. However, this does not mean a worse service to the public. Savings must be driven in the back and middle-offices of police forces—areas where functions are important, even if invisible to the public, but could be done more efficiently. These functions have grown disproportionately as the money rolled in and bureaucracy predominated. As Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester police, told the Home Affairs Committee earlier this month,
“some of our headquarters operations had got too big.”
Does the Minister not accept that there is a danger that if forces cut back such staff—for instance, North Wales police is cutting one in four back-room staff—all that happens is that front-line officers have to be pulled off the beat to do that job?
No, I do not accept that at all. The challenge is to ensure that those functions are done more efficiently; it is not simply a question of handing the function to someone else. No one is saying that back and middle-office functions can or should be abolished, but they can become much leaner.
Furthermore, protecting the front-line service does not mean setting it in aspic. Productivity at the front line can be improved, too, so that resources are better deployed in order to maintain or improve the service to the public. For example, West Yorkshire police have significantly reduced the time taken to investigate a crime. Improving the standard of initial investigation, they reduced the average time taken to investigate low-level crime by 85%. Wiltshire police have significantly reduced the time neighbourhood and response officers spend in custody centres, and off the streets, from an average of 27 minutes to an average of 10 minutes. That is worth 3,000 extra hours of street policing.
In Brighton, Sussex police have put in place a dedicated team for secondary investigations, reducing the amount of paperwork that response officers have to complete and allowing them to return quickly to the streets after answering a call. This saved nearly £1 million, improved response times and sped up the time it takes to complete an investigation.
Surrey police have changed their arrangements in order to co-locate some officers in council buildings, rather than their remaining in little-used police buildings, thereby saving money. That has helped to fund the recruitment of additional constables.
The Minister will be aware that the area-based grants that many deprived local authorities have received to date have been used, as with my own council in Salford, to tackle antisocial behaviour in exactly that way—by having co-located teams dealing with the same families. That area-based grant has now been completely abolished—by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. If there is any thought of joined-up government, clearly, this is not it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way to me for a second time. Given what I said earlier about Essex police collaborating successfully with police forces in the south-east, such as Kent, on payroll services and on procuring helicopters and other vehicles, and given what he said about passing regulation for those who do not collaborate, will he look favourably on forces that are collaborating in future funding formulas?
Of course we will continue to look at all these issues, and I welcome the collaboration that has taken place in my hon. Friend’s force. HMIC was clear that collaboration has to proceed at a faster pace, and we will look at all the potential incentives to ensure that that is the case.
My right hon. Friend said something terribly important about mandating collaboration, which I have long argued for, particularly through the Policing and Crime Bill in 2009. He talked about collaboration in the context of procurement. What about mandated collaboration in the context of protective services?
There is strong potential for forces to collaborate on protective services, and again, we want to see such things happen. We have ensured in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which is currently in Committee, that strong duties will be placed on police and crime commissioners to collaborate. It is very important that forces do that. Indeed, in a speech I gave a couple of weeks ago, I said that the age of police fiefdoms is over. There is a need for police forces to work together more effectively. The Government do not believe in forced mergers of police forces, but we cannot have 43 forces doing things all on their own when there are great savings and efficiencies to be made in exactly the sort of area that my hon. Friend represents by working together.
I am glad that the Minister mentioned some of the collaboration taking place between the Sussex and Surrey forces, and the better working with local authorities, which relates to an earlier point. He will know that from 1 April West Sussex is to have one division, which is a way for police administration to be more efficient, and it also leads to better front-line services.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I also gave the example of Surrey, where co-location has proved possible despite the funding reductions that have taken place. It shows that with innovation it is possible to think afresh about how these services are delivered to the public.
The key to the changes that I have outlined is service improvement from the same or less resource. As Derbyshire’s chief constable said last month:
“People won’t really see much difference in terms of neighbourhood policing, emergency response and uniformed patrols—we’ll still have a huge amount of people in the front line.”
We must also tackle the bureaucracy, which has tied up police time. It is no use focusing only on police numbers if too much police time is spent on inefficient or unnecessary tasks. Every hour of police time we save by cutting red tape is an hour’s more potential time spent on front-line duties. Scrapping the stop form and reducing the stop- and-search form, which officers have to complete, could save up to 800,000 hours of officer time.
I recognise the challenge facing policing. I also appreciate that many in the police work force are worried about their remuneration and indeed their jobs. I certainly do not belittle that concern, but my first priority must be to ensure that the best service is provided to the public within the financial constraints that we all face. Every chief constable I have met has impressed upon me his or her determination to do everything possible to protect front-line services while dealing with the reduction in funding. The Government are determined to work with the police service to ensure that that is the case.
Today the House is being asked to approve a 20% cut in Government funding for the police force in England and Wales. The deputy chief constable of Devon and Somerset, Shaun Sawyer, has said that these are
“the biggest…cuts for a generation”.
The deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire has said that the cuts are “unprecedented” and will have a
“real impact on people's lives and families.”
The House is being asked to vote for 20% cuts, a reduction of more than 10,000 police officers, and substantial cuts to police community support officers and critical support staff. The choice for MPs today is whether to back those cuts to the police in their own constituencies or to stand up, defend their communities and tell the Government to think again.
May I ask the right hon. Lady whether she supports the Darling deficit reduction plan, which I understand the new shadow Chancellor also supports and which would have seen £9 of every £10 of the Government’s proposed cuts to the police service going ahead?
The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong, and I just say to him that he will be voting today to support 500 police officers being cut from the Sussex police force. I wonder whether he will put that on his leaflet when he campaigns at the next election—it will certainly be on ours.
Chief constables across the country are being put in an impossible position. Of course they are working hard to reassure the public, to do everything they can to improve policing, to manage with the budgets that the Minister has given them, and to deliver the best possible service and keep reducing the level of crime, but they are having the rug pulled from beneath them by the crazy scale and pace of these cuts. He can try all the smoke and mirrors he wants—he talks about cash cuts and hypothetical council tax increases—but the facts are very clear: there are to be more than 7% of real cuts in the police grant for next year and more than 8% the following year. The total cut is more than 20% in real terms, which is more than £2 billion, as the Minister has admitted.
What are the consequence of that? They are: 100 fewer police officers in Cumbria; 258 fewer police officers in Cheshire; 256 fewer police officers in South Wales; 114 fewer police officers in the Thames Valley; more than 1,000 fewer officers in the West Midlands; and more than 1,000 fewer police officers in London. The result is more than 10,000 fewer police officers in England and Wales. They are not our figures, but the figures from the chief constables and police authorities across the country. This means 10,000 police officers gone, which is the equivalent of every police officer in Hampshire, Kent and Sussex put together, or every police officer in the entire east midlands. That is the reduction that these areas are having to face and that is just the start.
Perhaps I should ask the hon. Gentleman what he means by the “front-line”. He may think that trained police officers can just be got rid off without that having any impact on the communities they serve, but that is not what his constituents think and it is not what the people of Staffordshire will think when 70 police officers are cut as part of the planned cuts that his Government are introducing.
The right hon. Lady is committed to cutting police funding by more than £1 billion a year. Is she saying that that can be done without reducing the size of the work force? How many of the 10,000 police officers that she has said are to go are front-line officers?
I will come back to the point that the Minister raises about what Labour’s plans would be, because that is important, but first let me address the issue about the front line. The Prime Minister promised to protect the front line and he promised to carpet any Minister putting forward front-line cuts. The Home Secretary said that it is possible for the police to make significant reductions in their budgets “without affecting front-line policing.” But officers are being lost from the front line every single day—their number has reduced by 2,000 since the election alone. London is losing 300 sergeants from the safer neighbourhood teams, Birmingham has already lost police from its community teams, and the plans of the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire forces have already troubled residents. Thanks to budget cuts, those forces have told gun owners that they will not be doing home visits and people can renew their gun licence by phone. The police have said in response:
“Unfortunately in the current climate policing is having 20% removed from its budgets we have to make the best use of that money and we are adopting a risk based approach.”
Those police have been put in an impossible position. What is more front line than keeping neighbourhoods safe or preventing gun crime? What is more front line than 10,000 trained police officers?
We have asked the Government what they mean by protecting the front line. In the other place in December, they were asked for their definition of the front-line policing that the Home Secretary said she would protect. It took more than two months for Baroness Neville-Jones to reply:
“There is no formally agreed definition of frontline police services.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 February 2011; Vol. 725, c. WA50.]
Now we know why they will not protect those services—they do not even know what they are. But crime victims and communities across the country know exactly what front-line services are and they can see that they are under threat every day from this Government.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. If she cannot define front-line services, how does she know that officers are going from the front line? Will she answer the question I asked? As she is committed to cutting police funding by more than £1 billion a year, will she admit that that would mean a smaller police work force?
The Minister has tried to claim that police officer jobs would go under Labour’s plans. Let us be clear: our view is that we should be giving the police enough money to protect police officers and police community support officers across the country because we believe they are doing a good job. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the former Home Secretary, did indeed announce plans for just more than £1 billion to be made in efficiency savings over this Parliament and yes, we have made it clear that we would have cut the police budget in line with those efficiency plans. He set out measures through which that could be done, such as greater collaboration, procurement savings and better management of staff and shifts to save money on overtime. We agree that the police service should continue to do more of what it has already been doing to improve efficiency. However, the Minister is cutting not £1 billion but £2 billion. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary identified 12% of efficiency savings, not 20%, and it said:
“A cut beyond 12% would almost certainly reduce police availability”.
The right hon. Lady mentioned Staffordshire police: perhaps I can explain to her what their front line might be. Staffordshire police have committed to retaining every police officer in their neighbourhood police teams, but they are still cutting 250 back-office staff. Will she join me in congratulating Staffordshire police on keeping all the front-line officers in their neighbourhood police teams?
Staffordshire police, like other police forces across the country, are having to work immensely hard to keep the police working to do everything they possibly can to fight crime while they are faced with massive cuts. Staffordshire police are faced with a 7.5% cut in their budget next year alone, followed by an 8.7% cut the following year. Those steep cuts in the first year will have consequences in relation to the 70 police officers being lost, specialist teams and the work being done across the police force.
The Government are cutting more from police budgets in two years than the former Home Secretary proposed over a Parliament. If the Home Secretary and the Minister think that can all be done through efficiency savings, what do they have to say to the chief constables across the country who are cutting officers? Are they all wrong? Are they all profligate? Are they all inadequate in meeting efficiency challenges? Or is the truth that they are doing their best to manage in the face of very difficult cuts? Is not the truth that the Home Secretary and the Minister have broken with more than a century of Tory tradition? They are not looking for efficiency savings as an alternative to police officer cuts—they think that efficiency savings are the police officer cuts. They think that the best way to improve police productivity is to cut the number of police working across Britain.
My hon. Friend is right about the huge difference between the claims that those on the Government side made before the election and the reality of what they are doing now.
We now have the first Home Secretary and Policing Minister in Tory party history to want fewer police working to fight crime across Britain. The Minister is the first Policing Minister in Tory party history to believe there is no link between the number of police and the level of crime, ignoring the evidence of recent history—the 43% drop in crime in the Labour years alongside the 17,000 extra police and the 16,000 police community support officers.
My hon. Friend is right: West Midlands police are being heavily affected and are set to lose a large number of police officers. That is already having an effect on communities across the area, with some police officers reporting considerable difficulties as a result of the recruitment freeze that has had to be implemented and the consequences that is having on their ability to go to neighbourhood meetings and to respond to concerns that are raised with them.
Is not one of the problems that the West Midlands police suffer from the gearing effect? Although the Minister has given the impression that the cuts were modest—I think he quoted £5 million in Hull—the gearing effect in the West Midlands police means they are losing 17.2% of their total resources. That is nearly £100 million, and they cannot lose that without cutting front-line staff.
The situation in the west midlands is clear. The number of police officers is being cut and that is having an impact on the area.
The latest research on the links between police and crime from Civitas, which the Minister presumably regards as a bastion of left-wing profligacy—he shakes his head to indicate that he disagrees with Civitas—shows that there is a
“strong relationship between the size of police forces and national crime rates”.
That report states:
“A nation with a larger proportion of police officers is somewhat more likely to have a lower crime rate. A nation with fewer police is more likely to have a higher crime rate.”
More importantly, perhaps, those on the Government Benches are ignoring the public. Today’s poll shows that two thirds of people believe that crime will rise as a result of the Home Secretary’s cuts. People do not want the cuts to the police that the Government are introducing.
The Minister often resorts to the claim that it is Labour’s red tape which is responsible for the fact that only 11%—to quote the figure that he uses—of force strength is visible and available. He fails to point out, in a misrepresentation of the HMIC analysis, that that figure for a 24 hours a day, seven days a week service does not take account of the officers on late shift, night shift or rest day, or of the officers working on serious investigations, counter-terrorism, drugs, cyber crime or child protection.
The right hon. Gentleman should consider for a moment what would happen if his own efficiency were measured in the same way. Let us imagine that the test of Ministers’ efficiency was the amount of time in a 24/7 period that they spent speaking in the House of Commons. The amount of time that the Policing Minister spends sleeping, eating and working on knife crime, counter-terrorism or long-term planning would not be counted, as the Government do not count comparable time for the police.
On the basis of the Minister’s week in the Chamber for debate and in the Bill Committee—he has been busy —he gets to an average visibility 24/7 of not 11%, which the police manage, but 3.27%, and that includes the radio time that he was forced to do on Sunday. His visibility is not as good as that of the police, but I am sure he has some efficiency plans to share his red boxes across Departments. His boss, the Home Secretary, is at 0%. Where, by the way, is the Home Secretary?
I commend my right hon. Friend for her great interest in what the Minister has been doing. It is a fascinating study. I know that she is making a powerful point, but perhaps she could be a little charitable to the Minister. It may be that the Home Office did not envisage the kind of cuts that she has been talking about. Does she agree that Ministers should go back to the Treasury to explain that the effects of the cuts are very severe indeed, and that an additional special grant ought to be given to the Home Office to deal with that?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. It may well be that Ministers believed the figures they were given by the Treasury and believed that front-line services would not be hit. However, the pace and the scale of the cuts are indeed hitting front-line services. They are having an impact on police forces across the country. Ministers ought to go back to the Treasury to discuss that again.
As my right hon. Friend knows, a consultation was launched this week on tackling antisocial behaviour. Whatever the Government do to rename the orders and introduce some kind of cosmetic change, is it not the truth that in order to reduce antisocial behaviour, we need PCSOs and police officers on the front line in our communities, where it matters?
My right hon. Friend is exactly right. She worked to tackle antisocial behaviour over many years and initiated some extremely important work. She is right that all the powers in the world will make no difference if we do not have the police in place to work closely with communities in local areas to implement those powers in practice.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. If four people ring up and then one rings a second time, does that person count as a fifth person? Presumably the Home Office will set out guidance and red tape for local communities and police to follow.
Where is the Home Secretary today? That is an important question, because I understand that she has been sighted in the building. I know that such debates are normally attended by Ministers of State, but normally Home Secretaries do not cut the police grant by 20%. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is coming here to defend his cuts, so why will she not defend hers? Could it be because she knows that she got stitched up in the spending review and so will not defend it? She left the Minister out on his own—a very thin blue line—and will not join the police cuts front line.
The Government are taking a gamble with crime and policing, just as they are taking a gamble with the economy.
The right hon. Lady is being generous in giving way, which I thank her for. Will she please answer my question, which I will now ask a third time? Will she admit that the cuts of more than £1 billion in policing to which she has committed could only be achieved by making the police work force smaller?
We have said very clearly that we believe that the police should have the money to protect the number of police officers and police community support officers. Those are the numbers of staff that we believe ought to be protected across the country, in contrast to the cut of 10,000 in police officers. We think that we should have 10,000 more than the number the Minister is now pursuing right across the country. It is wrong for Britain and wrong for communities, and the public know it. No matter how many games he plays with smoke and mirrors, the public know it and want the extra police officers.
We will support those extra 10,000 police officers and would provide the funding to support them, because we think that that is the right thing to do. The Government are taking a gamble with crime and policing, just as they taking a gamble with the economy. They are cutting too far and too fast. They are risking economic growth and jobs and now are risking public safety and the fight against crime. Their Back Benchers should think again.
The Liberal Democrats are voting for a cut of 10,000 police officers, instead of the increase of 3,000 that they promised, and the Conservatives are ripping up hundreds of years of supporting the police in order to cut the front line. I say to Members of both parties that if they vote for these cuts today, they are badly out of touch with what their constituents want and are turning their backs on the fight against crime. Britain was not broken, but the Government are doing their best to break it now. Those Members should join us in telling the Government to go back, think again and come back with a better plan.
I have a sense of déjà vu in this debate, partly because we had a dry run of it a few weeks ago, and partly because I heard an excellent opening speech from the Minister during that debate. I am afraid that mine will suffer because other Members may have the same sense of déjà vu when they hear some of my points.
My starting point for the debate is the same as the Minister’s, which is that there are some inconvenient facts: we have the worst deficit in the G20 and the largest peacetime deficit since the second world war, and we are spending £120 million a day on the interest alone on our debt. Those are inconvenient facts, but they are givens, or known knowns, as Donald Rumsfeld might say.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his rather predictable intervention, but immediately before it I was explaining—he clearly was not listening—why the Government are having to take these decisions. He and the former Ministers on the Opposition Front Bench must accept responsibility for that.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), because we expect the Opposition to come forward with some solutions, but during her speech I detected only one sentence in which she referred to the £1 billion of cuts that they would make and said that they would do something about back-office functions and procurement. So that is the Opposition’s solution. That is the one sentence that the Opposition’s spokesperson provided, stating how they, if in government, would have resolved the problems that we face.
Will the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that, in that one sentence—I think it was more than one sentence—of my right hon. Friend’s speech, she referred specifically to the report of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary? The figure is not one that we have plucked off the top of our heads; it is based on the HMIC’s view of the savings that can be made without damaging front-line services.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Of course he is right, and the Government have based their measures on the HMIC report as well, but people who read and listen to this debate will want to hear exactly what impact HMIC’s recommendations, if implemented, will have on, for example, staff numbers, a point to which the official Opposition’s spokesperson did not respond. She ducked and dived on that point.
The Opposition can pretend that the £40 billion of cuts that they intended making, including 20% cuts throughout Departments, would have gone unnoticed, would have had no impact on front-line services and would have left police forces throughout the country unscathed, but we know, they know and people outside know that that is completely untrue.
There is no point disguising the fact that the settlement is tough. That is true, and it impacts on police budgets. As the Minister said, in 2011-12 there is a 4% reduction in cash terms. In 2012-13, there is a 5% reduction, but, thanks to the HMIC report and the measures that police forces are already taking throughout the country, much of the reduction can be made through greater efficiency.
Police forces are already delivering many examples of such efficiency. In one local example, Sutton and Merton police forces are looking at sharing a custody suite, and if successful in those two force areas, the idea might be rolled out across the whole Met police force area and in others further afield. That is exactly the sort of measure that police forces and police authorities should pursue.
The Minister quite rightly identified what is possible through IT systems savings and, as I said in an intervention, we can derive not only cash savings from that source, but great improvements in efficiency and the likelihood of resolving cases, as the communications problems between different systems are addressed.
One issue that I raised in the previous debate, and on which I hope the Minister has had time to do some work, is training for senior officers. The HMIC report identifies that there was no commonly held belief that those officers needed a detailed understanding of how to ensure that the efficiency savings—the mergers—took place effectively. The Government, HMIC or others might be able to assist with training to ensure that officers are equipped to take such tough decisions, because there are real differences between forces’ proposals.
Some forces are coming forward with a headline figure for the number of officers they are going to cut, while others are coming forward with a range of options—particularly on back-office and procurement—that could identify significant savings without the need to cut staff numbers, which some forces seem to have gone for as the first rather than the last resort.
I want to raise some specific Met issues. The Minister will be aware that the force has not yet taken a decision to cut sergeant numbers by 300; it is considering the idea, but it says it
“will be directed by final analysis and must reflect operational delivery.”
I urge the Met to maintain those officer numbers, but if that is not possible, to look at some of the proposals that I mentioned, particularly on sharing back-office functions, joint custody suites and the like to ensure that the number of police officers in the safer neighbourhood teams is maintained at the level at which it is currently set.
Equally, as I said earlier, safer neighbourhood teams may be undertaking tasks that are not their responsibility. I mentioned the example of drive-outs from petrol stations, which are taking up an inordinate amount of time in the case of at least one of my safer neighbourhood teams. After I raised that case, the local force have asked to meet me to discuss it as a wider issue, so it clearly affects not just one safer neighbourhood team but several in the borough. If a large proportion of their time is spent trying to deal with a problem that the petrol companies should be able to resolve technologically, we should look at the issue carefully to try to free up officer time to concentrate on things that really do need police intervention.
If we want to help the police with their finances, does the hon. Gentleman agree that perhaps now is the time for premiership football clubs to start thinking about making a greater contribution to the costs of policing their football matches instead of all those police being deployed purely at taxpayers’ expense?
I entirely agree. Given the stringent financial circumstances in which the Government are operating, that is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be considered.
The Minister referred to the review of staffing and overtime arrangements. Although I agree that very high levels of overtime are costly, and that needs to be looked at, such overtime often allows the police to undertake special tasks that they could not do otherwise and can do without the need to grow the number of full-time police officers. This requires some flexibility. Simply saying “No more overtime” would severely constrain some of the activities that the police are undertaking and that people clearly welcome and want to happen.
There are clearly many measures that the police can take to cut back to ensure that they are making the right level of efficiency savings. If the police undertake such actions, which are documented in the HMIC report, and if they look at the best practice that exists in police forces around the country, they can make the savings that they are being required to make without an impact on front-line services.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate.
No Labour Member would argue with the contention that there is always scope for efficiency in public services, including the police service. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) spoke about the HMIC report, as did the Minister. Our opposition to what the Government are planning is based on the sheer scale of the cuts to the police service that are set out. My additional argument, on which I will elaborate and on which I intervened on the Minister, is that there is unfairness in the allocation of those cuts as between different police forces around the country.
I should like to comment on the work that Merseyside police are doing. As in the case, I imagine, of most, if not all hon. Members on both sides of the House, crime and antisocial behaviour are consistently the biggest issues that my constituents raise with me on the doorstep, in surveys, in correspondence and at surgeries. In recent years, Merseyside police have faced some very serious challenges. Merseyside is No. 1 of any police force in the country in terms of the number of drug offences. I am therefore very concerned about the impact of cuts that are being made to the UK Border Agency, as well as cuts to local government and voluntary sector services for those with drug addiction.
In other areas, Merseyside has made truly remarkable progress in recent years. In 2005-06, it was the third highest police force in the country for violent crime, with a rate of 25.6 offences per 1,000 population. Thanks to the hard work of the police, including their work with the local community, that rate has halved over the past five years to 13 per 1,000, putting us 22nd in England, which puts it in the lower half of police forces. That is truly remarkable progress. Every indication that I have is that Merseyside police are determined to continue that progress, even in the context of the cuts that we are discussing.
Almost four years ago in what is now my constituency, there was the tragic murder of Rhys Jones. His death provided the context for a greater focus on crime, including violent crime, in Liverpool and across Merseyside. In considering the way forward for Merseyside and the fairness, or rather unfairness, of the proposed cuts, everyone in my constituency is concerned to ensure that never again do we see the tragedy of what happened to young Rhys. The police responded brilliantly and with great professionalism in that case, which resulted in serious convictions by the courts for those who murdered Rhys Jones.
Already in 2010-11, 200 police officer jobs and 80 police staff jobs are being lost in Merseyside. There is a moratorium on further recruitment, which will continue into next year. The police have estimated that by March 2012—in just over a year’s time—we will have lost almost 10% of police officer posts in Merseyside. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) talked about chief constables making every effort to ensure that losing police officer posts is a last resort. I think I wrote down correctly that he said that some chief constables were treating it as their first resort. I very much doubt that that is the case in any authority. I can say with certainty that it is not the case in Merseyside, where the chief constable, whom I and other Liverpool MPs met in the House a couple of weeks ago, has made every effort to maximise efficiencies and minimise the direct impact on local people through the loss of police officers.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) spoke about inconvenient facts. Last year, the Liberal Democrats in Greater Manchester, and no doubt in Merseyside, went into the election knowing about the deficit and promising more, not fewer, police. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Liberal Democrats have a duty to apologise to our constituents for giving a false impression of what they would do in office?
Absolutely; I concur with my hon. Friend. Of course, that is not the only promise that the Liberal Democrats made to the British people last May that they have broken. They made that promise knowing, as my hon. Friend said, what the Budget position was. It was a deeply irresponsible pledge to make.
The figures were very much in the public domain. To be fair to the Conservative party, it did say that it would prioritise cuts. There is a specific issue about the Liberal Democrats having said one thing in opposition and saying the complete opposite now that they are part of the coalition Government.
My hon. Friend makes his point powerfully. I will not focus the rest of my speech on Liberal Democrat broken promises, but the case has been very well made.
I intervened on the Minister to raise the question of the fairness of the distribution of the cuts. He set out the consultation process in some detail, and entirely understandably set out that the forces and authorities that would lose out if there were some attempt to protect those that were more reliant on central Government funding had lobbied against that. I appreciate what he said about the nature of the formula and the difficulty of changing it, and clearly the cuts relate to the original formula. Unfortunately, I am not suggesting that that can be changed quickly, but I repeat what I said in my intervention: I hope that the Government will consider the matter as we move forward.
Looking at the estimated police budget figures that the Library has produced, we see that in the forthcoming financial year, 2011-12, Merseyside’s estimated police budget, taking into account local revenue raising as well as central Government funding, will be cut by 5.8% whereas Surrey’s cut will be 3.7%. There is every indication that that gap will apply again in the following year and therefore have a cumulative effect.
In Merseyside, there have consistently been increases in the police authority precept over recent years. The local police authority has not thought, “We’re getting all this money from central Government, so we can let our council tax payers off and freeze the precept or have only a modest increase.” There have been significant increases in the amount contributed by council tax payers in Merseyside to the funding of the police. The basic reality is that on average, people in Merseyside are poorer than people in Surrey. The reason why Merseyside’s local police depend more on central Government funding than others is primarily to do with deprivation. That point applies also to other authorities, and when there are cuts on the scale that we are seeing, it is a cause for great concern. To his credit, the Minister undertook earlier to consider the matter again in future. Perhaps I might ask that he meet Merseyside MPs at his early convenience to discuss those concerns.
The Minister nods, so I am delighted to accept that we can have that meeting.
Clearly, the cuts will have an impact on forces right across the country, but that impact will differ. When there are spending cuts on such a scale, it is incumbent on the Government to consider the unfairness of those different impacts. There is clearly a need for savings in public expenditure on the police, and HMIC has considered the matter in great detail and come up with the quoted figure of 12%. My contention today is, first, that by going so significantly above that figure, the Government will inevitably damage the police service across the country; secondly, that the effects are not fair or consistent but differ for the reasons that I have given; and thirdly, that those effects are compounded by the impact of other cuts in public spending, particularly local government cuts.
Merseyside police receives direct funding from Liverpool and other local authorities for aspects of its work on antisocial behaviour. I hope that the councils will be able to protect that funding, but I am not confident that they will be fully able to do so. On top of the cuts that we are discussing today, Liverpool’s police force and others around the country will therefore lose further funding for some of the important partnership work that they do on tackling antisocial behaviour.
I urge the Government to think again, and I urge Home Office Ministers to press the Treasury to give policing and law and order the priority that the Government have given schools and the national health service. Voters—our constituents—would expect us to give the police service that priority, and I hope that in the light of today’s debate, the Government will do so.
A big meeting is happening in my constituency today. The Staffordshire police authority is meeting to discuss the proposals for the future of nine police stations across the force area. In “plain speak”, at some point in the future, some of those stations could close, including one in Rugeley in the heart of my constituency. Chief Constable Mike Cunningham and the chairman of the police authority, David Pearsall, have stated that Staffordshire police have made no final decision to close any particular station in the county. Crucially, they have also said that they will close no stations unless and until alternative bases have been found within the localities concerned.
That reassessment of resources is doubtless owing in part to the Minister’s announcement, and it is worth Government Members remembering that these are not cuts of choice, but cuts to correct overspending by Labour in the boom years, which has left this country with one of the biggest deficits in the world. I did not come into politics to cut police numbers, having worked with the police for many years before becoming a Member of Parliament, but the reality is that when we are spending £120 million every day just to service the interest on our debt, something has to give.
It is also worth remembering that during the election campaign, the then Home Secretary declined to guarantee police numbers or individual police stations. When the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) was shadow Home Secretary, he agreed with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—an independent body—that £1 billion efficiency savings could be made without hitting the front line. However, I wonder whether he knew how that would have come about. When he came before the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I asked him whether he thought it would be better if the police spent more time on patrol than they spend on paperwork. He responded:
“I think that is a too simplistic question for me to give a sensible answer”.
Perhaps in her winding-up speech the new shadow Home Secretary will give us a sensible answer to that short, simple question, which her husband failed to answer.
The changes in police stations in Staffordshire are not just about saving money; they are also about changing shift patterns. Proposals for briefing response teams at fewer locations from April 2011 are currently being considered. That is an independent operational matter designed to improve the briefing process of sergeants, and to improve communications and intelligence sharing. It follows from that operational decision that some of the nine stations under review may become underused. Even if that happens, it would not automatically mean that any of those stations would close.
However, it could mean Staffordshire police beginning to share buildings with partner agencies such as schools, church halls, libraries and shops. In fact, the police already share a base in Stafford with a Territorial Army recruiting base. I have opened an office in a former shop in Cannock town centre with a no-appointments-necessary culture. People can drop into the “MP help zone”, as it is known locally, any time from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, to get help with their problems. Most of my staff—three of the four people whom I employ—work in the help zone rather than down here in Westminster, helping local people who come through the door with their problems. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to their important work.
Other people also use the help zone, including local charities, voluntary groups, schools and—guess what?—the police. The police use it for surgeries with local people, to organise neighbourhood watches and as a general base. Is that not the model for the future, with police in existing locations in the community such as shops, supermarkets, MPs’ offices, libraries and schools, rather than in underused old police buildings, which are increasingly expensive to run?
The nine stations under review cost £1 million a year to run. How could that money be better spent on the front line—on officers on patrol, or on specialist officers to deal with domestic violence and child protection, rather than simply on bricks and mortar? Why not look to use cheaper, more front-line locations for use by the police as a front-desk base and a home for neighbourhood officers, and release the money for more police on our streets?
I pay tribute to Staffordshire police force, which is one of the most forward-looking forces in this country. As I said earlier, it has committed to retaining all police officers in neighbourhood teams and front-line staff, rather than wedding itself to a public service housing estate. The aim of this Government is to cut bureaucracy, and to enable the police to be crime fighters, not form writers. It is not the size of the work force that counts, but how it is deployed. It is not the number of police stations in Staffordshire that matters, but keeping police embedded in the community, visible and accessible, with bases that do not cost more than they need to. Without more effective deployment, modernisation of shift patterns and improved productivity, the number of local police officers engaged in local policing can still increase, despite cuts overall.
Labour has the brass neck to criticise the police grant settlement announced today, but it was its mishandling of the economy that brought this country to the brink of bankruptcy, so that we are paying £120 million a day to service the interest on our debt. That money is going to foreign investment bankers to pay for their own police services, rather than ours. But we have brought this country back from the brink. If the exam question today is “How do we maintain a visible police presence even while we have to cut police spending?” the answer is that, with barely one 10th of the police available on the streets at any one time, we know that there is room to make them more visible, more available and more effective as crime fighters.
The years of top-down bureaucratic accountability have broken the relationship between the police and the public. The police are not responsive enough to the public, and the public do not trust enough in the police. That is not the police’s fault; it is the truth of Labour’s legacy. I want to take this opportunity to thank every officer in Staffordshire for everything that they do to keep us safe, day in and day out. This Government supports them, despite the dreadful economic legacy. With our reforms and their hard work and bravery, we will not let Labour’s mishandling of the economy put our communities in danger.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this important debate, especially as cuts in policing will impact so greatly on my constituents. We heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) about how Merseyside police force is heavily reliant on funding from central Government, and I shall reiterate some of the important points that he made.
Some 82% of the force’s budget comes from the formula grant. Only the City of London, Northumbria and West Midlands forces are more reliant on formula grant funding. Can the Minister explain to the people of Liverpool why the real-terms percentage cut facing Merseyside in the 2011-12 financial year is 5.8%, while Surrey— which receives only 51% of its funding from central Government—is receiving a cut of just 3.7% in real terms?
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said to the Liverpool Echo on October 15 last year:
“The priority is...helping police officers working on the front line.”
Merseyside police chief constable, Jon Murphy, has said that his force is doing, and will do, everything it can to maintain front-line policing. In fact, since 2004 Merseyside police have made maximising police numbers on the streets a priority. As a result of rigorous efficiency savings, which have been recognised nationally by the Department, and reinvestment in frontline policing, Merseyside police have increased police numbers by hundreds of officers. But we are very concerned that the Government have made no allowances for the extensive efficiency savings already made, before cutting the formula grant so harshly. It will now be impossible to maintain front-line police levels when Merseyside police will see real-terms funding cuts of 7% in 2011-12 and 8.8% in 2012-13.
Merseyside police are having to cut 200 police officers and 80 police staff by March of this year. In addition, a moratorium on police recruitment is continuing until 2012, and this will result in roughly another 200 police officers going in that financial year. That means that Merseyside police will lose close to 10% of its police officers by March 2012. Tough choices have already had to be made, including the closure of the dedicated antisocial behaviour unit.
To substantiate those savage cuts, the Policing Minster has said that there is no simple link between police numbers and crime levels. However, I would like to bring to his attention a number of studies that contradict that. A study of crime rates and police numbers across Europe published on 7 January by the think-tank Civitas—I mention Civitas because it is a think-tank that the Government are normally inclined to listen to—suggests that there is indeed a clear link. Using the most recent data from the “European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics”, Civitas compared the number of police officers per 100,000 of the population and recorded offences per 100,000 of the population. Civitas said that the data suggest
“an association between police officers per head of population and crimes per head. A nation with a larger proportion of police officers is somewhat more likely to have a lower crime rate. A nation with fewer police is more likely to have a higher crime rate.”
However, that is not the only study to suggest such a link.
Having spent a lot of time meeting the Merseyside police authority, I know that the vast proportion of its funding is taken up by staffing costs, which are a massive element. I accept that other factors can contribute to efficiency savings, but when such a high proportion of the funding goes on staffing, there are only so many efficiency savings that can be made. Indeed, a number of other studies have confirmed the link. A study published in The British Journal of Criminology in 1999, a 2005 study by the university of Cambridge and, more recently, a study last year by the university of Birmingham all evidenced the link between higher policing levels and lower crime rates. Civitas concluded by saying:
“Members of the public are at greater risk of crime in the coming year.”
I know that it is not just academics who are deeply concerned about the effect that the cuts will have, because my constituents have told me that they are, too. I recently conducted a survey in my constituency, and was astounded by the number of responses that I received—more than 800. Some 77% of those respondents told me that they were concerned about the effect that a reduction in police numbers would have on the policing of their neighbourhoods. The Minister might not see a simple link between the cuts and people’s safety in their communities, but I do, and most importantly, so do my constituents. It is time the Minister came clean and admitted what we all know: that these reckless cuts will take police off our streets and make our communities less safe. I urge him to think again.
It is worth reminding ourselves and the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)—after her, if I may say so, commendably feisty speech—that public spending constraint in this country is inevitable, because of record debt and record peacetime borrowing. The police services of this country cannot be exempt from the tough decisions that the Government make. Frankly, a Government who did not make those decisions would not be worthy of the name.
The police grant report before us shows that central Government funding for policing will fall by 20% in real terms by 2014-15. If the precept rises that are forecast in the Office for Budget Responsibility report to 2014-15 take effect—we have no reason to think that they will not—the real-terms cut will be 14%. In considering those stark figures, we should also have regard to two statistics. The first is that there was a 5% increase in police numbers between 2004 and 2009. In 2004, when there were 5% fewer police officers, I do not recall the world or the ceiling caving in.
We also know that police services in this country since 1997 have been incredibly well resourced. I must pay a debt of honour to the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who was my opposite number when I was the shadow Policing Minister. He was part of a Labour Home Office that invested in the police service over the years, and from 1997 there was a 20% real-terms increase in policing. I do not recall our ever voting against those measures on police grants. So let us recall that a huge amount of money has been put into the police service in recent times.
I should like to place on record what the Suffolk police authority is receiving this year, compared with previous years. The Home Office principal formula police grant in 2008-09 was £40.2 million. In 2009-10, it was £41.5 million. The figure for 2010-11 is £42.8 million, and for 2011-12, the first year of this grant settlement, it is £45.9 million. It is forecast to fall in 2012-13 to £42.8 million for the county of Suffolk. The total formula grant, which includes moneys from the Department for Communities and Local Government settlement, was £69.2 million in 2008-09, rising to £71 million in 2009-10, to £72.7 million in 2010-11 and to £73.2 million in 2011-12. The total formula grant for policing in the county of Suffolk will fall to £68.3 million in 2012-13.
I will meet the chief constable of Suffolk, Simon Ash, shortly to discuss how those numbers will impact on policing on the ground. Here, today, we need to ask ourselves what Ministers are going to be able to do to ensure that these funding constraints do not undermine crime prevention and detection. In short, how will law-abiding citizens be kept safe from crime and from the fear of crime? The answer must be that the police will have to do more with less, and there should be scope for that.
Again, I pay tribute to the previous Labour Government to the extent that they managed to increase the number of police posts to 147,000—a record in this country’s history. Sadly, however, they did not ensure that those officers spent more time on patrol. I will not repeat the statistic from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford used earlier. Instead, I will use one that the hon. Member for Gedling gave me when I was shadowing him. He told me that patrol officers themselves—not all police officers, and not CID—spent an average of 14% of their time on patrol. That was the statistic at the time of the last general election. Most of my constituents would find that not only utterly unbelievable but utterly unacceptable.
I am not going to lay the blame for that on the previous Labour Administration. The problem of police bureaucracy has been going on for a lot longer than that. This bureaucratic mindset is certainly not the fault of police officers, who, in my experience, especially of Suffolk constabulary, are professionals dedicated to protecting the public from harm. It is the fault of the many-headed hydra of bureaucracy, with its so-called police “doctrine”, paperwork, process and systems, that has been building up over decades. It embeds a risk-averse culture, and it stifles any can-do approach in policing.
Bureaucracy is wasting police time. I contend that, if we are to ask the police to do more with less, we have to take an axe to the bureaucracy and mean it. Unfortunately, under successive Governments of both political stripes, Ministers have too often reached for the political rhetoric of “a bonfire of regulations” and so forth. Rarely has that rhetoric been followed up with tough ministerial action to repeal unnecessary secondary legislation and unnecessary primary legislation to allow the police to get on with the job.
If we are to ask the police to do more with less, it seems incumbent on the Government of the day to reduce the burden on ordinary, hard-working police constables—an issue that has implications for the police officer numbers debate. Commenting recently on the spending reductions that were in prospect under the previous Government as much as they are under the present one, Chief Superintendent Steve Hartley of the Bolton force in Lancashire said:
“We have got to be clear—success isn’t just founded on numbers. It’s how we use people. This is not just about cuts. It’s about how we get our officers in the right places at the right time for the right reasons.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) suggested, counting the number of police officers in uniform is not a realistic measure, in the current climate, of what constitutes good and effective law and order, or good and effective policing. Surely, as a matter of logic—I have a great deal of respect for the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, who is an extremely bright parliamentarian and understands numbers—it is not beyond the wit of man or all of us in the House to understand that what counts is the number of visible police hours delivered by a constabulary, not just the uniformed officers it has. If one hour out of every seven of a patrol officer’s time is spent on patrol, surely we can agree that, in principle, that one hour could be increased to two, three or even four hours if we cut the bureaucracy on the police.
The role of Ministers comes into play here. That bureaucracy cannot be cut by the Police Federation or by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and it certainly cannot be cut by the police constable on the street. It has to come from the top. Bureaucracy reduction must come, in the first instance, from Policing Ministers.
Since the general election, I have heard that 800,000 police hours have been saved by the current Government as a result of the abolition of the stop and account form and the streamlining of stop-and-search procedures. That is a paltry amount if we realise that there are more than 147,000 police officers—we have got to do better than that. I would be grateful if the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice set my mind at rest on this point in his concluding speech.
Two reports by Jan Berry were commissioned by the previous Labour Government—quite sensibly, as she is a well-respected and intelligent former chair of the Police Federation, which had representation on her working body, as did ACPO, members of the public, clever civil servants and others. The task was to produce a list of measures to reduce bureaucracy and red tape on our hard-working, front-line police officers. I would like to rattle through some of the bigger ticket items that struck me as important, on which I believe we should take action. I am citing from the list of conclusions in the final report produced by her reducing bureaucracy taskforce, which said:
“Consider evaluation of the Modernising Charging Pilots with a view to rolling out improved arrangements where charging decisions are taken by the appropriate person according to the complexity and seriousness of offence.”
My right hon. Friend the Minister has done some work on that, as indeed have I. The idea was that we should look again at the statutory charging regime that the previous Government introduced in 2004, and establish whether a charging sergeant could charge people with more offences in the “triable either way” category without the need for an automatic reference to the Crown Prosecution Service beforehand.
It is a thorny issue. We can see the logic behind the introduction of statutory charging—it was intended to reduce the number of cracked trials and discontinuances, which were extremely expensive for the Courts Service and for Government generally—but there is a definite sense that it has reduced the rapidity with which charging sergeants in custody suites can charge someone who is pretty likely to plead guilty, having been caught red-handed. We do not need sergeants in custody suites hanging around waiting for the CPS. All too few police stations have a CPS lawyer on site to give a quick and simple instruction or approval to the sergeant in question; most do not benefit from that luxury.
The second suggestion by Jan Berry’s team that struck me, because I have some experience of it as well, was that we should remove the requirement to complete disclosure schedules—which must be written out laboriously by uniformed officers because that is what is provided by the relevant primary legislation, although we all know that they must be checked by the CPS eventually in any case—prior to first hearing in the magistrates court. It was also suggested that we should consider shifting the trigger point for more serious offences in the Crown court to the point at which a not guilty plea is entered.
Another hardy annual is, of course, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000— “the grim RIPA”, as it is sometimes called—and the way in which it is applied to relatively routine direct surveillance operations. For instance, a police constable may wish to carry out surveillance of a supermarket car park because he has reasonable grounds for believing that a great deal of breaking and entering is taking place. Some police forces, amazingly—although not all—interpret the RIPA guidance and the statutory codes as meaning that a constable must obtain a RIPA written authorisation from his superiors, which can be extremely time-consuming, before he can go to the car park and hide behind a wall to see whether any villains are going to start breaking into cars. We must do something about that kind of ridiculous approach to applying RIPA and observing the statutory codes. One option would be to rewrite the codes. The hon. Member for Gedling said that he was interested in that option. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister can confirm that action is being taken in regard to RIPA and similar procedures.
Let us talk about this. Let us tell the police officers on the ground what we are doing for them: what the House of Commons is doing to cut the nonsensical amount of bureaucracy under which they labour. They have had enough, the public have had enough, I have had enough, and I am sure that the Minister has had enough—not of what I am saying, but of the ridiculous, endless use of rhetoric and the absence of action. Let us see the Home Office get a grip.
The next issue that I want to raise has been discussed with me by the esteemed Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). At the beginning of 2009, there were four pilot schemes in Leicestershire, the west midlands, Staffordshire and Surrey. I do not want to be too “anoraky” about the subject, but the gist of the objective was to slim down the crime and incident recording part of the duty of a police officer who arrests someone for, say, shoplifting in a store. Could not the information simply be written on a side of A4, or the equivalent on a hand-held device? It would be useful to know whether those pilots have been rolled out to every single police force in the country; and, if not, what powers does the Minister have to ensure that that is done? On many occasions, I have been wearily told that this is a matter for chief constables. The time has come for a bit of centralisation that works, in order to ensure that police forces adopt sensible common-sense procedures to reduce bureaucracy.
One key element of reducing bureaucracy and saving police time—so that officers can spend more time on patrol, apart from anything else—is getting rid of the double or treble keying of information. That is the phenomenon by which sometimes a single piece of information, such as a suspect’s address, name or date of birth, has to be keyed into different forms even if they are online because of the incompatibility of certain IT systems. It is all very easy to say, “Well, let’s just get better IT,” but the fact is that this is a very difficult and complicated issue. There are also huge resource implications in junking legacy systems, and although having one national computer system might speed things up in theory, it is not really an idea of this world. I would be grateful if the Minister gave a short answer to the question of what we are doing about having a national set of police forms available on one IT platform.
Reducing bureaucracy is the most important thing this House and Government can do to ensure the money set out in this grant goes further and is spent in a smarter way. But there is another area that should also be addressed: the general efficiency agenda, which my right hon. Friend the Minister spoke about so compellingly and, I know, from a deep well of knowledge. I just want to strike a note of caution. Having worked in the Treasury under my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and having also done the policing job as a shadow Minister in the previous Parliament, I got rather tired of the alphabet soup of consultants from PWC, KPMG and Deloitte who would regularly—and for huge sums of money, so far as I could work out—pile into a constabulary, do a report stating the mind-numbingly obvious about how the police could speed things up, and then promptly decamp. The police might follow the recommended procedures for a year or two, but the lessons they had been taught by these highly paid consultants were often forgotten, and even if not forgotten were not able to deliver the serious efficiency gains of the magnitude my right hon. Friend the Minister is talking about in the context of this settlement. We need smarter procurement, shared back-office services and, most importantly, mandated collaboration.
In concluding, I want to ask the Minister two final questions that are key to those of us who want this police grant to represent value for money so we get the most bang for our buck. First, I echo a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) about police authorities and chief constables needing to do the right thing by getting on with collaborating to save money and to squeeze efficiencies out of their budgets. In my experience—and history tells us this, too—the likelihood is that they are not going to do that if left to do so on an ad hoc basis. Therefore, when the Minister starts mandating, will he also consider imposing financial penalties on police authorities that do not mandate and do not deliver police efficiencies?
My final and most important plea is this: if we are to be taken seriously as a Government who are keen to achieve our goals, for public interest reasons and because we want the police to spend more time on patrol and less time behind their desks, we have to show that we are serious about tackling bureaucracy. Will the Minister undertake to produce an annual report to Parliament setting out the procedures, forms and processes he has abolished with an estimate by each item of the number of police hours saved as a result of those cuts in bureaucracy? I hope that my right hon. Friend will take the opportunity to use mandated collaboration and attach penalties to it, and to make a report to Parliament telling us how many police hours he has saved each year he has been the Minister, and I hope he is the Minister for a very long time.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), and given the risk of having the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) make throat-cutting signs at me, as well, I will try to be as brief as possible; we started off talking about police cuts, but I think we will soon have cuts to this debate. We have heard excellent speeches and I am sure that the House, eager to get on to the next business, will not want me to detain it for too long on this subject.
This is a very important subject, however, and I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, who made a thoughtful and eloquent speech. It was right for him to praise the work of the previous Government, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), and the fact that there was such investment in the police service. He was right to praise them for the amount of money they spent, which has resulted, of course, as he then told us, in the economic problem that is affecting the country, and the need, in this Government’s view, to try to cut that expenditure.
What was important about the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds is that he concentrated on the bread-and-butter issues that sometimes elude us when we discuss these matters in the House. Front-Benchers are rightly concerned about numbers; indeed, the police grant debate is getting very much like a debate on immigration, in which Front-Benchers rightly concentrate on numbers. However, to the public, the real issue is, how does this affect them in their constituencies? How does it affect the local police force? Are they going to get less of a service than they had before the suggested changes?
The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley), whom we in the Home Affairs Committee greatly miss, has his own version of dealing with these cuts. He has set up a help zone, so if anyone needs a policeman, they do not necessarily have to go to the local police station; they can visit the hon. Gentleman’s staff. I am glad he paid tribute to his staff, because the number of calls they get will probably increase as a result of his contribution today.
Chief constables have rightly taken up the challenge set by this Government, and their tone has changed enormously since the proposals were announced. Certainly, the tone of the chief constable of Manchester, in his latest press release of 9 February, is quite different from the one he adopted before, when he lamented the number of police officers who would be taken off his payroll. Now he is saying that he welcomes the need for collaboration; indeed, I think he said in the final sentence of his press release that he was “upbeat” about the cuts. Of course, that contrasts with what he has said before, and certainly contrasts with the quotes given to this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), who has quoted other chief constables who are very concerned. I am not sure whether it is because one chief constable is starting off their career and another is ending theirs; but the fact is that they are in a very difficult position.
The Minister is going to have to accept that, during his term as Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice—the Select Committee has always found him extremely helpful and courteous in providing us with information—there are going to be fewer police officers. It is difficult for him to say that, and certainly difficult for someone like me, who, in debates such as this in 23 years in this House, has always expected Conservative Ministers and shadow Ministers—and, indeed, Liberal Democrats—to ask for more police officers, rather than fewer. However, fewer officers is the inevitable consequence, and whether the figure is the 10,000 talked about by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the smaller figure mentioned by the Government—we do not have a precise figure from them—or the 20,000 referred to by the Police Federation, the fact is there will be fewer police officers.
This is, therefore, a big challenge, which is why I welcome what the Minister said about procurement.
As if I would. My right hon. Friend talks about the work of his Committee. The Minister said that although the damping mechanism was applied this time, it may not be in the future, at a cost of a further £30 million of cuts to Northumbria police. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to seek to work very closely with the Government should those changes to that formula and mechanism ever come to fruition?
The Select Committee is always keen to work with the Government. I do not wish to prejudge the report on police finances that we will be publishing in a fortnight’s time. The Minister gave good evidence to the Committee, providing some interesting figures, and the House will have to wait for that report to see what members of the Committee have had to say.
The Minister is right to focus on procurement. He is also right to say that 80% of the budget relates to staffing, but that does not mean that we should not examine the issue of procurement. The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who is not in his place, talked about this issue, and Essex and Kent police, along with other police authorities, are working together. One of the real questions for the previous Government is why we had 13 years of record expenditure but perhaps not the challenges that ought to have been made by Ministers about how the money was spent—that is not a criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling. I am not saying that the money was misspent, but it is important to examine what happened to that expenditure.
The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds discussed bureaucracy. I think that he will find agreement on that issue across the whole House but, as he said, we tend to talk about these things but what really matters is implementation. That brings me to my third and penultimate point, which relates to the new landscape of policing. I say to the Minister that we do not yet have a narrative on crime and crime reduction from this Government. We have had some ambitious plans. The Select Committee has never worked so hard to keep up with the number of changes that the Government are envisaging, first with the police and crime commissioners, then with changes on police financing and then on the new landscape of policing. However, we needed to have some kind of a template before we embarked on those major changes.
We know that the Government want to abolish the Serious Organised Crime Agency and that the National Policing Improvement Agency is going to go, but it should have been up to the NPIA to give leadership to local police forces on procurement. What is going to happen now? It seems that individual forces will be charged for access to the databases of the new national crime agency. What worries me about the budget is that that has not been factored in. It is vital that we know what extra charges will fall on local police forces as a result of the creation of the national crime agency.
My final point is that whatever budgets a local police authority puts in place, a police and crime commissioner will be elected. As the House knows, the previous Government changed their position on the election of members of police authorities. Now that the Government have decided that this is what they want to do, people should allow police and crime commissioners the opportunity to manage the local police force. However, they will be inheriting a budget that has been set by a previous police authority, and the demands from the newly elected police and crime commissioners for more police officers will be much more important to the Government than even the demands from Labour Members.
So there is still much work to be done on the landscape of policing and I do not think we can accept the current situation as being the end. Many right hon. and hon. Members, including some from Liverpool and Staffordshire, and the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Bury St Edmunds, have pointed out that there will be fewer officers, and that does mean a reduction in service. How local police forces deal with that depends on the leadership of Ministers, which I hope will be forthcoming.
With the leave of the House, I shall respond briefly to the points that hon. Members have made. First, I have listened to the points made by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and I understand the implications for forces that raise less money from local council tax payers. I have explained why the decision we took was fair, I have said that we will continue to discuss these issues and the impacts on forces, and I am happy to have a meeting.
I always pay attention to the views of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I believe we have set out in clear terms how the police landscape must change, but his remarks will no doubt move me to make a further speech on the issue, a copy of which I will of course send to him, to clarify the position. I draw his and the House’s attention to the speech I gave to the City Forum two weeks ago when I set out in terms how the savings that we need to achieve could be made.
I commend the speeches of my hon. Friends, particularly that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), who admonished the House about the drive to reduce bureaucracy. I took every word he said seriously. The Government will say more about this and we are driving this issue, as is the leadership of the police service. We have made progress but there is more to do. I shall write to my hon. Friend regarding his additional points about how we should secure the very important reductions in the bureaucratic burden on the police.
I particularly welcomed the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who has had to leave the Chamber. They focused on how resources are deployed rather than just on the amount of money.
Both sides, including the Opposition, admit that police funding has to be cut, so both sides must recognise that that must mean the overall police work force will fall. What is totally disreputable about the Opposition’s attack is that they would cut funding and they know that that would mean a smaller work force, but they still mounted that political attack. The public will see through it. In dismissing the finding in the HMIC report that police availability and visibility is too low, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) shows that she is new to the job and has homework to do. The report says:
“The fact is that general availability, in which we include neighbourhood policing and response, is relatively low.”
She should pay attention to the inspectorate’s recommendations rather than dismissing them so lightly after just a few weeks in her job.
Will the Minister withdraw his claim that the 11% figure was entirely due to Labour’s red tape, as opposed to the fact that some police officers are on night shift or late shift and that some of them are doing work on the drugs force, organised crime and a whole series of other things that are not included in that 11%?
The right hon. Lady should start quoting people accurately. I made no such claim. Let me read the second part of what the inspectorate said in the same paragraph:
“Several factors have combined to produce this ‘thin blue line’ of which shift patterns, risk management, bureaucracy and specialisation are the most significant.”
Visibility and availability are too low, they can be improved and she is foolish to dismiss that report.
It is, in part, because of Labour’s red tape that visibility is too low. The right hon. Lady should understand that and should not dismiss the inspectorate’s report. The situation could be improved by dealing with all these issues.
The Opposition are in an untenable position, because they would cut police funding and they know that that would mean a smaller police work force.
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2011-12 (House of Commons Paper No. 771), which was laid before this House on 31 January, be approved .