The Government fully recognise the vulnerabilities of rural communities to particular crimes. The central grant to police forces continues to take into account the needs of rural areas. The election of police and crime commissioners will give rural communities a voice in determining local policing priorities.
I thank the Minister for that answer. His is a strong voice in reassuring people that the Government take crime in rural areas seriously. Will he join me in welcoming the excellent work that Norfolk police authority has done to clamp down on crime in rural areas? Does he agree that the central tension that such rural authorities face is between centralising work to prevent hardened crime from taking hold in rural counties and decentralising to maintain a strong footprint? Does he agree that joint working, as between Norfolk and Suffolk, is important in targeting resources?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the value of joint working and collaboration between forces, as is happening between Norfolk and Suffolk. That is a good example of how savings can be made. It is one reason why Norfolk has been able to increase the proportion of its officers who are on the front line, according to last week’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary.
Devon and Cornwall police made significant cuts in the run-up to 2010 and are now struggling under further and faster cuts from this Government. Policing rural areas, and indeed urban areas such as Plymouth, is proving to be difficult with the loss of manpower. Will the Minister look at how the area cost adjustment for Devon and Cornwall is reached, because we lose out to places such as Surrey?
We do not believe that there are fundamental problems with the way in which grant is provided. We are looking at the issue of damping, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned earlier. The fundamental point is that Devon and Cornwall has not coped as well with the reduction in funds as similar forces that have continued to reduce crime. It is one of the three forces that HMIC said needed to look carefully at how they would make savings in future.
I know the Minister is busy, but will he meet the acting chief constable, soon to be chief constable, of Nottinghamshire, to see how he is working with Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, and particularly at how he is managing to police rural as well as urban areas in these difficult times?
Yes, I would be happy to have such a meeting. I meet chief constables regularly and visit forces a lot, and I am sure that I will visit Nottinghamshire again in due course. Police forces up and down the country are showing that they are broadly coping well with the reductions in funding. They are making savings and continuing to reduce crime while protecting the front line. That was what HMIC’s report said last week.
In the county of the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), 162 police officers will be lost by 2015, yet if reports in the weekend press are to be believed, the Home Secretary is asking the Treasury for more money to invest not in officers to tackle rural or other crime but in the election of police and crime commissioners. Is that true, and does it not show once again that the Government’s priorities are wrong on this matter?
I am absolutely astonished by the right hon. Gentleman’s question, since only last week he and I were in a Committee of this House debating how much money should be spent on promoting police and crime commissioner elections, and he called for an increase in resources and for us to spend more money on those elections. It is frankly astonishing that he should ask me the question that he just has.