[Relevant Document: Fourth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Reform of the Police Funding Formula, HC 476.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2016, for expenditure by the Home Office:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £256,729,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 747,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £356,056,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £1,328,197,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Charlie Elphicke.)
I am very pleased that the House has an opportunity to focus on the important issue of the police funding formula. I will set out the background to, and the timeline of, the funding formula review before assessing where the process is now. The fundamental concern of the Home Affairs Committee is: when is the new review going to start?
I want to thank the members of the Committee, who have unanimously agreed the report—the hon. Members for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry), for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani), for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), and my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah), for Streatham (Mr Umunna) and for Walsall North (Mr Winnick).
The majority of police forces, chief constables, police and crime commissioners and Members of Parliament welcomed the launch of the police funding formula review last year. The manner in which police funding is currently distributed is outdated, inefficient and not fit for purpose. I want to commend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice for taking on this challenge head-on. However, his ambition, which is shared by the whole House, has not been matched by the process.
When the Home Office launched the public consultation on 21 July 2015, it allowed a period of only eight weeks. After receiving an initial 1,700 responses, it laid out its proposed refinements to the model on 28 October. The second proposal was described as “inadequate”—by, among others, Tony Hogg, the Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner—as it gave PCCs and chief constables just three weeks to respond.
The refined model showed that 11 forces would lose by the changes, while the remaining 32 forces would increase their share. The chief constables and PCCs were puzzled and frustrated about how the sums had been calculated. Eventually, it took Andrew White, the chief executive in the office of the Devon and Cornwall PCC, to purchase the original data, and he wrote to the Home Office on 2 November to inform the Home Office that it had used the wrong data in making its calculations. The whole police service and this House owe a debt of gratitude to Andrew White for his actions.
In a letter to me from the permanent secretary, Mark Sedwill has since stated that this error occurred because officials got confused with similar filenames and therefore used the wrong set of data. When the error was discovered, the director general of the crime and policing group at the Home Office, Mary Calam, admitted that she did not understand the significance of the response that she had signed. I am not sure whether that admission was to give us faith in the system or make us question it further. Overnight, police forces across the country had swung from being winners to losers and vice versa. Chief Constable Giles York of Sussex police said that his force went from a £10 million loss to a £2 million gain. Chief Constable Mike Creedon of Derbyshire police said that his force went from a gain of £20 million to a £7 million loss. Chief Constable Simon Cole demonstrated that Leicestershire constabulary was set to lose £700,000 under the old system, but would now lose £2.4 million.
Subsequently, Mr Speaker granted my urgent question on 19 November 2015 and the process was rightly suspended by the Policing Minister. Again, he should be commended for coming to the Dispatch Box and agreeing that the sums were wrong and that the process had to be halted. I do not want to dwell any further on the history, except to say, as it says in the report, that this was a shambolic end to a poorly managed process that significantly damaged the relationship between the Home Office and its primary stakeholders, the police.
Currently, police funding is supposedly being given on the basis of a funding formula that has not been operated for a number of years. The formula is over a decade old and is not based on the latest census data, but on the previous census. It is impossible for police forces to calculate it because many of the data are out of date and it does not take into account the modern nature of policing.
Having acted as the rapporteur for a report on the police funding formula by the Public Accounts Committee, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that one issue is that the formula only really reflects the demands that crime places on the police, and not many of the other issues that they have to deal with? Does he share my disappointment that the shadow Policing Minister is not here to listen to this debate?
I make no comment on the absence of the shadow Policing Minister. I am sure that he will come in very soon and make up for lost time. I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s first point in my speech. He raises an important issue on the capabilities of the police and the new demands of 21st-century policing.
Mike Creedon, the Derbyshire police chief, said to me that if the current formula was still valid,
“it would be reflecting a reality which is ten years old”.
He is clear, as are many other chief constables, that there is a consensus that we need to restart the process of moving to a fairer funding model. I think that that consensus is reflected throughout the House.
Since the publication of the police grant report in December 2015, concerns have been raised that it represents a real-term cut to grant levels of 1.4% and requires increases to the police element of the council tax precept. Police forces are being required to raise the police precept across the country, including in Cheshire, Northumbria, Humberside and Thames Valley—the area that is partly represented by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. Dee Collins of West Yorkshire police estimates that her force has received a 3.2% cut in real terms, even after the PCC agreed to the maximum precept increase.
The Select Committee published its report on 11 December. The Government’s response is now 19 days late. The first question for the Minister is when the response will come.
Last Tuesday, five police and crime commissioners gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee: Ron Ball from Warwickshire, Alan Charles from Derbyshire, Sir Clive Loader from Leicestershire, Katy Bourne from Sussex and Jane Kennedy from Merseyside. It was clear from their evidence that the police and crime commissioners had not been consulted on the new review. Ian Hopkins, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, has said that he wishes to work collectively and collaboratively with the Home Office, as do many PCCs and chiefs.
It is clear from the concerns that have been raised with me by chief constables before this debate that they have not been consulted. However, in the last debate, which as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, was only last Wednesday, the Minister alluded to the fact that he had met a number of chief constables. I am sure that he will enlighten us as to his further discussions when he responds to this debate. Chief Constable Neil Rhodes and Deputy Chief Constable Heather Roach of Lincolnshire police have informed me that they met the Policing Minister last Wednesday, 24 February, to discuss the formula. I hope that he will tell us the outcome of that meeting.
When he replies to the debate, will the Minister tell us about his engagement with police forces, and reassure them that he is taking the matter as seriously as he was when he last appeared before the House? One issue that must be clarified is the capability review undertaken by the National Police Chiefs Council under the leadership of Sara Thornton. If the Minister could advise the House about how far those deliberations have reached, that will assist us in knowing something of the timetable that he has in mind.
It is concerning that since last year’s formula changes were abandoned, there have been no further proposals to work on. The Minister wrote to me on 1 February with an update on the formula arrangements, but as I said, he has not given us a date for when that review will commence. Police forces need to know what is going to happen. Ian Drysdale, the director of business services for Kent police, said that the continuing uncertainty is unhelpful, and that a transition to a new arrangement should be made as soon as possible. Following the glaring errors last year, it is self-evident that the Home Office should redouble its efforts to create a fairer funding model, and it is clear that the funding review should be restarted as swiftly as possible.
You will be interested to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that Stephen Kavanagh, chief constable of Essex police, has stated that any prevarication on the part of the Home Office would be hugely disappointing and regrettable. Many have argued that it would be wrong to change the formula in a period of austerity, but on the contrary, austerity could have been a starting point for an informed reassessment of the formula in order to incentivise the police for reforms and deal with other inefficiencies. The flat rate reduction for all forces continues to penalise those who have already received less. However, following the Chancellor’s announcement in the comprehensive spending review on 25 November, which the Committee welcomed, that is less of a concern. In fact, the Home Office has a renewed opportunity to review the formula.
The three key failings aside from the stand-out mistake of confusing data filenames, were essentially process failures, such as sharing exemplifications at an early stage, which meant that data errors went unnoticed until it was too late, setting out transitional arrangements at an early stage, which meant that losers were even more concerned about the potentially immediate damaging impacts on their budget, and not allowing sufficient period for consultation, particularly with PCCs and chief constables. Does the Minister accept that those serious failings should be addressed in a future review process?
The Minister accepted accountability for the mistake, but as he will know from his experience on the rugby field, he was sold a hospital pass in having to defend his position. A mistake was made at senior level in relation to the management of the process. We need real reassurance that that will not happen again, and there must be accountability in the management of the Home Office, to ensure that such a catastrophic error, which was not picked up and communicated properly to Ministers, does not happen again.
The hon. Gentleman is right, and he made that point when we took evidence from various chief constables and police and crime commissioners. It is vital to have proper accountability during this process, and I will come on to what the Committee agreed should be the best way forward.
The Home Affairs Committee made a number of recommendations on factors that must be included in the new funding review. We must recognise that although policing has changed fundamentally over the past 10 years, funding has never adjusted to it. PCCs from Leicestershire, Sir Clive Loader, from Hampshire, Simon Hayes, from South Wales, Alun Michael, and from West Yorkshire, Mark Burns-Williamson, are among those who have identified the growing level of non-crime demand on police time. Almost all police forces can point to a range of modern demands on police time, including terrorism, cybercrime, modern slavery and child exploitation. The Committee also considered it inexplicable that diversity is not one of the categories and criteria in the funding formula.
Chief Constable Simon Cole, the national lead on Prevent, highlights factors such as required language skills, translation services and the resources required in emerging communities. In Leicester, we could have the happy added burden of European football next season, subject to the outcome of the match at 7.45 pm today and the 10 other remaining matches. It is quite clear that the additional demands on policing in Leicester will be profound.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Wales has specific policing needs? He mentioned diversity and language, but language explicitly springs to mind. The growing powers for the Welsh Assembly call out for policing to be devolved. That is particularly pertinent because Secretary of State for Wales committed yesterday, I believe, to a thorough overhaul of the draft Wales Bill.
The hon. Lady is right. That is the point the Committee makes in our report. Different areas have different demands. Policing has changed. It is not as it was 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. Therefore, the police must say what they are doing now, and the Government must say what they want to fund. Of course, the situation in Wales requires special attention.
The indicators proposed by the Home Office in determining funding—there are only four—fail to take into account many of the points raised in the report, and thus miss 70% to 80% of police demand that is not linked to volume crime. The Home Office needs to make absolutely clear what tasks 21st-century policing is expected to take on, and then decide how much it is prepared to fund.
It is of course important that police forces work in a collaborative way. Indeed, the Government are working in a collaborative way. When the Minister came before the House in November to tell us that the police funding formula review was being suspended, he was not then the Minister with responsibility for the fire services. The Government have decided to look across the Government and ensure that they collaborate properly. If they can do so, so can local police forces. If that happens, it must be part of the funding review formula.
One key Committee recommendation was the appointment of an independent panel to assist the Home Office in formulating the revised proposals. That is not because we do not trust Home Office officials to add up. We need a robust and defensible way of looking at the formula and it needs to be independent. Therefore, the Committee went to the trouble of suggesting the kinds of organisations that should sit on the panel: the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, the College of Policing, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Royal Statistical Society. You will notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, an emphasis on those who can add and therefore crunch statistics. There is an ongoing project between the London School of Economics and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to provide a sound academic basis for identifying the underlying demands on police time. Let us use the expertise of our academic institutions. Such work, when led by the independent panel, could make the Minister’s job even easier.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. When he and his fellow Committee members were looking at the potential balance of an independent panel, did they consider experts on serious and organised crime? It will be important to understand the impact on London’s police force of the pressures the Met is under to help to continue the battle against serious and organised crime.
My hon. Friend is right, and not just from the point of view of what happens in Harrow, which is very different from what happens in Wandsworth, for example. The issue of serious and organised crime has grown in the past 10 years. He is right that that needs to be properly represented as part of the review.
At this time, the Home Office has two realistic options for moving forward: it can spend the next two years on a very long consultative detailed review, run accurate data against the formula, and implement the formula changes it proposed last year after a further period of consultation; or it can go out to an independent method of checking on what is in the best interests of local police forces. Of course, there will always be winners and losers from this process, and there will be police constables and police and crime commissioners with different voices, but to leave the situation in limbo, as it is at the moment, is, in the view of the Committee, unacceptable. Doing nothing is not really an option and this is not an issue that can be parked until, say, 2019. Unfortunately, those are some of the rumours emerging in the press, whether from the Foreign Office or elsewhere.
This time, I hope the Minister will have all the information before we proceed. I hope he will have to hand the capabilities report that is being prepared by the police chiefs. Their involvement is absolutely critical. I would not like the review to start and then have to stop because there has to be another review, but we do want the process to start as soon as possible. From our point of view, the sooner the better. We want to ensure that everybody in the policing family is properly consulted, so we have no repetition of what has happened in the past.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate and a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who always speaks in a calm and reasoned way. I agree with much of what he said.
I am most grateful to Dorset police, the police force that serves me and my constituents. I would like to put on record, as I always do, my thanks, gratitude and admiration for the men and women who patrol the streets day and night. They keep us safe in our homes and safe on those streets. Our police officers have to attend some appalling incidents, often with little protection—they are not armed. And dare I pay tribute to the female officers, who are not the same size as their gentlemen colleagues? They go in fearlessly to look after us, without any thought for their own safety. I pay tribute to all the police officers in the country, and of course in particular to those in Dorset.
I am most grateful to Dorset’s police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill—the Minister knows him well through working and corresponding with him; I believe they have a very good relationship, which is excellent news for Dorset police—who has kindly furnished me with most of the facts I am about to divulge. As the Minister knows, Dorset has languished at the bottom of the police funding table for many years, heavily disadvantaged by the current police allocation formula that evolved in turn from the old, standard spending assessment. In last year’s discussions, the Minister described the current formula as
“complex, opaque and out of date.”—[Official Report, 21 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 81WS.]
He was absolutely correct, but it remains effectively unchanged. Even with a review in 2009-10, nothing has ever been implemented. Dorset police remains at the bottom of the pile, a situation that cannot and must not be allowed to continue.
The current allocation formula is based on four criteria: a central allocation; a needs-based allocation; a relative resources adjustment; and formula damping, which is nothing to do with children or the changing of nappies. The very wording of the criteria is complicated enough. I hope that in looking at the formula, the Minister will make it considerably more simple.
Unfortunately for Dorset, this model is the worst of all possible worlds. First, our central allocation is historically the lowest in the country. Secondly, our needs-based allocation fails to take into account many of the issues particular to a seaside county, not least tourism on which so much relies. Thirdly, our relative resources adjustment enables us to crawl from bottom to third from bottom when the precept is added in. The current methodology for the RRA, however, is per head of population, whereas council tax from which the precept is raised is levied per household. Let us not forget that the precept is limited to 2% before a local referendum is triggered.
Fourthly, despite the formula being changed in 2010 and its effect never implemented, Dorset believes that it is still losing out to the tune of £1.9 million annually. It has never received that amount—year after year, £1.9 million. The Minister, who I know is listening intently to my speech, will be aware that £1.9 million is a lot of money for the police force in Dorset who are just trying to do their job.
While we welcomed the Chancellor’s commitment in November last year to protect police spending in real terms—that announcement was greeted with relief by police chiefs and police and crime commissioners across the country—further savings still have to be made. Worryingly, when the aggregate grant amounts were finalised by the Minister on 4 February—these assume the maximum precept available—Dorset was 0.6% worse off when compared with the dampened figures for 2015-16. It is also regrettable that after last year’s consultation, a glitch in the data has meant that any permanent change to the funding formula will be delayed for another year. I hope that when the Minister sums up at the end, we will hear more about where we stand on the future formula.
If I may, I shall put Dorset’s case to the Minister. As I have said, it is particularly disadvantaged by the current funding formula on which the funding is based. Tourism is critical to a county such as Dorset, but to date it has been ignored when assessing funding. In common with our strategic partners in Devon and Cornwall, we all find our beautiful surroundings can be a burden as well as a blessing. The current, needs-based element underestimates the pressures that the sheer number of tourists place on policing. The county’s population of 1.1 million rises considerably during the summer months. Visitors stay over 14.5 million nights and day trippers make 26.3 million outings to Dorset every year. This influx is not accounted for and neither is the nature of the county, which is divided into two—the urban part to the east and the rural to the west.
Policing in Dorset rural costs more—in time, resources and even fuel. The formula takes no account of sparsity. Neither does it cater for the high concentration of bars and clubs in towns like Weymouth and Bournemouth. However, if we look at the number of bars and clubs spread across the county as a whole, the impact on policing so far as the formula is concerned is considerably reduced. I suggest to the Minister that any formula based on a number alone would severely disadvantage our police, so it must continue to include density as well.
The nature of crime, which the right hon. Member for Leicester East touched on, must also be taken into account. Terrorism, cybercrime, people trafficking and sexual abuse, as well as the need to protect the vulnerable, are all more prevalent than they used to be and consume considerable resources, and they apply to rural Dorset just as much as to any other police area.
I shall make four suggestions to the Minister so that any new funding formula can follow these four simple principles. First, it should be stable from year to year, avoiding any fluctuations. Secondly, it should be made up of multi-year settlements to allow certainty in planning. Thirdly, it should be transparent and easy to understand—certainly easier to understand than the current formula. Fourthly, any changes should be phased in to make the transition smoother.
Finally, can we get rid of a hangover from the local authority days, when labour costs were taken into account? Today, given the existing national pay scales across police forces, there should be no difference in labour costs, except where London is concerned. However—this is a case in point—Dorset currently receives nothing, while Hampshire, across the border, receives an extra 4.6%. That simply cannot be right.
Let me end by saying to the Minister, on behalf of Dorset police, my constituents, and the constituents of other Dorset Members, that any new formula must, please, be more equitable. We are not asking for all the cake; we are just asking for a fair slice of it. Dorset police do an outstanding job, and both they and the residents whom they so ably serve need to know that all relevant factors have been taken into account when a new formula is announced.
I believe that I am the only Conservative speaker in the debate, and that I shall therefore have the great privilege of listening to the speeches of Opposition Members. I shall aim my next remark at the Hansard staff, who I know are listening to my every word. I can tell them, with great assurance, that they can probably relax for the next hour or two, the reason being that speeches that were made during the Opposition day debate on police funding are likely to be repeated. Let me explain why.
I have a message here, which was sent to all Labour Members by the shadow Home Secretary’s Parliamentary Private Secretary. It reads as follows:
“As you have already been a great help in contributing to our debates, would you be so kind as to show your support once again? There will be no need to write a whole new speech as you can reuse previous speaking notes.”
I shall now sit down, having reassured the Hansard staff that they can relax, have a cup of tea, and prepare to listen to the debate in the knowledge that what is about to be heard may have already been said.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax). I have always enjoyed campaigning for the Labour party in his constituency. I strongly support the idea that the next police funding formula should be based partly on the number of bars and clubs in an area, because I think that, on that basis, London would see a substantial increase in its funding.
Perhaps, as I have started off in a consensual spirit, I might invite the hon. Gentleman to agree that the number of major events taking place in a police force’s area should be taken into account as well. Wembley stadium is very close to my constituency, and requires a substantial police presence to ensure that it is policed properly and effectively.
I very much enjoyed hearing from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, about the work that the Committee had done. If he will forgive me for saying so, I thought the most worrying part of his speech was his suggestion that, according to some reports, police forces will have no detailed or clear information about the funding formula until 2019. I hope that the Minister will be able to set the Select Committee’s concerns at rest. At the moment, the Metropolitan police has no sense of clarity about its funding for the rest of this Parliament from 2017 onwards. As I said in my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, there is huge concern about this in London, given the role of the Metropolitan police in tackling serious and organised crime, and its importance in the fight against cybercrime, the increasing importance of which the whole House acknowledges. There is a sense that rising crime in London is putting substantial pressure on the available police resources.
Two weeks ago, Europol published a major report on the scale of the illegal activity of people trafficking by organised criminal gangs across Europe and beyond. London was identified as one of the centres for trafficking people into this country and in which the criminal gangs manage their operations. This re-emphasises the point that London, through the Metropolitan police, needs as much resource as possible to tackle and bear down on serious and organised crime, particularly if we want to tackle illegal immigration and other forms of organised crime. Hon. Members will be only too aware of the terrorism threat that we face, and I gently suggest that London faces a particular challenge to be tackled through counter-terrorism measures. I hope the Minister will ensure that the funding formula takes account of the particular threat that London faces.
Speaking as an ex-serviceman, I watched the atrocities in Paris and noted that the police there, who were already armed, were expected to enter the buildings immediately to rescue people. There was no time to hang around. My concern is whether we have sufficient funding and training facilities to ensure that those who find themselves in such a situation here, God forbid, are equipped to enter such buildings immediately. It costs a lot more money to equip and train people to that level of expertise.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We need to ensure that police forces work collaboratively so that there are enough trained individuals. I gently suggest to him that the Metropolitan police has particular expertise to share in this regard, and that its training facility at Hendon continues to turn out extremely highly trained and effective police officers to work in the Met and elsewhere. He is absolutely right to suggest that the attacks in Paris last year brought into sharp relief the terrorist threat that we all face here in the UK and, I gently suggest, in London in particular.
An ongoing challenge for the Metropolitan police is the fact that crime is rising again. Recorded crime is up 5% in the last 12 months. Violent crime in London is up 22%. The Metropolitan police is operating in the context of 1,600 police officer posts having gone since 2010 and almost 3,000 police and community support officer posts having been axed in the last five years. In my constituency during that period, 137 police officers, sergeants and PCSO positions have been axed. We were used to neighbourhood policing involving a sergeant, three or four police constables and three or four PCSOs. We are now reduced to just one PC if we are lucky, and one PCSO if we are very lucky indeed.
More recently, we have also seen revealed the substantial pressures on the Met, which have led to more and more police officers from the suburbs, particularly Harrow, having to be moved from the borough where they normally do their policing work to police major events or to respond to rising crime in inner London. In the past 12 months, on occasion, 22% of police officer time in Harrow has been abstracted to other boroughs—in other words, 22% of the time Harrow police officers have worked has been spent not policing the streets of Harrow, as it should have been, but policing other streets in London. The Minister may argue that that is an operational issue for the Metropolitan police chief, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and I would accept that it is, but it is an operational issue being driven by the shortage of resources at his disposal.
Harrow is one of the safest boroughs in London, but we still face significant crime problems, there is still a significant fear of crime, and significant problems with antisocial behaviour remain. My constituents and other constituents in Harrow want to know that our police officers are out policing our streets, instead of policing streets elsewhere in London. What is particularly concerning my constituents, such that I felt it necessary to intervene in this debate, is a proposal to merge Harrow’s police force with those in Barnet and in Brent to create a tri-borough command. The proposal would axe two of the three borough commanders in this area and create just one borough commander for the three areas. Brent has a bigger crime problem than Harrow and its force has the particular challenge of managing events at Wembley stadium. Barnet also faces a very different set of challenges and, again, is an area with slightly higher crime than Harrow. My constituents fear, rightly, that if there is a tri-borough commander, Harrow police will be more easily deployed into Brent or Barnet and away from Harrow.
Given the lack of investment in Harrow police station compared with that in the Wembley and Colindale police stations, my constituents fear that if the tri-borough proposal goes ahead, there will be a question mark over the future of Harrow police station. If the Minister does not feel that he can intervene to reassure my constituents in today’s debate, and I recognise his reluctance to do that, I ask him to have a quiet word with Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe to encourage him to drop this plan for a tri-borough command and reassure my constituents that there will still be one borough commander accountable to us in Harrow for the quality and effectiveness of policing in our borough, instead of our having to share this with those other boroughs. On that point, I welcome the Select Committee’s report and look forward to the Minister’s response.
I welcome this report, and let me start by saying that the Minister was brave to tackle the issue of police funding, for two reasons. The first is that it is always going to be difficult to resolve a funding formula without acrimony unless one has at one’s disposal sufficient resources to fund every force to the level of the best funded; clearly, those resources were not going to be available to him. The second reason is that funding a police force across the whole UK—or certainly in England and Wales—is always going to be intensely difficult, given the great diversity in policing needs across the counties of those countries. But it is right that taxpayer funds for an essential service such as the police are allocated fairly and transparently.
I agree with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), that the police need to provide evidence of the work that they actually do. Often that work will go well beyond what we understand to be traditional policing work in the office of constable. The police pick up a large amount of slack that is not picked up by other public services or private sector organisations, and they do a huge amount more than many people appreciate.
The National Audit Office published a report showing that a significant number of police forces were not aware of the demand on their own services. It is incumbent on police forces to ensure that they are aware of that demand, whether for classic policing or wider functions. They must make their demands clear to the Home Office, and, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East said, the Home Office must then make it clear to those forces what services they are actually funded to perform.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he recognise that cuts being made in other public services—in the area of mental health, for example, where there are problems in accessing beds—is putting pressure on police forces up and down the country, as in extreme circumstances they have to use cells to house people with mental health problems?
In fact, there is more mental health funding for front-line policing than there has ever been. It is very important that the police work in tandem with clinical commissioning groups to ensure, for example, that there are nurses who can go out on patrol with them to tackle mental health issues, rather than bringing in those people to police cells—often the very worst place for someone suffering from a mental ill health episode. In my neighbouring borough of Richmond, I know that the police are already doing that in conjunction with the CCG.
There was a pause in the review of the funding formula, the financial implications of which were worked out by one police and crime commissioner. I did pause before signing up to the suggestion in our report that the likely figures should be revealed before the end of the consultation. The aim is to arrive at a sound set of principles, but it is difficult to obtain a balanced response from people who stand to lose out from an allocation based on a principle, however sound it might be, because their elected responsibility as police and crime commissioners is to maximise the amount of funding available to them to perform their statutory functions.
The funding formula needs to recognise the diversity of policing in the UK, which is very difficult when we are trying to reach a formula at a national level. Our report references the need for additional funding in areas where policing of minority communities is a prevalent issue. In my constituency of Kingston, we have the largest Korean population in Europe. We have an excellent Korean liaison officer provided by the police, which would not be needed elsewhere in the country, and they provide a vital function in ensuring a link between the police and the Korean community.
The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) made it clear that there are many other issues in London that provide a positive case for ensuring that the capital grant in London is protected and that the special position of the Metropolitan police is respected. The issue of diverse communities was raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester East, and the issue of policing pubs and bars was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax). That is plainly volume policing.
We need more police officers on the streets at kicking-out times for the pubs and clubs, which are more numerous in London than anywhere else in the country. The same applies to the threat of terrorism, which is most significant in London. I am pleased that the Metropolitan police have responded to that matter in the light of the Paris atrocities by significantly increasing the number of armed response vehicles and armed officers keeping us safe.
The same applies to the various types of crime tackled centrally on behalf of other police forces, such as online fraud. We have seen a massive explosion in such fraud over the past four or five years and although much more needs to be done and much more funding needs to be made available to deal with it anything like comprehensively enough, a large part of it is tackled by the Metropolitan police’s very impressive Operation FALCON and the City of London police’s Action Fraud. Such crime is perpetrated across the country, but is largely dealt with by the police in our two capital police forces. There is a need to protect the special status of London in any new funding formula.
Where I depart from the comments made by the hon. Member for Harrow West is where he painted a rather less than rosy picture of the state of policing in London. Although there has been a reduction in officer numbers, a less rigid approach to neighbourhood policing has allowed a more nimble model that certainly works well in my borough of Kingston and elsewhere across London. Of course, crime has dropped dramatically over the past five years and we have the police to thank for that. Even if they have lower overall numbers, they have a significantly larger proportion on the frontline and do a fantastic job that has resulted in a massive reduction in crime.
May I encourage the hon. Gentleman to oppose the merger of borough command units as well? If they succeed with Harrow, Brent and Barnet, I would have thought that a Kingston-Sutton merger might be next. Does he agree with me that that is a step too far and that the Policing Minister might usefully intervene with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to that effect?
I know that locally there will be mixed feelings if that is proposed in south-west London, but I do know that the reforms brought in by this Government and the previous Government mean that these matters are entirely in the hands of the local police body, which in the case of London is MOPAC, or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, rather than the Policing Minister. They are an operational matter for MOPAC and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I have not seen the proposals yet, but I would certainly want to be reassured that there was no less democratic accountability and no less focus on local policing if that was going to happen in Kingston. I will wait to see the proposals and I am sure that all London MPs will have something to say if and when they are published by the Met police.
The Committee’s report records a rather unhappy period for the Home Office in which the Minister came to this House and apologised unreservedly, which was recognised in the report. I am sure that the Minister is absolutely committed to putting the situation right. The Government are to be commended for attempting to create a fair funding formula, which is recognised in the report, and that is something that previous Governments have not tried to do.
The terms of the funding formula are yet to be decided. It is no easy task; I certainly do not envy the Minister. Indeed, it is such a tricky task that both the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Policing Minister cannot be in the Chamber for this important debate. No doubt they are scratching their heads and working out what their alternative funding formula would be. I welcome the Home Affairs Committee’s report and am pleased to have participated in its production. I am sure that the Minister will give it his full consideration in deciding the eventual outcome and I am sure that although there will be some winners and some losers, the public will be able to see that the funding formula at which the Minister arrives is fair to all forces. I hope that it will protect London, along with the special and vital functions performed by the Metropolitan and City of London police to keep us safe.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate and it is not lost on me that quite a self-selecting group of MPs has turned out today, all of whom will probably try to follow a similar formula of saying that the funding formula does not respond well to the challenges of their communities. The cumulative nature of the speeches, however, should not necessarily detract from the veracity of their argument. Clearly, across this House, many of us have deep concerns about our police forces and about how they are treated under the current regime. There are winners and losers and, dare I say it, in the Chamber today there are more losers than usual.
I am no different from other Members. For me, the acid test of whether a funding formula is truly fair is Bedfordshire. We have lost 171 officers since 2010, and the number of police community support officers has halved from 108 to 53 in that period. In my community in Luton, where we face all sorts of challenges, the effect of those cuts is that neighbourhood policing is practically non-existent. In 2012 we had PCs working alongside PCSOs in Luton. In other words, we had proper neighbourhood policing. That was true of many other parts of the county too.
The old police authority, looking at the scale of cuts coming through, proposed to remove those officers and to cut PCSOs. When the police and crime commissioner was elected in 2012 he put a halt to that process and protected numbers, but, with £20 million of cuts defined, they had to go. The police and crime commissioner in Bedfordshire has said:
“The impact in Luton is no different from the rest of the county. We’ve had no choice other than to strip away preventative, problem-solving neighbourhood policing everywhere to the barest minimum because the alternative is even worse. But current projections mean we need to find £11 million savings and this may mean reducing the establishment by 44”
in the next three years.
The chief constable, Jon Boutcher, estimates that Bedfordshire needs another 300 officers even to reach the average number in police forces in the country. Why? We are the county with the fourth highest gun crime, the fifth highest serious acquisitive crime and the seventh highest knife crime figures in the country, but we get by on just 169 officers per 100,000 population. To put that in context, the average is 232 across all forces, rural and urban, and the Metropolitan police, about which we have already heard, has 388 officers per 100,000. In simple terms—it is easy to get lost in the numbers—the residents in Luton whom I represent, if treated as though they were, say, 20 minutes down the train line in north London, could expect an additional 482 officers protecting them. That is the scale of the gap.
Will the hon. Gentleman echo the fact that the demand for policing in Luton is not restricted to the people of Luton? It is felt by the rest of the people of Bedfordshire, including in my town, Bedford. Bedfordshire is just not large enough for the rest of the county to chip in for those additional requirements in Luton, as the hon. Gentleman is so clearly outlining. Will he emphasise to the Minister, who I am sure is hearing this, that this is not a partisan view of the funding for Bedfordshire police; this is a cross-party view of the specific needs of Bedfordshire police in the future.
I am extremely glad I took the intervention, because the hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, which he has made alongside me and the four other Bedfordshire MPs, both Conservative and Labour, to the Policing Minister, who has kindly given us an audience in the past and, I hope, will do so in the future to make the point that ours is essentially an urban force that is funded as a rural one. The nature of Luton in particular and of Bedford and some of the smaller areas to the north of the county, means that there is a huge disparity in levels of crime, especially the crimes that I mentioned. I will continue to make this point.
This is not a dry argument about formulae. Last week I sat in the house of my constituent Mrs Patel. She is a shop owner. Just before Christmas she was attacked, dragged to the back of her shop and cut by a man wielding a knife. That vicious attack has robbed her of her work and her confidence, and has left deep scars not just mentally but physically. There is only one thing more horrendous than the attack on Mrs Patel in her shop: it is the fact that just a few short years ago, in the same shop and in the same way, her husband was violently attacked and stabbed to death. She wants to know why the officers who used to patrol the area where her shop is and where she lives are not patrolling any more. Her son wants to know why it took so long during this violent attack for a police car to respond. He wants to know why the man who subjected her to such a terrifying attack—who put a knife against her throat and who, it was clear to her, was attempting to send her to the same place as her husband—was not apprehended in the midst of it. The debate is not, therefore, just about a formulae; it is about my constituents’ safety and their ability to live their lives without fear of threat.
The argument I advance—that fair funding for Bedfordshire is the acid test for the new police funding formula—is backed up by the context. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), Bedfordshire is an urban force funded in a rural way. Luton and, to a lesser extent, Bedford face vastly different challenges from the rest of this rural county. Despite the obvious electoral benefit of moving significant resources into urban areas, it is to the credit of the Labour police and crime commissioner, Olly Martins, that he has, given the challenges, been able to move forward with plans that still provide for a significant rural presence.
As a community, we face all sorts of challenges. We face down extremism daily. The far right—the English Defence League, Britain First and associated groups—regularly target our town. At just one protest last year, a group of about 150 or 200 drunken men led to a policing bill of £320,000, which had to be picked up locally. Of course, there is also the ongoing challenge of infiltration by extremists of the Muslim community.
We also have to defend major transport infrastructure, with London Luton airport, which is in my constituency, carrying upwards of 10 million passengers a year. The east midlands and west coast main lines pass through the constituency, as do the two principal roads between London and the north. Despite all that, Bedfordshire has to get by on similar police funding and, therefore, with similar police strength as Dorset—we have heard about that already—Sussex and Hertfordshire.
Only one thing that could undermine my argument, so let me pre-empt it: a failure since 2010 to make significant changes, efficiencies and innovations in the way in which Bedfordshire operates. In other words, we could have buried our heads in the sand and said, “The problem is purely the Government cutting spending.” However, that is simply not true.
The force has already made £25 million of savings, and it expects to make another £11 million in the coming three years. Under the leadership of the police and crime commissioner, the tri-force alliance between Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire should produce about £10 million of savings for Bedfordshire alone. A bid is in with the Home Office police innovation fund to support blue-light collaboration with fire and ambulance services. There is increased use of special constables to support Community Watch, and new technology, including smartphones, slate personal computers, automotive telematics and even drones is being rolled out to save money and police time.
At the same time, we have seen increased transparency—for example, through the use of body-worn cameras—which is vital to maintain the community’s involvement and the sense in which they are protected by the police.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the cost savings between Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. That is about cost sharing, but does he agree that there is still the revenue that accrues to Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, which is significantly in excess of the financial resources that come into Bedfordshire? It is such a pity that we are not able to encourage those counties to draw together with us. Would he like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on whether there could be Home Office proposals to push forward greater collaboration and greater sharing of revenue as well as costs?
Absolutely. There is far greater space for collaboration. Equally, however, there are challenges for a force such as Bedfordshire, and I have not painted a particularly rosy picture of our finances and the challenges we face. There needs to be Government influence over these measures—these things cannot just be left at local level. Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire have had two good police and crime commissioners who have been keen to work with Bedfordshire and have made really decent strides in doing so. Ultimately, however, they are accountable to their own residents for making sure that they get the best deal possible.
I want to signal not only the innovation that has gone on in Bedfordshire but my own willingness to explore innovation on, dare I say it, a statesmanlike basis rather than merely withdrawing into oppositional politics. It is important that through this process we get the funding of Bedfordshire right, first and foremost, and then we can look at further collaboration down the line. The police and crime commissioner in this area has the third cheapest operation in the country. In his first three years in office, he saved more than £200,000 in comparison with the old police authority. This is not a case of a profligate police and crime commissioner trying to make a particular case to Government.
This issue has spanned the terms of Labour and Conservative Governments. Like the Home Affairs Committee, we welcome the Minister’s willingness to engage to get the funding formula right. We are doing all the things that we are being asked to do, and doing the right thing by our residents. Everything that would be expected of Bedfordshire is being done. The acid test of this police formula is whether Bedfordshire and other significantly disadvantaged forces are properly funded, alongside other police forces. It is now time for the formula, the Minister and the Government to do right by us.
I want to begin by stating what Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary for West Midlands police, Wendy Williams, said about the force in her most recent report. She believes that it is
“exceptionally well prepared to face future financial challenges.”
She says that it has “robust management” of its current demand, finances and plans for change, and that it has embarked on an impressive five-year change programme to transform how it intends to deliver policing. In last year’s Valuing the Police programme, which considered how forces met the challenge of the first spending review, West Midlands police was judged to be outstanding. I thank the Labour police and crime commissioner, David Jamieson, our former chief constable, Chris Sims, and our new chief constable, Dave Thompson, for doing such a good job on our behalf.
The Government have suggested that west midlands Labour MPs are wrong to complain that our police are being short-changed. The Minister thinks that West Midlands police is squirrelling away money and sitting on huge reserves. Let us look at the reserves of the largest force in England and Wales outside the Met. Not only does it serve a population of nearly 3 million people and an area of some 348 square miles, but, as HMIC notes, the area served by the West Midlands force faces the most significant challenge of terrorism and extremism outside London—a point alluded to by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry). The force is in fact a national lead in the delivery of counter-terrorism.
The force complies with the requirement to hold a general reserve—in its case, about £12 million, which can be compared with figures of about £26 million and £23 million for the Met and West Yorkshire police. Of its remaining reserves, about £10 million is set aside to address redundancy and equal pay, in a force still suffering the fall-out from the “A19” forced retirements. A further £12 million is set aside for the self-funded insurance reserve. I expect the Minister is familiar with the problems of insurance for police vehicles and how most forces hold a reserve to cover this. About £3 million is set aside for the uniforms and protective equipment reserve, which is not a high figure for the second largest force in the country; about £2.1 million for the major incident reserve; and about £18 million for the capital reserve. The Minister will be aware that his officials advised that forces should prepare for a reduction in the capital grant in this year’s settlement. I understand that the capital grant for the west midlands is now about £2.9 million—a cut of about £2 million on previous years.
Like Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, I see a force with robust management of demand and finances, and one that has proved to be outstanding in facing up to the challenges that austerity has imposed on it. It is misleading for anyone to suggest that it is sitting on massive reserves, and I invite the Minister to look again at the figures before anyone in the Government is tempted to repeat such a charge.
On the question of the formula, may I invite the Minister to clear up the situation with regard to claims by the Conservative PCC for Northamptonshire that he has been led to expect a transfer of funding from urban forces such as West Midlands police to rural forces such as his? Last week, the Home Secretary did not feel able to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) that she was not planning such a transfer of funds. Would the Minister like to take this opportunity to come clean about his intentions?
The hon. Gentleman is citing the figures with which I supplied him, so I will not contradict them. I will give my interpretation of them when I sum up. There is no funding formula change on the books, so nobody can say that they are going to be better or worse off until we come forward with the formula.
It is certainly true that the Minister gave me a glimpse of some of the figures and I am extremely grateful to him for that, but let me reiterate my point: the Conservative PCC said that he had been tipped off that there would be a transfer of funds from urban to rural forces. My constituents want to know why more money is needed to police Surrey and Northamptonshire than to police the west midlands. Why do we get less while they get more?
We could ask the same question about the local government formula, which gives more money to Surrey than to deprived areas such as Durham and my hon. Friend’s area. The suspicion is that this funding formula will also be used to divert money away from Labour areas to Conservative areas.
If we look at past form, we will see that that is certainly the implication. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) implore the Minister to think again about fair funding, on the basis that a fairer funding arrangement would give the force in Dorset an extra £1.9 million a year. I remind the Minister that, under the same fairer funding formula, the west midlands would get an extra £40 million year. When it comes to the transfer of resources, I hope he will bear that in mind.
The reality is that, far from getting extra funding, over the past five years our force has had to contend with £180 million of cuts—the highest in the country. The workforce has been reduced by 3,000 and the incoming chief constable has been clear that the force will need to reorganise to “cope with the gaps”—those are his words—that it now has to carry. The mistakes in the formula mean that forces are now planning against a one-year rather than four-year profile, which will be a much more difficult challenge. I would like to hear the Minister explain how he thinks the chief constable of West Midlands police is meant to plug those gaps.
I want to be clear that I do not deride the Home Secretary for saying that volunteers with specialist skills in IT or accountancy might be useful in helping to tackle cybercrime. I am curious to know why it is necessary to create a new position of police support volunteer, rather than simply recruiting more special constables with particular skills and expertise. Is that part of a wider volunteer plan?
The answer is very simple. A special constable is an unpaid but warranted officer, the same as a full-time officer. Many people do not want to carry the warrant, but they want to help their local police force. That is why there is a separate category and they are not all specials. If they were, they would all have to be warranted.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response, and perhaps he will show us the consultation that took place to show the support that exists for the new role of police support volunteer. I would welcome the opportunity to have a look at that.
To go back to funding for a second, does the Minister really consider it a triumph for his colleagues the hon. Members for Solihull (Julian Knight) and for Dudley South (Mike Wood) to claim credit for a 4.6% rise in the police precept paid by the taxpayers of the west midlands to make up for the money being given to places such as Surrey and Northamptonshire? Is that how we will be forced to plug the gap—by paying more pounds for fewer police in our area?
We are repeatedly advised that crime has fallen and therefore, by implication, the Government’s cuts are justified. I assume that the Minister does not dispute the claims of the Office for National Statistics that crime rose by 6% nationally for the year ending September 2015, and that violence against the person rose by 13%. I do not dispute that some types of crime have fallen, but I am not interested in trying to manipulate the figures to mislead anyone. Is it not important that the Government give a full picture and come clean on what the figures actually mean?
I concede that the report actually said that certain types of sexual offences were being reported differently, which accounted for the rise in that area. The report also clearly pointed out that violence against the person had risen by 13%, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that. As I said, we need clarity on the figures rather than using them to try to paint a picture that may be misleading.
There is one more point I would like to make. As I indicated earlier, the West Midlands force faces the most significant challenge of terrorism and extremism outside London, and we recently suffered a spate of gun crime in parts of Birmingham. The chief constable is set to increase the number of armed officers, and I understand that that is in line with Home Office advice. West Midlands police has about 260 armed officers, and an uplift in line with Home Office thinking would mean a further 130 officers. Where will the funding for those additional armed police officers come from, and where will the personnel come from? Will the force be expected to recruit additional officers, or will those engaged in neighbourhood policing or response policing be required to transfer to those new duties, further depleting those available for existing police tasks?
It is not bluff and bluster that we need today, but honest answers to legitimate questions and queries from people such as myself, who are genuinely worried that the formula, the funding and the rhetoric do not match the heroic efforts of West Midlands police to meet the demands of the community that it seeks to serve.
We know that the UK Government have consulted on the funding formula for police forces in England and Wales, as they seek to simplify funding arrangements for the service. We also know that any changes in the funding arrangements have been delayed until 2016-17. Indeed, that was set out very eloquently by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). Because of Barnett consequentials, which are so important for funding services across the UK, I want to say a few words about policing in Scotland.
As many in the House will be aware, the SNP Scottish Government have carried out a reorganisation of policing in Scotland, with eight area forces merged into a unitary force in 2013. The Scottish Government now fund policing directly through the Scottish Police Authority. It is worth pointing out that that had cross-party support, although—perhaps this is in their nature—the Lib Dems subsequently withdrew their support. I would point out, if I may, that in Scotland, despite the major reform implemented by the Scottish Government, which has delivered significant savings, the Scottish Government have continued to protect their commitment to 1,000 additional police officers, all in the teeth of harsh Westminster cuts.
There is no doubt that we are having to make some very hard decisions in Scotland about the police budget, but, under the recent budget, the police revenue budget will be protected in real terms in every year of the next Parliament, with a boost of £100 million between 2016 and 2021. However, it must be said that some of the hard decisions the Scottish Government have to make are a direct consequence of the UK Government’s refusal to give Police Scotland the same VAT status as every other police authority in the United Kingdom. The same applies to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
No. Perhaps the Minister will let me finish my point before he starts chuntering. The Scottish Government agreed to that because they had no choice. They are working within the constraints imposed on them by Westminster. I should say—I am moving forward now—that like so many other deals in Scotland, it was imposed by a UK Government who are detached from Scotland and neither understand nor care about Scotland’s public services. I shall leave the matter there.
If you do not like giving fair funding formulae to Scotland, you had your chance last September, when you kicked and screamed to hold on to us. In the light of that decision last September, all we ask for is fairness. We are of course a valued and equal partner—well, let us be so.
As you well know from the numerous—[Interruption.] I will deal with it, Mr Arkless. It will be easier if I do. As you well know, Mr Jones, that is not a point of order. If we were to rely on something that we believed not to be correct, we would never—[Interruption.] We would never, ever get through a debate. You and other Members in this House will continue to have different views. We will not always agree. On this occasion, it is not a point of order for the Chair.
No, thank you. I want to progress beyond this point.
Uniquely and therefore unfairly, the Scottish Police Authority is the only police authority in the United Kingdom that cannot recover VAT. It is therefore liable for an annual cost of £25 million, which is equivalent to almost the entire forecast savings gap. Importantly, it seems that the Treasury based its decision on the fact that single services will be funded by central Government. However, the Treasury introduced a new section in the Value Added Tax Act 1994 to ensure that central Government-funded academy schools in England could recover VAT. Why is there not the same provision for the Scottish police and Scottish fire and rescue services?
Apart from the fairness issue, I mention this matter today because this is a debate about managing budgets, and Scotland is being short-changed by the unique VAT charge that is levied on its police and fire services, taking significant funds out of those important and hard-pressed budgets. It is simply not fair. The people of Scotland take a very dim view of it indeed, as well they should.
Despite the budgetary pressures that Westminster is imposing on Scotland, with a real-terms reduction in Scotland’s budget of £1.5 billion or a 5.7% cut in the funding for day-to-day public services over the next four years as a result of the comprehensive spending review, crime in Scotland is at its lowest level in over 41 years. Violent crime is down by 55% since 2006-07.
I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said that the only certainties in life were death and taxation. He was certainly right about the first, but what has happened with multinational companies in the UK under successive Westminster Governments may have proven him to be a bit off the mark on the second. There is another certainty in life that Mr Franklin overlooked, which is that the one thing that is sure not to be debated during a Westminster debate on estimates is the estimates. The issue of debating the estimates may not exercise the minds of the general public, but I believe that is because it is not well known outside this place how little scrutiny there is of the spending plans of the respective Departments. The scrutiny is negligible and that has suited successive Governments. If the public knew just how inscrutable the process was, I am sure they would have something to say about it.
The supply estimates process is very technical and that is how spending is approved by Parliament, but we must remember in this debate that during the debates on English votes for English laws, the Leader of the House noted the possibility of a review of this process, while at the same time being adamant that the estimates process already allowed us to affect the Barnett consequentials. I simply say that the Procedure Committee, on which I sit, is reviewing the estimates process. We have heard from many distinguished and learned experts—far more learned and distinguished than I, if you can believe that, Mr Deputy Speaker. People from all sides of the political spectrum have argued when discussing EVEL that the estimates process is simply not fit for purpose.
Perhaps I may crave your indulgence a little longer, Mr Deputy Speaker, and point out that the way this House deals with the supply and estimates procedure is simply not sustainable. We need proper debate about the supply procedure to achieve clarity on Barnett consequentials. The scrutiny of the estimates process is simply not robust enough, and this Parliament—the so-called mother of Parliaments—has the least scrutinised spending arrangements in the western world. The process is such that the procedures simply do not give MPs a full opportunity to scrutinise Barnett consequentials of England-only, or England and Wales-only, legislation. Such scrutiny is required in a mature and healthy democracy, and a consequence of EVEL should be reform of the supply process, and that the interests of this matter be a “process of development”. That expression is a direct quote from the Leader of the House, who promised and envisaged that on 22 October 2015. Mr Speaker said that he could not conceive of any Bill that did not have direct Barnett consequentials, and that if there is such a Bill, we Scottish Members could take part in the estimates—
Order. The hon. Lady craved my indulgence, which I have been very good and given. She answered her own question, which is that the Procedure Committee, rather than today’s debate, is the right vehicle in which to take up this issue. I have allowed some indulgence, which I think was only fair, but we must move back to the core of the debate.
I take on board what you say, Mr Deputy Speaker, and having craved your indulgence and maximised the level of the patience that you kindly showed me, I was about to return to the police funding formula.
Any discussion of policing budgets in England must in all fairness and justice consider any effects and consequences for Scotland, not least VAT, which is a running sore of injustice in Scotland. Our police in Scotland do an excellent job, but they must have a level playing field. When considering police budgets, I ask all Members who represent English and Welsh constituencies to remember the inconvenient truth that the police in Scotland have a VAT ball and chain round their ankle, which picks money out of the pocket of the police budget to the tune of £25 million every year. No other police authority in the United Kingdom has to contend with that. Saying that Scotland accepted it is simply not good enough. Any reasonable minded person would demand that it stop, and it should stop now. After all, Scotland is supposed to be a valued and equal partner in this Union, and there is nothing equal about the VAT burden.
The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) prayed for your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker—but indulgence was not what I was praying for. What we have just seen is what we usually get from the SNP when they turn on something that they agreed to with the victim mentality that, as I have said on numerous occasions, it has raised to a new art form in this House. We end up with the idea that somehow this measure is everybody else’s fault, but the hon. Lady’s Government agreed to it so I do not think that she can try to delude electors in Scotland that it is somehow the fault of English Members and the Government at Westminster. Apart from the sense of grievance, which we have heard on many occasions from the Scottish National party in the House in recent weeks and months, the hon. Lady did not cover anything that was relevant to the debate.
I congratulate the Home Affairs Committee on its report on reform of the funding formula, and I pay tribute to its Chair for his opening speech. It has been said numerous times that this issue needs to be considered for years and in a logical way. I do not disagree with that, because we must consider in detail how we fund our police, as that is an important issue for our constituents. I do not believe that how the Government went about that had anything to do with having a serious hard look at putting forward a fair funding formula.
One of the Committee’s criticisms—it was made not only by chief constables but by many PCCs—was that the consultation was rushed. It started on 21 July 2015 and closed on 15 September, a period of eight weeks. The Minister then wrote to PCCs and chief constables on 8 October, three weeks after the consultation closed, providing detailed refinements, setting out for the first time indicative force levels and inviting further comment.
I asked the permanent secretary why the consultation was over such a short period when he gave evidence. He said that the Government could have gone for a much longer period or tried to have the funding formula arranged before the spending review. The Department made that decision. Whether or not it was the right decision is a matter for debate, but the decision was to have the formula in place before the spending review.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is exactly what was going on. We were to have the formula wrapped up going into the spending review, but what we are in store for is exactly what has happened in local government funding. We did not get a fair local government funding formula: we have a skewed formula that moves resources from the most deprived communities in this country to—lo and behold!—the more wealthy parts, which are represented by Conservatives.
In local government funding, just by chance—hon. Members should not ask me how this has happened— 85% of the gainers happened to be in Conservative seats. I suspect that that is what was going on with the police funding formula. The Government had not reckoned with the PCC for Devon and Cornwall, who questioned the process.
We must also put the formula against the other things that the Government and their previous incarnation, the coalition, have done to policing in this country.
Like me, I am sure my hon. Friend recognises that the Minister is a pretty straightforward guy. Given that we have ended up in this situation and that we have been unable to resolve it—it will be four years before police forces can plan a long-term budget—would not the fair thing be to remove any doubt or suspicion and subject the formula to independent scrutiny? In that way, we could all be absolutely certain that it was fair.
I agree with my hon. Friend—I will come back to that in a minute—but the real issue is that what was envisaged is exactly what we have seen in local government. Under the new formula, the resources would not have been devolved to the areas that needed them, but the blame for the cuts would have been. The Government have used that formula for many years now.
The hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) is not in the Chamber, which is regrettable. He complained about the formula and the distribution. In my local authority over the past five years, we have had five times the amount of cuts that South Dorset has had. I am fearful that the police funding formula will do the same to policing as the Government did to local government.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That was exactly what was designed in the formula. The Government were found out by the PCC for Devon and Cornwall. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) said about the Minister, but he is just a small cog in the huge machine. The machine is about devolving blame but not resources to local authorities. They devolve the blame to local decision makers and point the finger at them when cuts have to be made. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is the real villain of the piece, can stand back and say, “Not me, guv!”
Since 2010, £2.2 billion—22% of the funding—has been taken out of police budgets in this country. I do not accept that an average constituent of mine understands how police funding is arrived at. It is unique in the sense that two-thirds of it—the bulk of it—comes from central Government. Many people feel that what they pay, for example in local rates, pays for local services. We know that that is not the case.
The system is very uneven. Some authorities are able to raise more in local precept than others. Areas such as mine are unable to raise a large amount. In Durham, 55% of properties are band A, so a 2% increase in the budget would raise nothing like the amount that could be raised in Surrey or in other parts of the country. That leads me to one of the issues highlighted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the autumn statement: the ability to argue that some of the lower precept local authorities can now not be bound by the 2% limit but by a £5 increase.
Again, all that does is help the wealthier areas. If we were allowed to do that in Durham, it would raise hardly anything compared with some of the more well-off forces such as Essex, Herefordshire and others. Again, that needs to be looked at.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is another issue that relates to vulnerable and deprived areas, which is the top-slicing of grants? Next year, there will be a 69% rise in the top-slicing of police grants. In my area of Greater Manchester, that means a reduction of £16.2 million. Does he agree that we need an assurance that top-slicing for national projects, such as the transformation fund, does not come from local police grants?
I agree. That is another sleight of hand by the Chancellor. We have only to look at local government and the new homes bonus, which is trumpeted as a great opportunity for local authorities to raise money. What do the Government do, but top-slice it in exactly the way my hon. Friend describes?
In Durham, the ability to raise extra funds from precept is limited and any future formula needs to take that into account. In the autumn statement, the Chancellor said that policing would be protected and that money would fall from heaven. I am sorry, but that is not going to happen. As my hon. Friend says, there will be top-slicing. It is clear, from what police and crime commissioners have said, that there will still be pressure this year on the police budget. Any type of formula needs to consider the local tax yield and the ability of places such as Durham to raise additional expenditure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) raised the issue of disproportionate cuts. In Durham, since 2010 we have lost 350 officers and another 25 police community support officers. Before anyone says that Durham is a profligate, fat and inefficient police force, let me say that it is the only one in the country to receive three “outstanding” ratings for efficiency from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker) highlighted in his speech, great steps have been taken by police forces, working with local authorities, health services and other police forces, to drive up efficiency. I am not opposed to that—indeed, it is to be welcomed. However, police forces will come to the point where they cannot be any more efficient. At the end of the day, local people want police on the streets. They want police who are responsive and they want localised policing. That cannot be done. There comes a point in the process where the service that local people desire cannot be delivered.
We have seen the same happen in local government, where many local authorities are being pared back to delivering statutory services alone. Are we going to see a similar situation in policing? If a drive to a small state Conservative Britain is the Government’s ultimate aim, they need to be honest about that, rather than hide behind this type of funding formula.
The police community, local politicians and police and crime commissioners have lost all faith that the Home Office can conduct this review properly and fairly. I support what the Select Committee has suggested—taking it out of the hands of the Home Office. Otherwise, it will lead to a suspicion that the Chancellor is in the background and wants to use this as a way of driving out not efficiency but cash from the police service.
It is possibly a terrible thing to say, but I think it is true that if it had not been for the tragic events in Paris, we would have faced even deeper cuts to police forces. With the greatest respect, it was not down to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) or the Labour party that this U-turn took place; it was because of the Government’s fear that after the tragic events in Paris, there would be an outcry if they persisted with the cuts they intended to put through.
There is a drive for simplicity in the formula. I have always been in favour of making things as simple as possible in public policy. If making things simpler makes them less accurate and less transparent, however, I would be against it. Clearly, the interaction with other budgets is important—I mentioned mental health earlier—and it needs to be looked at. A policing element is needed. We cannot say to mental health trusts, “You will have to pay for part of your local area’s policing”. It is important that the interconnections are taken into account.
Deprivation is another crucial issue. Durham is a rural county, but under these proposals it is obviously not rural enough—or perhaps I should say that it is not blue enough—to get much money out of making representations about the formula. Rural areas such as Durham are unique. I describe parts of County Durham and parts of my own constituency as being very rural yet having urban problems. The problems would be recognised in any urban area—drug and alcohol-related crime and even organised crime, along with deprivation and the high level of crime associated with it. That is why we need to take into account not only rurality, but the realities of what is happening on the ground.
The argument about using licensed premises as an indicator of alcohol problems is, I think, complete nonsense. The public image that comes through from many of our national newspapers is that the real crime problems arise as people spill out of wine bars after a happy hour. No, they do not. People should speak to the police locally. One of the biggest issues is alcohol in the home, but how to reflect that in a formula is going to be difficult. Reflecting alcohol disturbance in an area according to the number of bars in it will not provide an answer to the problem.
Let me finish by paying tribute to the men and women of Durham constabulary, who have had a tough last six years. There are 350 former colleagues who no longer pound the beat in Durham, yet it has met the challenges when it comes to driving efficiency and interacting with the community, which has been reflected in the HMRC report that rates the force as outstanding. I pay tribute to Chief Constable Mike Barton and to the Labour police and crime commissioner, Ron Hogg. They have worked closely together not only to drive innovation and efficiency in the delivery of service, but to look at innovative ways of providing alternative justice, for example. They are making a real impact locally: when initiatives are launched, they are not always popular, but they are having a real impact on the ground.
Finally, let me touch on the relationship with other forces. I am in favour of reducing costs, and if Durham police can work with those on Teesside to form a joint firearms or dog handling unit that is great, but I have a problem with some of the proposals to merge other blue-light services that the Government are driving through. Obviously some efficiency savings can be made through the merging of back-office functions in, for instance, the fire and rescue services, but we must be careful not to repeat the imposition of cuts on those services on the grounds that their job can somehow be merged with, or massaged into, a policing role. If sensible things can be done in back offices, I am all for that, but blurring the edges when it comes to the front-line delivery of fire services, and other services, is a different matter altogether.
I hope that we have a proper look at the funding formula, and the sooner we do it, the better. Any review must be independent, because the Home Office thinks that credibility has been shredded. The one thing that I do not trust at all is an arrangement whereby the Conservative Government and the Chancellor are behind this, driving forward not a fairer funding formula but a formula that will divert resources from areas like mine and into leafy Tory suburbs.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to speak today. I did not speak in the recent debate on police funding, but many concerns were expressed by Labour Members then, and those concerns remain. There is much uncertainty and worry in police forces across the country about current and future funding.
It was just a few months ago, in November, that Members were in the Chamber making a case for policing to be protected from the ravages of Tory cuts. Labour Members joined others, and people throughout the country, in raising concerns about policing cuts generally. The Government had originally planned to cut police budgets by more than 20%, but at the last moment the Chancellor announced, in his spending review statement to the House, that there would be no cuts, adding that there would be real-terms protection for police funding. However, it seems that the Tories are still intent on cutting police funding. Today we are discussing reform of the police funding formula. The Government may have tried to deflect attention from what they are doing by saying that there will be no cuts, but the fact remains that the level of police funding to which the Government are committed for the next few years will go down.
We know that the Tories had to cancel the last review of the police funding formula last autumn because they had miscalculated, using the wrong figures. Last week, Labour pleaded with the Government to think again before imposing further cuts and forcing local people to pay more to make up for them, because they are expecting police forces to raise extra money in local taxes to compensate for those Tory cuts. No matter how the Government try to dress things up, a cut is a cut. What we need is a fair funding formula—a formula that is fair to the less affluent, high-need, high-crime areas—but we are not being given that now.
I speak as someone who grew up with a huge amount of respect for the police, and for the job that they do. I worked closely with neighbourhood policing teams for many years in my previous role as a county councillor, and I have always appreciated the professionalism of police officers who put their lives on the line every day. Unfortunately, under this Government we have seen the break-up of the neighbourhood policing model that was the last Labour Government’s achievement. Neighbourhood policing brought police officers out of their stations and into communities, building up trust and bringing down crime, but the positive steps that were taken under Labour are being reversed.
If the Government proceed with their cuts, and unless a proper funding formula is developed, matters will become worse. In the last six months alone, a further 1,300 police officers have been lost; that is the equivalent of a whole force in some areas. The Tories had already cut police funding by 25% during the last Parliament, and the most recent losses bring the total reduction in the number of police officers to a staggering 18,000 since 2010. Officers are already paying the price for the Government’s actions. The reduction in their numbers has put greater pressure on those who remain, who have found their workloads soaring and workplace pressures intensifying. For instance, 27% are working more than 49 hours a week, which is over the legal limit.
Crime might have fallen in some areas, and the police are trying to reduce crime, but policing is about much more than whether crime is falling. It is about visible policing and providing reassurance to the residents of our communities. We also know that crime is changing, rather than simply falling. When the 6 million cybercrimes and online crimes are included in the official crime statistics, crime levels nearly double.
With the most serious and violent crimes on the rise again, this is the worst possible time to cut police funding, but that is what this Chancellor is doing. He said he would protect police budgets, but we are facing more years of cuts. Make no mistake, the police service is under pressure and the morale of police officers is at a very low ebb. Police officers I have spoken to feel that the Government do not understand or appreciate the passion and commitment that they have for the job they do. We should be focusing on cutting crime, not on cutting the police.
One of the few areas to have seen an increase in the policing family is the police and community support officers in Wales. Since 2010, South Wales police has increased the number of PCSOs by 77 and Gwent has seen an increase of 35. This is due to funding support from the Welsh Labour Government, who have supported a total of 500 PCSOs across Wales despite significant cuts to their own budget by the Tory Government. My constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney is covered by two forces: South Wales on the Merthyr side and Gwent on the Rhymney side. In the next financial year, South Wales police will see a real-terms cut of £3 million and Gwent a cut of £1.5 million. The need for support from the police service is significant in many of the communities that I represent, but with this level of cuts, that support is under threat.
As I have said, this is not the time to be making cuts to services such as policing. The safety of our communities is too important to put at risk. The people who live in our communities need adequate protection from the police service, but the lack of a fair funding formula will put that at risk as it will not provide the police with the resources that they need to do the job.
That was not the situation that the shadow Home Secretary described, and I think the hon. Gentleman knows that. He is trying to misrepresent what was said. The Conservatives were talking about cuts of 20%-plus at that point, so let us get this into perspective.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I think we are seeing a lot of smoke and mirrors from the Conservative party. In closing, I urge the Government to address the concerns that I have outlined, and to provide the fair funding formula that the police need to do the job that we ask them to do.
I took part in the debate last week, and I will repeat something that I said at the time. I want to put on record again a big thank you to the staff and officers of Merseyside police. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has today given the House a measured and generous analysis and exposition of the funding formula debacle. I am not of a mind to be as generous as him, however, because the tensions that that created right across the police service are still being felt. There is a fear that we shall find ourselves in a similar situation again and that it will be just as unfair and just as much of a debacle.
I should like to apologise in advance to either the Home Secretary or the Home Affairs Committee. I say that because one or other of them is trying to sell the House a very large pup. Last week, the Home Secretary led the House to believe that the police service was awash with money, regardless of the review. She said that in any event it is the quality of police officers, not the quantity, that counts—I particularly remember that one. She said, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham):
“When the right hon. Gentleman calls on the Government to provide real-terms protection for the policing budget, I can happily tell Members that we have done just that.”—[Official Report, 24 February 2016; Vol. 606, c. 389.]
Of course, I heaved a sigh of relief at that reassurance—after all, she has the responsibility for keeping the Queen’s peace, and I am sure she would not want to let Her Majesty down in that regard. However, the Home Affairs Committee report appears to take a different view from that of the Home Secretary, saying:
“The real terms reductions in central grant to police forces as a whole has only varied between 24% and 26% since 2010/11…However, the range for real terms reductions for individual forces was from 12% for Surrey to 23% for Northumbria and West Midlands, the two forces most reliant on government grant.”
The Home Secretary is therefore being proactively selective, with the air of an amnesiac about her, and it is a disingenuous approach if ever there was one.
The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice told us that the West Midlands police and crime commissioner—this, to some extent, reinforces the point my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) made—had
“not spent part of the £153 million reserve in the West Midlands”—[Official Report, 24 February 2016; Vol. 606, c. 412.]
Again, my relief was palpable, as the Minister had pulled the Home Secretary’s chestnut out of the fire. Clearly, the implication was that police services right across the country had secret stashes of cash, gleaned from the ill-gotten gains of chief constables.
Does what my hon. Friend is suggesting not reiterate that we are seeing something that is happening across government? The same arguments are being used by those in the Department for Communities and Local Government when they attack councils for having large reserves, even though a reserve can be spent only once and in cases such as Durham’s a lot of those reserves are already earmarked?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that, but I am too much of a gentleman to call what the Government are doing claptrap. Clearly, the implication being given was that all this money has been stashed away: serving officers have, with malice aforethought, picked the pockets of the poor, unsuspecting council taxpayers, with the nefarious intention of protecting them from—wait for it—crime! Of course, what the Minister, mimicking the amnesia of the Home Secretary, forgot to mention was that a comprehensive public report brought before the West Midlands police and crime panel on 15 October last year by the PCC’s chief finance officer clearly set out that:
“This report details by 2020 it is forecast over 80% of the WMPCC’s reserves will be used to support the MTFP—
medium-term financial plan—
“transformation programmes or other initiatives.”
Therefore, out of a turnover of two thirds of a billion pounds, the West Midlands PCC will, by 2020, have reserves of about £27 million, or just 4.5%.
My hon. Friend comes from a local government background, so does he also find it remarkable that, in respect of not just the Home Office, but local government, the Government seem to mix revenue and capital willy-nilly? Like me, he knows from his time in local government that one of the cardinal sins was using capital for revenue purposes, unless it was for investment to save—
My hon. Friend just set out clearly the jiggery-pokery finances of this Government. That is what it is—it is hocus-pocus. By 2020, this Minister, or his successor, will no doubt be accusing the West Midland police of flying by the seat of its pants for having such small reserves. In any event, the West Midlands PCC was already doing what the Minister was, post-hoc, suggesting that he should do. Evidently, there is a contagion of disingenuity in the Home Office.
More shocking were the contents of the Home Affairs Committee report of December 2015. In last week’s Opposition day debate on police funding, we had this Minister refusing to take interventions, with the exception of those from one or two of his own Members, in full obsequious mode. I am afraid that his insouciant and dismissive attitude towards Members of this House has antecedents—in other words, he has form.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, this is completely unacceptable. I seek your guidance on how I can correct the record. The reason I took interventions when I did—and I did take some from the Opposition—is that the shadow Home Secretary spoke for 35 minutes and destroyed the debate. How do I get that on the record?
Let me repeat that the right hon. Gentleman’s insouciant and dismissive attitude towards Members of this House has antecedents—in other words, he has form. It extended to last year’s police funding formula consultation process, which was widely agreed to be an unmitigated disaster—there are no other words for it. The Home Affairs Committee said:
“It is regrettable that the Minister proceeded on this timescale, and it is unfortunate that he accepted that advice from officials. It is not surprising that, as a result, the process ended in chaos”—
I repeat that police funding in Britain ended in chaos—
“with an Urgent Question in Parliament and the decision to suspend the whole review.”
Yes, and made Inspector Clouseau look like a completely competent professional. The Committee, not content with giving the Minister one caution, went on to give him a warning.
“The Home Office stated on multiple occasions throughout this process that it wished to engage with police forces but then created a process which made it impossible for them to do so.”
Question 20 in the police formula review consultation document asked:
“How long should the transitional period last? Please explain your answer.”
What is telling was the response from Merseyside’s PCC, Jane Kennedy—among other roles, she was a former Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office with responsibility for security and the justice system, and is someone who knows a thing or two about these matters—who said:
“Given the lack of detail with regard to the magnitude of the proposed changes I am unable to give an informed response.”
It was a former Minister with responsibility for security who said that to Her Majesty’s Government. There was no political point scoring and no histrionics, simply a factual and unambiguous response to a flawed consultation process from a PCC concerned about the service for which she is responsible and for which she is held accountable.
There are many other even more interesting nuggets in the Committee’s report, but I will not take up the time of the House regurgitating them, because, as with any regurgitation, it is not a very pleasant experience for those watching, including for the right hon. Gentleman.
The reality in this sorry affair is that I am not too concerned about the embarrassment of Members on the Government Benches who felt the need to produce such a damning report—consensus was the word used—or the embarrassment of the Home Secretary or the Policing Minister for that matter. What I am concerned about is how the Government’s botched, incompetent and chaotic formula review created uncertainty in communities across the country and the effect that that had on the morale of police officers of all ranks, not to mention the exasperation caused to any number of police and crime commissioners of all political hues. Rural areas and communities have expressed concerned about the numbers of police officers because of the sparsity factor. That puts paid to the claim by the Home Secretary that size does not matter. How many of her colleagues on the Government Benches would voluntarily agree to a reduction in police numbers in their own areas?
Presumably, the logic of the Home Secretary is that they would be falling over themselves volunteering to take police officers off the street. There would be few takers for that—so much for the argument about quality over quantity. I also wonder how many Members on the Government Benches are prepared to call public meetings in their constituencies trumpeting the need for fewer bobbies on the beat because the Home Secretary thinks that quality, not quantity, counts. How many Government Members have the courage of the Home Secretary’s convictions? Does the Home Secretary have the courage of her convictions? What a great slogan in Maidenhead: “Vote for me and have fewer police officers on the streets.” After all, it is quality, not quantity, that counts. If the Home Secretary is so taken with having fewer police officers, let her have fewer in her constituency and not in mine. If the Policing Minister is so enamoured with having fewer police officers from Apsley to Woodhall, he should put it on his website for all to see. Perhaps he could have a photo in his gallery or a spot the difference competition before and after the implementation of a new botched policing formula.
The hon. Gentleman has pointed out, quite sensibly in my view, that nobody would volunteer to have fewer police on the streets and nobody would volunteer to have less money spent on policing, yet that is exactly the accusation that has been made against the Scottish Government in this Chamber today—that we volunteered to give away £25 million a year to the Treasury.
Let me return, if I may, to the Select Committee’s report. The outstanding understatement in a report packed full of understatements was the following:
“The outcome for police funding in the Spending Review came as a surprise to many interested parties, including the policing community.”
I suspect that it came as a surprise to the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister, as well.
Finally, what would be most surprising is the unbridled ability of the Home Secretary, aided and abetted by the Policing Minister, to botch the review, leading to uncertainty, a reduction in police numbers and quality, and a serious threat to resilience and, ultimately, to the safety of the public from Maidenhead to Merseyside via Hemel Hempstead and many other communities across the country. The message from this House is quite simple: the police service is not safe in Tory hands.
I am delighted to see you in your place, Mr Speaker. May I assure you that this has been a very, very long afternoon? Since I was elected nine months ago, I seem to have come to debates with time limits of three, four or five minutes, and it was always my ambition to take part in an open and wide debate, but that opinion was unfortunately formed before my experience this afternoon.
Let me start by echoing the comments of the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) I too want to mention something that has been missed in many of the submissions across the House today. Our police, on both sides of the border, in every borough, county and region, do the most incredible job. We owe our safety and the fact that we can walk out of our front door and feel safe to the men and women in our police services, as well as other staff. Politics aside, we should all recognise that.
Mr Speaker, you will no doubt be aware that policing in Scotland is devolved, so many of the substantive arguments that have been heard across the Chamber during this very long afternoon have not had direct application to Scotland. I do not want to ponder many of them, but Scotland is affected by the level of Westminster spending and therefore the potential Barnett consequentials that Scotland will receive, or otherwise, to run the police force we want to run. It is remarkable, given the cuts that Scotland has faced, that we have given and maintained a commitment to 1,000 extra police officers on our streets since 2007, in stark contrast to the almost 20,000 police officers that have been lost across the UK. If I have one message to those on both sides of the House, it is that whatever funding formula they come up with and whatever departmental spending they agree over the next four years, the focus should be on increasing and maintaining the number of frontline police officers, which would obviously allow us to continue to do the work that we are doing.
Despite my cynicism about what went on in the past three hours, there have been some memorable speeches, none more so than that from the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, who gave a succinct, detailed and clear summary of the police funding position. I was very grateful for the clarity with which he delivered that speech.
I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) for Hansard. I do not think that they will have their work cut out for them this evening finalising the draft of today’s proceedings. I was also very interested to hear him tell his Government and the House that the police funding formula as constituted does not seem to be working for the people of Dorset or the officers who work there.
The atmosphere in the Chamber was lifted briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). I invite interventions and corroborate her comments on the VAT position in Scotland. It seems to me, and it will seem to the Scottish people, that Scotland being treated fairly gets this Chamber greatly exercised. That will not be lost on the people of Scotland.
The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) did the strangest thing. He made an intervention, which was answered, and then raised a point of order, so the Government could intervene on my hon. Friend.
I know that in Scotland the distinction between blue and red is becoming increasingly blurred, but that was ridiculous.
Last week we had a debate in the Chamber on the police, and there was a difference of opinion between the two sides. The debate was predicated on the words of the Chancellor in the autumn spending review on 25 November:
“there will be no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real-terms protection for police funding.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1373.]
The Opposition say that that was not true and that there was a real-terms reduction. The Government say that there is a real-terms reduction of 1.4%, but that will be offset by the ability of local authorities to raise the council tax precept portion that can go towards police funding. It seems to me that it is not this place that is protecting the real-terms allocation for police funding, but the poor council tax payers across England and Wales who are doing so.
From a Scottish point of view, unless I have got this dramatically wrong, we in Scotland will not get Barnett consequentials from an increase in council tax spending. Perhaps the situation was not made as clear by the Chancellor on 25 November as it ought to have been. In terms of democracy, millions of people watch the autumn statement. The public and Members of this House should be able to rely on every word that comes out of the Chancellor’s mouth at the Dispatch Box. Clearly, whether by omission or by misunderstanding, it has turned out that his words were not 100% accurate. That is plain wrong.
I have nothing further to add—I know that the Policing Minister will be absolutely devastated at that assertion—other than to request that whatever the House agrees in relation to police funding, it should please be protected it in real terms. Cybercrime, terrorism and a new range of challenges make that essential. Scotland will then have more money to spend on police. It will keep our streets and our children safe, and that is one of the core responsibilities of all Members.
I thank all those who have spoken in the debate. My hon. Friends have detailed the impact of cuts to police funding on their constituents and their police forces. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) and the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) for reminding us that the police are trying to do an incredibly difficult job despite the cuts and pressures that they face. The whole House thanks them for that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) was extremely helpful in setting the broader context for the debate, which could not take place at a more important time. Any debate about police funding must be put in the context of the crucial role that the police play, protecting children and vulnerable groups, getting justice for victims and keeping communities safe. As the Home Affairs Committee report says,
“The demands on the police are many and various”.
To give just one example, through my own campaigning work I have found out more and more about the scale of child abuse in the UK. It is truly shocking. The most recent data from the NSPCC estimate that half a million children are being abused. Reports of domestic and sexual violence are increasing across the country.
I commend my hon. Friend for her work in that area. Does she agree that that puts pressure on regional forces such as Durham’s, which is involved in Operation Seabrook, investigating abuse at the Medomsley detention centre—an operation that has cost more than £2 million?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue, which I have tried to raise in this Chamber. Such cases are incredibly expensive and incredibly important, and that work needs to be done, but there is no additional money, so the money is coming from the existing pot. The Government really need to look seriously at funding those cases.
The numbers of serious and violent crimes are soaring. In the last year alone there has been a major increase in knife crime, which is up 9%, and a 27% rise in violent crime, including a 14% rise in murder. Devastatingly, 50% of those cases close without a single suspect ever being identified.
Central Government funding for police forces was cut by a quarter in the last Parliament, resulting in the loss of 18,000 police officers—12,000 of them operational front-line officers. Thousands of PCSOs and civilian staff have also been cut. We have ever fewer police officers trying to do ever more.
The value of local neighbourhood policing, with officers working in partnership with local authorities and other agencies to tackle the challenges we face, cannot be overestimated. However, neighbourhood policing teams—a proud legacy of the Labour Government—are being eroded. Serious crimes are up, but victims are being let down.
Despite all that, and after cutting the police by 25% in the last Parliament, the Government were threatening to cut at least a further 22% right up until the night before the comprehensive spending review. We were on the brink of catastrophe, but the Chancellor U-turned under pressure from Labour, the public and the police [Interruption.] And London MPs.
The Chancellor then made a promise:
“I am today announcing that there will be no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real-terms protection for police funding. The police protect us, and we are going to protect the police.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1373.]
That promise to the public and the police has been broken. The Chancellor said he would protect the police, but police budgets are still being cut. Police force funding for 2016-17 has not been protected in real terms. Budgets are being cut again—for the sixth year in a row—at a time when the country faces increased risks.
Figures from the House of Commons Library show that the overall Home Office grant to the police next year will not be protected in real terms or even in cash terms. The Library’s analysis shows that forces in England and Wales will receive £30 million less in cash—a cut worth £160 million in real terms. Even the extra council tax that Tories expect local people to pay to make up for the cuts will not compensate for that.
I want to make a small point, which I hope the hon. Lady will be coming to. What would the Labour party do were it in government? We can all criticise various aspects of this issue, but what is the Labour party’s position on the formula? How would the Labour party help a constituency such as mine get a fairer amount of money?
I can assure my hon. Friend that that was not at the forefront of my mind. She talked about the need for fair funding from the Government and at a local level. One issue I am aware of in Bedfordshire is that when people seek to introduce a referendum to make sure we have better funding locally, the police and crime commissioner must apparently be completely neutral. We could compare and contrast that with the situation in the European referendum, where the Government certainly are not neutral.
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. I am not going to get involved in the EU debate at this point, but parity across all our systems is something we should be trying for.
The police and crime commissioner for my force, South Yorkshire, has said:
“The Government recently announced that there would be no cuts to police funding next year. This was a little misleading. What has now become clear is that the police grant will be reduced by £1 million and there will be no provision for inflation—such as increases in salaries and additional demand on police services, which comes to about £7-8 million.”
The Tory police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall said:
“policing still faces considerable challenges and some tough decisions as we move forward. We estimate that, to break even, we will need to save £13million over the next four years; only then with further savings can we plan to invest in transformation to address the emerging threats with less resources.”
These cuts mean that thousands more officers, PCSOs and police staff will still go. The more serious and complex crimes seen in the 21st century are expensive and time-consuming to investigate, prosecute and prevent, such as child sexual exploitation, terrorism and cyber-crime. These 21st-century challenges demand a modernised, more responsive and better equipped police service, not a smaller one.
Equally crucial is co-operation with other agencies, yet as they too come under strain, the police yet again pick up the pieces. The Home Affairs Committee’s report emphasises that
“demands on the police were increasing due to cuts to other public services.”
As local authorities deal with relentless Government cuts, they are struggling to provide specialist support to victims, to engage in preventive work with communities, and to protect vulnerable groups, particularly out of hours. Sara Thornton of the NSPCC told the Committee that the police were being used
“more and more as society’s safety net”
“after 4 o’clock on a Friday the police are around, but nobody is ever very clear about who else is around”.
In the face of these massive and growing challenges, not only are police budgets being cut, but cuts are being made with characteristic unfairness to less affluent regions. High-need, high-crime areas are shouldering the burden of cuts. West Midlands and Northumbria police forces, for example, have been hit twice as hard by cuts as Surrey. The current complex formula for funding the 42 police forces in England and Wales has been called
“unclear, unfair and out of date”
by Ministers. We therefore welcomed it when last year, under pressure from the police and from Labour, the Policing Minister finally agreed to change the formula. However, instead of improving the situation, what followed was a chaotic, opaque, unfair and ultimately completely discredited review of the existing formula. In the words of the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, as quoted in the report,
“given the fundamental importance of this policy to the safety and security of communities across the country we do not feel that consultation has been carried out in a proper manner”.
The review faced two unprecedented threats of legal action by forces. It was roundly criticised by police and crime commissioners from across the political spectrum. Unbelievably, the shambolic review ultimately had to be totally abandoned because the Home Office miscalculated funding for forces, using the wrong figures. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East for giving examples. The data error meant that funding for forces had been miscalculated by as much as £180 million for some areas. As the report says, the omnishambles
“would be amusing if it were not so serious”.
It goes on:
“It is deplorable that Home Office officials made errors in calculating the funding allocations for police force areas…As a result of the Home Office’s error, confidence in the process has been lost; time, effort, resources and energy have been wasted; and the reputation of the Home Office has been damaged with its principal stakeholders.”
The mistake meant not only that forces made budgets for the next financial year based on incorrect funding figures, but that they now only know their funding for just one year, unlike local government, which got a four-year settlement. As even Tory PCCs have pointed out, this makes it extremely difficult for forces to make long-term financial plans and innovate on the basis of an unusual single-year settlement, particularly in the context of further budget cuts. As the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee said, to call it a shambles would be charitable.
What have the Government done to rectify the situation? They have secretly consulted their own Tory PCCs, promising to channel funding to those PCCs, who get disproportionately more. Conservative police and crime commissioner Adam Simmons writes in his budget:
“The new funding formula proposals have been deferred to 2017-18…it is not clear at this stage how this will affect the government funding. However, it is expected that this will transfer funding from the urban areas to the more rural, and Northamptonshire may benefit”.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) for pointing that out. Will the Policing Minister confirm whether this will be the case? In addition, what commitments will he give to this House, and to the police, that they will never again be insulted with a sham consultation like that seen last year on something so important and so crucial to the safety of communities as police funding? Our police service needs a fair funding formula and a fair funding settlement. This Government have offered them nothing of the sort.
May I welcome the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) to the Dispatch Box? I think she may be there for some time, because she delivered a much better speech than those delivered by the shadow Policing Minister and the shadow Home Secretary last week.
I agreed with some of the hon. Lady’s comments, particularly her closing remarks about how this country and the police deserve a fair funding formula. The reason that did not happen under 13 years of Labour, and probably even before that, is that it is very difficult to achieve. As I have previously said from this Dispatch Box, there is no doubt that there will be winners and losers if we change the formula. As the Home Affairs Committee has said, however, the existing formula is opaque and we desperately need to change it—and fairly.
In a moment. I just want to make a little progress and then I promise that I will give way, because I am going to refer to the west midlands at length.
It is fair to say that policing is undergoing continuous change and that it has changed considerably even in the past five years. The National Audit Office has rightly indicated that the way in which we are making the reporting of crimes more effective and accurate should not be used in an attempt to say that crime has suddenly risen. Since 2010, for lots of different reasons, there has been a reduction in crime, but there have been some increases in the reporting figures in the past year. We accept that and are looking at it very carefully, but the NAO made a specific point. In some areas, it is absolutely brilliant that more people have the confidence to come forward to report crimes such as sexual abuse and domestic violence, which historically have not been reported as much as we would have liked and have probably not been treated as correctly as we would have wanted by police forces around the country. I think that most people would accept that.
The Policing Minister has said that achieving a fair funding formula is incredibly complex, and he has acknowledged that it is beyond the competence of his civil servants. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) has said that he is seeking fair funding, as are the rest of us. Given the difficulties, doubts and suspicions, will the Minister give a commitment that any future fair funding formula will be subject to proper independent scrutiny and analysis, so that we can all have confidence in it?
I will come on to the report’s recommendations. Whether we use the organisations referred to by the Home Affairs Committee or others, it is crucial that we have the confidence to say, “This is where we are, this is what we think is right and the chief constables are with us.” I reiterate, however, that whenever the contents of a pot of gold are dispersed, there are winners and losers. At the end of the day, though, we must make sure that it is fairer.
The Minister is right to raise the important issue of the pressures put on police forces by historic abuse cases. Durham faces a £2 million-plus bill for Operation Seabrook. Is it right that such a complex investigation, which is clearly needed, should fall on Durham? Should there not be a central pot to refund it for such operations?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Some forces have much larger percentage costs for historical cases and they have an opportunity to apply to the Home Office for assistance. It is right and proper that the investigations are done by the forces. Some investigations were not done correctly early on, which is even more reason why we should address them. I know about the inquiry referred to by the hon. Gentleman and I am more than happy to look into it. A piece of paper will probably be passed around my back while I am speaking, but I do not think I have had a request from Durham.
On the subject of Durham, it has done fantastically well, hasn’t it? If someone from the moon had landed here this afternoon and listened to this debate—some people probably wish they had travelled in the other direction—they would have thought that Durham had really struggled, so let us say from the outset that it has done fantastically well. It has even done really well in the latest independent reports on police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy. It has been rated outstanding on nine of the 12 points, good on another two, and the other one, which relates to a serious error on stop and search and the use of a Taser, requires improvement.
The force has done all that with a reduced workforce and a higher percentage of officers on the front line. It has experienced a substantial reduction in numbers, from 1,705 to 1,057, but it has massively reduced crime, including during this year. When the hon. Gentleman gets to his feet, I am sure that he will praise the police in Durham, as I have done.
The Minister cannot have been listening to my speech, in which I praised the great leadership of the chief constable, Mike Barton, and the Labour PCC, Ron Hogg—and, more importantly, the men and women of Durham police. That is no reason why the force should not be fairly funded, however. It has done things well, but that has not been achieved easily. Clearly, it would not have got a fairer funding formula under the Government’s proposals.
Durham has done more with less, and it has done so excellently. I agree with the hon. Gentleman completely, as I have said at the Dispatch Box on more than one occasion, that we need a way of funding our police that is fairer than the existing formula. He has said on more than one occasion today how difficult things have been for Durham. He is quite right to say so, and things have been difficult for other forces as well. I believe in giving praise where praise is due, and Durham has done fantastically well. It has reduced crime with fewer police but a higher percentage of officers on the front line than in 2010, and that is great.
I will not give way now, but I will do so in a minute. Most of the debate was not about the future funding formula; it was about the previous funding formula and previous austerity measures. There was a degree of concern—from, I accept, Members on both sides of the House—about how that was done and about how we should go forward.
Hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), have asked about the uplift in firearms capability. We have put £36 million out there, and there will be more to come. It is separately funded. Hon. Members have raised the issue of counter-terrorism, which is also funded separately from the formula.
I accept that in Bedfordshire, as the hon. Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker) said, there are some real issues with the funding formula, and I have met him and other Bedfordshire Members to talk about that. There is more that could be done. Bedfordshire was given counter-terrorism money but did not manage to spend all of it. That is really interesting, in view of the fact that it was given the funding for that specific use. The percentage of warranted officers who are off duty because they are not fit for operational duties is 10%. That percentage is high for such a small force, and it is, understandably, a concern. I accept that there is work that we can do together.
Does the Minister acknowledge—let us use that word—that given what happened with the review of the police funding formula and its withdrawal, there is deep concern that the same thing should not happen again and a fear that the formula will not be fair? That is the concern.
Opposition Members can exacerbate that fear, but they cannot deny that I came to the House and ate an awful lot of humble pie because my officials got things wrong. As a Minister of State, I took responsibility for that, and we will go forward to make sure that we get it right. I repeat that there will be winners and losers; that is always going to be the case. Some people will be happier than others.
We are only neighbours; it is fine. I accept that Bedfordshire, like all forces, will not be perfect in every respect, but does the Minister concede, on a point about which I have heard him speak before, that Bedfordshire does not have masses of reserves lying around that it can use to tackle problems? I have heard, for example, that only £2.7 million is unallocated in the four-year medium-term plan. To suggest that in some way—physician, heal thyself—we can fix it without fixing the funding formula would be unfair.
I have not suggested that. I have said time and again at this Dispatch Box and to the PCC and the chief constable that Bedfordshire does need help. That is why I put the deep dive into Bedfordshire, as well as into Lincolnshire, to see exactly what was going on. Fantastic work has been done in collaboration with the other local forces. The capabilities review, which I will come on to, is crucial in ensuring that many of the forces get the sort of help they need.
Every time I stand at this Dispatch Box, I say how proud I am to be the Policing Minister for England and Wales, but I have never been prouder than I was yesterday at Didcot. We have all seen Didcot on our TV screens, but only when I went there did I understand the scale of the industrial accident—I use that word advisedly, because a police and Health and Safety Executive inquiry is still going on. Half the building has collapsed. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are injured and the families of those who died. One family have had their loved one given back to them, but three of the bodies—I have to use that word, because we are in the recovery phase at the moment—are still underneath all the rubble. It will be some considerable time before it is safe to reclaim them so that their families can bury them and, understandably, grieve.
When I was at Didcot yesterday, I met some very young officers who arrived at the scene first. I can only imagine, even with the experiences I had in my different roles before I came to this House, what went through their minds. They went in one direction when lots of people were going in the other direction. There was a dust cloud, so at one stage they were not even sure where the incident was. There were lots of injured people and lots of people who needed help. The work that took place and the unbelievable teamwork that went on across the blue line during the incident was reported to me yesterday.
On behalf of the House and the country, I said thank you to every one of the emergency workers and personnel who were there, even down to the volunteer groups that came with tea and coffee. That happened literally within minutes because of the agreements that they had with the local police under the gold command. I said two things to them. I said that I was enormously proud, as Minister with responsibility for policing and fire issues, to be with them—there were also members of lots of other agencies—because they had done fantastically well. I also told them that what they saw on that afternoon would live with them for the rest of their lives. It was not physical injuries that I was talking about, but mental injuries.
We have touched on mental health today. The emergency services tend to be very macho, as do our armed forces, but post-traumatic stress can touch everybody—sometimes a couple of days later, sometimes a couple of years later and sometimes many years later. I have friends who served in the Falklands who have only started to suffer in the last couple of years. Our thoughts must be with those people.
A key thing that happened at Didcot—this is mentioned in the report—is that capabilities from other forces came to help. It was not just the traditional mutual aid that we saw in London a couple of weeks ago for the Syria conference, when armed response units came from all around the country, including from Northern Ireland—I was very proud to see the men and women in the green uniform on the streets of London. We must ask what we can learn from that. Are there lessons to be learned for our control rooms? There were lots of 999 calls. The police got the initial call, but there were also calls to the fire service, and there was a slight difference in terminology.
That shows why it is crucial in the funding review that we get the chiefs to tell us where their capabilities will sit. It looks quite simple initially: will they be in the force, whether it be Merseyside, Hertfordshire or the Met, in the regional organised crime units or at the National Crime Agency? Actually, it is much more complicated than that. As we touched on earlier, the forces have been doing work on joint capabilities for some considerable time. When we look at the new formula and at where the capabilities will be delivered from, it is crucial that we do not damage the work that has been done. We must not tell the forces to tear up the very close work that they have done and say, “You can’t do it there. It has to be done under the ROCU.” It is not for the Policing Minister to do that.
Alongside the funding review, the chief constables are coming forward with their own capabilities review. I cannot today give the House and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee a timescale and date for the start of the new consultation, because I need that review to have reported to me. It would be ludicrous if I announced a new review and people said to me, “We will structure it this way” but then came back with another formula. I am not willing to do that.
I am trying to be honest, as I always am when at the Dispatch Box or giving evidence to a Select Committee. Is this in my destiny today? Could I start a new consultation tomorrow? Yes I could, but I would not have the information within my grasp to do that. I have not got a date from Sara Thornton for that report. It is enormously difficult getting 43 police chiefs to agree where they will place their capabilities. For instance, East Midlands police covers homicide in the whole area, but most of the other ROCUs do not. Things such as cybercrime and encryption need to come with us because it should not be for the House or a Minister to tell chief constables “That’s what you should be doing”. The constables should be telling us where the capabilities will be, so that we can help with the funding formula.
The Minister will remember from the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) that there has been speculation that the review will be put off until 2019. I appreciate that the Minister cannot give a timetable, but can he categorically rule out it starting as late as that?
No Minister would stand and give such categorical responses—I cannot, because that would be wrong. We are determined to ensure—the Met is crucial to this—that we have an understanding from the chiefs and the PCCs about where they are asking the capabilities to be delivered from, whether ROCUs, local collaboration or the NCA. Then we can come forward and get it right.
I have a great deal of time for the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and her response was very measured, but when in government the Labour party said that it would implement this measure but it did not, and that is part of the discussion that we are having. Crime has massively changed since then.
The National Audit Office suggested that that would be the case, and we have to accept that. That does not mean tomorrow morning, next week or next month when those figures are produced, that suddenly from that night on there is a 5 million or 6 million increase, or whatever the figure is, because it is happening to us all in our constituencies now. The difference is that we are going to publish it—the only way we can do this is to be honest about it and publish it. I do not know why previous Ministers did not publish that information in previous Administrations—believe it or not, I am not allowed to see those figures, because we are not allowed to do due diligence on what went on in previous Governments, and we are not allowed to see that guidance. I think it is because initially this issue was not taken seriously enough, and then people started to realise that it is actually a very difficult figure to pull together.
I know from my constituency that Dorset is working with Devon and Cornwall, and other police forces are looking at how they run their blue- light services, including the ambulance service and fire brigade. Is the Minister saying that only when everyone has had a look at this issue in their various areas and come up with some joint policy that uses our resources and money better will he be able to say, “Okay, now we have various people doing different things. Now I will come up with some funding allocation”?
I hope I did not say that because that is not what I intended to say. I intended to say that forces that have already collaborated should not be worse off by anything that we bring forward. The chiefs are doing their own capability review across policing—the collaboration with other services is a slightly different thing. Once I know where that delivery point will be and, in other words, where they think the services will be—they could be in ROCUs or local collaboration, as in my hon. Friend’s part of the country, or within the NCA, or within a force—we will have a basis for coming forward with a fairer formula.
I want to ask a question about what the Minister is trying to achieve. If he is doing that now, why was it possible in the previous review to think that he could come up with a fair funding formula in eight weeks? What is the role of the Treasury? Is it still sitting on his shoulder trying to get savings, or are we starting with an entirely new process? One key thing that has been raised in the debate—I think the Minister realises it—is that he has to get the confidence back of chief constables, PCCs and the police family.
I have broad shoulders, but they are not broad enough to take on the whole Treasury. However, the Treasury’s influence is only that it is a flat cash terms agreement for four years, not one year. That is the agreement we have. All the chiefs and PCCs know it. They did not know—they do now.
It would be wrong if I did not mention Scotland, not least because we heard a very interesting contribution from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and another one. I did not allow myself to get involved in the spat between the Labour party and the Scottish National party. All I can say is that I thought the SNP position was—I am almost lost for words—ridiculous. That is being polite. Suppose someone goes to their bank manager and asks for a loan of £10,000, £100,000 or even £1 million and he agrees it after looking at the business plan. If, as they walk out after presenting their business plan, they say to the bank manager who is giving them the money, “By the way, I want another 20%,” he will laugh. I laughed when I first read that that is exactly what the Scottish National party has done.
I will take an intervention in a minute, but we must try to understand that, if SNP Members put a business plan for a joint force in Scotland together and submit it, and accept that they are not going to get the 20%, how can they come to this House and bellyache?
I would make two points. First, when that person walks out of that bank and finds out that every single competitor on the street has better terms, it starts to rankle and they protest about it. Secondly, when we included that in our business plan, we made our protestations clear. We told the Government that we did not think it was right. We reserved the right to campaign on it for ever and a day. That is what we will do. The fact that it is agreed and in the plan does not make it right.
If someone signs a contract and has an agreement, they are tied into it. At the end of the day—[Interruption.] They can protest as much as they want, but at the end of the day, they signed a contract that said, “No VAT”. They are now in that position where there is no VAT. [Interruption.] I am not going to give way.
Order. This is a disorderly way of proceeding. The hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) must not chunter from a sedentary position in hopeful anticipation of the Minister giving way. What he does is signal. If the Minister gives way, he can intervene.
I am coming to a conclusion, not least because we debated this matter last week and two weeks before that. I have no idea why the Labour party called a debate last week, which has meant that fewer Members are in the Chamber today to debate the Select Committee’s report.
At the end of the day, all hon. Members want confidence that our police are there. They are there. We need to have confidence that crime is dropping. It is dropping. We need a different formula and we will try to provide one. I am sorry that I cannot give the Chair of the Committee the dates of each individual part, but I think he will understand why I want to get this absolutely spot on and right, which is why I have given the responses I have given today. It has been a sensible debate, even if I have not agreed with everything I have heard from Labour Members.
This has been an excellent debate, with so many right hon. and hon. Members talking about their local areas. The passion and respect we have in this House for our local police force is quite obvious. I want to add my thanks to Simon Cole, the chief constable of Leicestershire, and to the men and women of Leicestershire police, especially with an hour to go until the next time they will be at the King Power stadium protecting the best football team in England—with apologies to what happened to your own team, Mr Speaker. It is just one example of wonderful policing work.
I know that as an Arsenal supporter, you, Mr Speaker, will find it somewhat difficult to be listening to a Leicester supporter, especially after the weekend, but the right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The policing of football grounds has changed massively. It is done completely differently. Thank goodness the sort of violence we used to see when I was younger is no longer there.
Indeed, Mr Speaker, as we prepare, with the grace of God, for European football next year.
The key question the Select Committee wanted the Minister to answer was when? He has not told us when, but he has given us a timetable. He is waiting for the capabilities report to come from the lead at the NPCC Chief Constables’ Council. When he gets that he will review it and then start the process. At least we have a timetable and a pathway, so there is some clarity. It is not the absolute clarity we needed, but it is some way forward to find out how we will get a police funding formula that is fit for purpose.
Question deferred until tomorrow at Seven o’clock (Standing Order No. 54).