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Liverpool: European Capital of Culture

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What provision they are making for extra policing in Liverpool during its year as European Capital of Culture.

My Lords, I congratulate Liverpool on being awarded the status of European Capital of Culture 2008. Policing of the events taking place in the year is a matter for Merseyside Police, which, like every other police force, has benefited from a sustained increase in funding under this Government.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her congratulations. Is it not true that the majority of police funding comes from central government? Can she explain why the Government were able to give special funding for extra policing for the Commonwealth Games, which lasted for just under a month, but have not made provision for the culture programme, which will last for over a year and will probably bring about 24 million visitors to the city?

My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that we have made significant increases to the grant to police forces right across the country. An increase in total grants of £98 million, which is 45.5 per cent in real terms, has been made since 1997-98. There has been an increase of £85 million, which is 37.6 per cent in real terms, since 2000-01. Moneys were made available in 2002 for the Commonwealth Games because they were a specific special event that took place over a short period of time. In relation to this situation, Merseyside bid for and was, quite rightly, granted special status. That is something for which it should have made proper provision, and I am sure that it has.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that since the chief constable of Merseyside, Bernard Hogan-Howe, came to office, he has tackled crime, particularly gun crime, with vigour and imagination? Gone are the days when the comedians would joke that if you shouted “Stop thief!” in Liverpool, everybody started to run. The latest crime survey shows that the figures for violent, household and personal crime in Merseyside are lower than the national average. Does she also agree that the problem is not the reality of crime, which has fallen over the past 10 years, but the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour, which is tackled by the presence of police officers on the streets? The European Capital of Culture initiative deserves the support of the Government and the private sector and should be seen as a positive investment in the future of Merseyside.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend on each of those issues. I commend the wonderful work that has been done in Merseyside by the police. We have seen real improvement and change, which has given us all a great deal of pleasure. I also agree that the fear of crime must be tackled with great vigour. I am very pleased that this Government have been able to give significant, palpable support to the police by increasing their numbers to enable them to be more visible and to do their job.

My Lords, beyond the plaudits and the commendation of the Merseyside Police Authority and the city of Liverpool for winning the status of Capital of Culture, will the Minister return to the Question put to her by the right reverend Prelate about the inconsistencies in public policy? How can it be right that over the past two years Merseyside Police’s budget has been cut by £12 million, so that the force now has to find £9 million to manage its policing, when Manchester received the figure to which the right reverend Prelate referred for the Commonwealth Games and a further £4.5 million to organise policing for the Labour Party conference that took place there? There is clearly an inconsistency in the way this is being dealt with.

My Lords, there is no inconsistency. The noble Lord will know that the final force budget for Liverpool is £307.3 million. That is an increase of 3.7 per cent or £10.9 million. The police precept on council tax is £127.53 for band D property, which is an increase of 5 per cent. That money, I am sure, will be properly spent. The noble Lord knows that part of our expectation is that the police force will provide appropriate policing within its budget. Also, Liverpool asked for this honour and was lucky enough to get it.

My Lords, is it true that, as reported, Mr Tony McNulty from another place suggested that Merseyside Police should,

“look down the back of the couch”,

to find the money to put 200 extra officers on the streets next year? If so, is that a respectful way to treat the city of Liverpool in this historic and unique year?

My Lords, I understand that my honourable friend was incredibly supportive and respectful to Merseyside. For that reason he acceded to a request to go to Liverpool to talk to local people together with other agencies to see what we could best do to support Merseyside in getting the sort of money and support that it needs to deliver. We understand that that was seen as a very helpful thing for him to do, and I commend him for doing so.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point. Merseyside Police Authority estimates that there will be over 20 million visitors, including just over 4.5 million from abroad. This is a prelude to the Olympics in 2012, particularly in relation to safer policing. In light of the difference between the Government and the Merseyside Police Authority, would it not be wise to invite Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary to assess, independently both of the Government and of the Merseyside Police Authority, the actual policing needs in Liverpool and how they could be met?

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. I reassure him that appropriate steps are being taken to ensure that the necessary policing for the 2012 Olympics is well provided for. Those discussions are already under way. Noble Lords have mentioned the Commonwealth Games, but I remind them that the Commonwealth Games in 2002 took place over a short period of time; only £5 million was granted, although that is a significant sum, but the people were coming to a very small area over an intense period. That is not the case for the celebrations in 2008 for Liverpool. Liverpool has been planning for this for a number of years now.