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Police: Funding

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 17 June 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have for funding Surrey police force this year and next year.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. At the same time perhaps I may declare an interest in that I happen to be resident in the county in question.

My Lords, the Government have provided general grant funding of £101.8 million for 2009-10, and provisionally £104.4 million for 2010-11. This represents years two and three of the three-year settlement, providing a background of stability and continuity against which the police and all stakeholders can plan with much greater certainty and confidence. In addition to general grant, Surrey will receive approximately £15.4 million from specific grants and capital provision for 2009-10.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. Is he aware that funding for the Surrey police force has, uniquely in the United Kingdom, been capped by Her Majesty’s Government at what is in fact below the level of last year; that Surrey faces some unique security threats, and that this capping sits ill with the threats to which I have referred?

My Lords, I think that there may a slight overuse of the word “unique” by the noble Lord. In the first context it is not used correctly, because last year Lincolnshire found itself in the same situation, so Surrey is not unique. I suspect that the noble Lord’s second use of the word is not accurate either. While there are problems with Surrey—the great M25 motorway goes through it—there are also great motorways in the north of England, the west of England, and many other areas. The arguments about this can be seen by noble Lords if they take the time to read the proceedings of the 90-minute debate held in another place two days ago. They will see that the very adequate response given by the Minister in the other place answers the points raised by the noble Lord.

My Lords, is it sensible or fair that although Surrey has been adjudged by the Audit Commission to give excellent value for money—the commission commented that Surrey police authority has a very low level of central government grant—it has the lowest proportion of band D properties in the whole of England and Wales? Is it sensible that the Government are now forcing the Surrey police authority in addition to the 144 front-line personnel who have already been cancelled out this year to scrub around another 50 front-line officers? Is that fair to the public of Surrey?

My Lords, it is not the Government who are scrubbing anything. If the word “unique” is to be used, it is that Surrey uniquely is a police authority that twice in two years has gone beyond the cap, knowing in advance what was likely to happen this year. It is now the case, of course, that there are no central targets. Each police authority must manage its own affairs within the money raised locally and provided centrally. In that sense, Surrey is in the same situation as any other county. It has an excellent police force, as the noble Lord rightly said, but there again the number one police force happens to be that for the county of my birth, which is Lancashire.

My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that the police authorities all around London, not only Surrey, suffer huge losses of experienced people to the Met because it pays more money and has a better pension scheme based on the final year’s salary? Will he make sure that the Government once again look at the funding of authorities around the periphery of London and do something about the quite unjust boundary between the police forces?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, funding is a matter of continuing review. While it is true, perhaps, that Surrey would raise the argument that it loses police officers to the Met—the so-called doughnut effect—that also applies to other counties that border on the Metropolitan Police area. All those other areas have met their requirements within their budget.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a paradox in noble Lords opposite frequently asking for more and more decentralisation of responsibility and, when they get it, they do not like the consequences of their own decisions?

My Lords, my noble friend makes an accurate comment. It is, of course, a question of human nature.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the amount per head proceeding from the Government in the present year at some £93 is well below the average for police authorities as a whole of £132, and that the Surrey figure has been reduced by 39 per cent in real terms over the past 10 years? Will he take account of my own experience when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Member of Parliament for East Surrey and found it possible to be generous, as he ought to be in the present circumstances?

My Lords, we can spar about percentages and amounts of money across the Chamber without necessarily getting to the root of the problem, which is that the Surrey Police Authority and all other police authorities have a responsibility both to raise money from council tax payers, which we want to ensure does not exceed a certain amount, and to do an excellent job of policing their own areas. I do not quarrel with the first point. However, in the last year before capping, the band E council tax increase in England was 12.9 per cent—which is why capping became a necessity—but in Surrey it was 40 per cent.

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the reductions in the police force—there are reductions—as a result of the budget cuts will not give credence to the Home Office’s own predictions on the effect of the recession of a rise in theft and burglary offences, racist attacks and terrorism? What assurance can the Minister give the House that the police forces will remain with adequate manpower to deal with that?

My Lords, the responsibility that the noble Baroness charges me with is, of course, a charge on the local police authorities. They have resources—indeed, Surrey has £5.8 million in unallocated reserves—which they can use in whatever way they want. This carries with it a responsibility to act in accordance with the wishes not only of the council tax payers of Surrey but of taxpayers at large. In that sense, the assurance the noble Baroness seeks is found in the activities of every other police authority that is living within its budget.

My Lords, is it not likely that capping will lead to beheading if there is a 10 per cent cut across the board—and especially in the Home Office budget—if we have the misfortune of the party opposite coming to power?

My Lords, far be it from me to intrude on private grief, but I am sure that the sponsor of the Question will bleat even more loudly in his annual Question next year or the year after if we get to the stage of having a Conservative Government and they do as they say and take £930 million out of the Home Office. Cutting police funding by the same 10 per cent as the rest of the Home Office could lose us 15,000 police officers, exactly the number of extra police officers delivered since this Government came to power in 1997. That means 30 officers off the beat in every constituency in England and 188 in Surrey.