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Police: Funding Formula

Volume 765: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact on police numbers and local crime of the proposed new funding formula for police forces in counties such as Lancashire.

My Lords, allocations for individual police force areas have not been set and decisions on funding will not be made until the spending review reports in November. We will carefully consider the impact of the spending review alongside the implementation of a new funding model in the design of transitional arrangements.

My Lords, only today, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has issued the results of its police efficiency review, which shows that Lancashire is one of only five forces in the whole country rated as “Outstanding”. Lancashire was a pioneer in the development of neighbourhood policing and now has a comprehensive and highly successful neighbourhood policing system across the country—across the county, I should say; we have not taken over the whole country yet, but wait for it. Have the Government heard that the chief constable of Lancashire, Steve Finnigan, has said that if the present expected spending cuts come about, together with the proposed changes in the police funding formula announced last week, by 2020 the county would have to get rid of most of its specialist police units, and the whole of its neighbourhood policing would have to be swept away? Is this really the legacy that the present Government want to see at the end of this Parliament?

No, absolutely it is not, but I certainly join the noble Lord’s tribute to Lancashire police constabulary. It has been judged “Outstanding”, it has produced an incredible performance, it has reduced crime by another 3% this year, and it has managed to increase its reserves by a further 30%.

The formula to which the noble Lord refers went out to consultation. The predecessor arrangements were widely criticised by all chief constables and police and crime commissioners. They wanted something simpler, more transparent and easier to understand and more stable for the future. Invariably, when you consult on something such as that, there will be winners and losers. Lancashire is making representations to Mike Penning—the consultation is open until 30 October —and I know that he is meeting Members of Parliament from Lancashire tomorrow. In the event that that decision stands, there would be transitional arrangements to dampen the effect of any changes in Lancashire.

My Lords, given the increase of almost 18% in hate crime, which the Government themselves describe as “deeply worrying”, and the Home Secretary’s statement in the Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy, published yesterday, that:

“We will disrupt all those who seek to spread hate and we will prosecute all those who break the law”,

what contribution do the Government think will be made to stemming and reversing that rising trend by their intended significant further cuts in police numbers—a question on which the Counter-Extremism Strategy document is strangely silent?

My Lords, we published the Counter-Extremism Strategy yesterday and we will come forward with the counterextremism Bill. Part of the work that has been going on is to encourage people to come forward and report hate crimes when we see them in our community. They had been decreasing for a long period and then we saw a sharp increase. That is something to which we need to respond, and we will, in the legislation and in the strategy we have announced.

My Lords, the police service cannot be exempt from the cuts which are affecting all of the public service—we fully understand that. However, does the Minister accept that cuts of the magnitude which are now anticipated and being planned for will transform the police service into a smaller, more restricted and, we hope, more efficient service, but one that will find it incredibly difficult to deliver reassuring general patrol on foot or by vehicle or any real semblance of neighbourhood policing? Surely, against that background, these profound changes to the bedrock of British policing should be taking place only by design and after widespread debate, including parliamentary debate, not by stealth as a consequence of budgetary change.

My Lords, I agree, and acknowledge the particular expertise which the noble Lord brings to this matter. We are now seeing an increase in the number of police on the front line; 92% are serving on the front line. We are cutting back the bureaucracy and red tape that often used to bind the hands of police, with the result that they used to spend more time with paperwork than out on patrol. Today, Sir Tom Winsor of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary points out that there are significant savings still to be made by sharing back-office facilities and by better working between police and fire brigades and ambulance authorities, as is happening in many parts of the country. He reported that there are about 2,300 different IT systems in operation between 43 forces. Someone who wants to do a background check on one individual often has to consult eight different databases to do so. There is room for efficiency while protecting the front line.

My Lords, is it not a fact that we are looking at this problem on a very local basis? Are the Government aware of the Islamic doctrine of “hijra”, which is intended to undermine democracies in the United Kingdom and Europe? What are we doing in terms of our new funding formula to underline any potential for the strategy to deal with that external threat?

The first thing that we are doing is that we are continuing to protect the funding which is given to the police for their counterterrorism activities. In fact, we increased it by a further £15 million. We are also bringing forward measures contained in the counterextremism legislation to tackle that at source.

My Lords, when Ministers come to reach their decisions on these matters, will they bear in mind the claims of the county of Surrey, which has substantial lengths of motorway, the costs of which have not always been reflected in previous allocations?

We will of course be very mindful of the needs of Surrey, as of all other areas, but I think that the people of Surrey—who have experienced a significant fall in the level of crime—will welcome the fact that their system of budgeting and allocating resources is much more transparent, is easier to understand and will ensure that, nationally, we target resources to where the crime need is great.

My Lords, the nature of the terrorist threat that we are facing is changing, with more “lone-wolf” attacks. In many cases, community intelligence about the individuals involved may be the only way that we can prevent terrorist outrages. As my noble friend Lord Greaves has said, if the chief constable of a force rated as “Outstanding” by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary says that, with the changes the Government are proposing, he will no longer be able to maintain neighbourhood policing, can the Minister explain how the police are expected to secure the vital community intelligence that will keep our communities safe?

I think that community intelligence is very important. It is part of a wider initiative that goes beyond the responsibility of just the police and includes the wider community, as the Department for Communities and Local Government referred to, in how we work together to combat this threat that we face. As I said before, the counterterrorism element of the budget will be protected and has actually been increased to meet the threat, and we keep it constantly under review.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister knows that part of the counterterrorism funding is for the Prevent programme, which has in fact turned into a toxic brand that is alienating a lot of communities. Just at the point when the police, because of savage cuts to their budget, need community support, they are actually losing the good will of the public. Will the Minister explain how that works?

I do not accept the premise which the noble Baroness puts forward. In the counterterrorism legislation that will be brought forward and in the Prevent strategy that we outlined, we very clearly articulate that, as a society, we cannot simply just parcel this off to one element of society to tackle; this needs to be the responsibility of all communities, and particularly public authorities, which must play a role in identifying and challenging those extremist views wherever they appear.

My Lords, is it not a major concern that, for all security forces, extremism and terrorism are understood in terms of Islam, and that it is the Muslim community that is targeted? Is there any way of changing this attitude to a community that has served this country well for a very long time?

My Lords, I commend to the noble Baroness the strategy that was published yesterday, which I think takes a very balanced approach on these things—being quite honest and straightforward about the problems that are faced, but recognising that this is a problem that stretches well beyond the boundaries of one particular community. It is something that we face in all communities, and it needs to be challenged.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that those of us who live in Lancashire—I declare an interest, living in Lancashire and having been for many years a member of the police authority—can only feel despair at the implication that other people can replace the neighbourhood police officers in our community, to whom the public turn first of all when they are concerned about hate crimes and other things? The Government cannot just say that they are going to dampen the effects; surely they need to change the policy.

We have introduced the police and crime commissioners and a level of local accountability to say that it is for the local community to determine where those resources are allocated. The fact that Lancashire can build up the level of reserves that it has and can continue to reduce recorded crime, which it is doing, suggests that it is able to work well in responding to the challenges that it faces.