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House of Lords Hansard
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09 November 2015
Volume 765

Statement

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My Lords, with the leave of the House I would like to repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice and Victims, Mike Penning. The Statement is as follows:

“The Home Secretary regrets that she cannot be here today as she is attending an extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels.

This Government believe that police funding must be allocated on the basis of a modern, transparent and fair funding formula that matches funding with the demands faced by the police. The current arrangements are unclear, out of date and unfair. In recent years, a great many chief constables have called for a new formula. The National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary have all called for a revised model. The issues with the current formula are also well known to the House. In 2009, the then Policing Minister, the right honourable Member for Delyn, agreed to review the police funding formula—a review that did not happen. Since then, the Home Affairs Select Committee, the National Audit Office, and the Public Accounts Committee have all argued for new funding arrangements.

The new formula is what we have been doing. During the last Parliament, my predecessor announced that the Government would review the existing formula. In July of this year the Government published a consultation on the principles of a new formula, to achieve one that is fair, robust and transparent. That consultation closed in September, with 1,700 responses. Since then we have been working with forces to understand what those principles mean in practice to force budgets. Within this process, a statistical error was made in some of the data used. While this error does not change the principles that we consulted on, and the allocations provided to forces were always indicative, we recognise that this has caused concern among police forces. The Government regret the mistake and I apologise to the House for it, as well as to the 43 forces that I wrote to when we shared the exemplification data and launched a second, informal consultation period of the police funding formula review.

The Government are therefore minded to delay the funding formula changes for 2016-17, as we had previously intended, in order to give more time to consider their impact. We will seek the views of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Police Chiefs’ Council before going any further. It is essential that we come to a funding formula that is fair, transparent and matched to demand, but is also one that is supported by policing as a whole. So the Government will continue to listen, and we will consider the next steps in conjunction with police leaders. We will update the House in due course.

Reform of the police funding formula is something we should all support. Police forces and police and crime commissioners have called for it, as have committees of this House. It is especially important now, at a time of savings, that scarce resources go where they are needed most”.

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My Lords, the responsibility for the sorry Answer which has just been repeated lies not at the door of officials, but at that of Ministers. The Government’s serious mistake came to light only because of work commissioned by individual police forces which had to pay to get access to data used by the Home Office in the new formula proposals because they are owned by a private company. The Home Office sent a letter dated 5 November to Devon and Cornwall Police acknowledging the error. When did Ministers first know about the statistical error referred to by the noble Lord just now? The funding formula changes are being delayed,

“to give more time to consider their impact”.

For how long, the Minister did not say, so perhaps he can confirm the situation.

So that there is full transparency in considering the impact of any changes, will the Government ensure that any data on which they are basing funding decisions from next year onwards is fully in the public domain, and will they agree to independent oversight of the review in which there is now a lack of confidence? On what basis will police funding be determined for 2016-17 and when will police forces know how much they have been allocated? Finally, will the Government reimburse the costs that forces have already incurred in arguing against and challenging what the Government now admit is an erroneous formula?

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My Lords, first, the responsibility lies with Ministers. I have repeated an apology, which as Minister in the Lords I make to this House, for the error. Ministerial responsibility is clear on that.

On the specifics, the letter was sent on 5 November to Devon and Cornwall Police and the first the Policing Minister knew of that was when it was drawn to his attention on Friday 6 November and the decision was taken today, on Monday. The proposal put forward to address this error is that the proposed introduction of the new formula, which was to come into effect in the new financial year—April 2016-17—will now be delayed. The initial plan is that it will be delayed for a year, but at this point we are talking about very soon after. We realise that we have shaken a lot of confidence in the process, and it is very important that we talk to police and crime commissioners, chief constables and others, to make sure that we get this absolutely right.

On the cost issue, that will be looked at as part of the overall review into how this happened, but more importantly, how we move forward with the system that will command the confidence of the police. On the question of when people will know, the comprehensive spending review will report in the Autumn Statement on 27 November, and traditionally the police grant is announced on about 17 December. The specific force allocations will be known on 17 December and the broad envelope will be known on 27 November.

On independent oversight, which is very important, my right honourable friend the Policing Minister has indicated that he will seek independent oversight of the statistical process and the input of data into the system, but again we are genuinely contrite about the error and want to make sure that we get it right.

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My Lords, does the Minister not agree that at a time when forces have already faced a 19% cut in their budgets, and could face a further 30% cut as a result of the comprehensive spending review, this is not a good time to introduce a new police funding formula that would, by definition, reduce the funding for some forces by even more than potentially 30%? However flawed the existing funding formula is, should it not be a case of better the devil you know?

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With the benefit of hindsight, of course, there is an element of that. Going back to the initial point when we started the review process, before July, most police forces, as the noble Lord will know very well, complained that the existing funding formula was opaque and nobody quite knew how it was put together. It seemed that in terms of funding allocations there was an inbuilt unfairness to certain forces over others, which did not actually mean that scarce resources were being focused on where crime was happening and, therefore, where resources were needed most by the police to respond to it. So everybody is in favour of the review. The consultation went very well, with 1,700 responses. The letter went out on 21 July and was reflected on. Again, in an effort to be transparent, my right honourable friend the Policing Minister then issued a provisional calculation of what the effect might be on police force budgets for the 2016-17 year. The error came to light at the conclusion of that. Therefore, I think there is still a case for looking at a simplified formula but a lesson has been learned. We need to go away, look at it again and come back with broader proposals that address the concerns the police have.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for the way in which he has spoken to the House. Will he confirm receipt of the letter I sent him last week from the Merseyside police and crime commissioner, the right honourable Jane Kennedy, who talked about the serious repercussions for the Merseyside force? When he considers further the impact that the changes might have, will he bear in mind that they have already cut some £77 million from the Merseyside police budget since 2010, and that if these proposals had gone ahead in their current form, it would have lost 700 community support officers? Given that Ms Kennedy talked in her letter of “the serious repercussions”—to use her words—does not the noble Lord agree that it was unfair and unjust of his colleague, Mike Penning MP, the Minister in another place, to describe her complaint about the original proposals as scaremongering? Is it not indeed the case that these are perfectly legitimate questions for the Merseyside police and crime commissioner to raise? Indeed, some 11,000 people on Merseyside have now signed petitions, which only goes to underline the concern that the public have. Will he take all that into account as he gives this matter further thought?

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I will certainly do that. I am grateful for the letter, which I recall receiving and drafting a response to. Merseyside has done a lot of innovative things in working with other blue light services to decrease response times and reduce costs. I hope that will be taken into account when future responses and changes are made.

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My Lords, in the recent Peel efficiency inspection, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said of Bedfordshire police that it was concerned that the force’s,

“long-term financial position is not sustainable”.

Regardless of whether the correct data are being used, it appears that the formula review totally fails to address the viability of Bedfordshire police. What will the Home Secretary and the Minister do to ensure that Bedfordshire police are adequately and properly funded to deal with the many challenges that they face?

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I am conscious that Bedfordshire has a particular case because it covers a large rural area and the centre of Luton. That makes policing and the allocation of the budget particularly difficult. I know that, like Merseyside, it has been innovative and has recently sought to raise the precept through a local referendum. Bedfordshire is a difficult case, which is one of the reasons why we proposed transitional funding arrangements under the old plan, but now we are back to square one and have to look at that again.

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My Lords, does my noble friend understand that many people in this country are rather puzzled by the fact that at a time when the financial resources of the police are evidently so stretched, they are still able to find such substantial resources to devote to following up wholly unsubstantiated allegations of historic sex abuse?

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That obviously is an issue. However, the allocation of time and resources is a matter for local police and crime commissioners. In a broad sense, the fact that crime has fallen by a quarter since 2010 is to the credit of the police, as HMIC found. However, it is also very important that the police allocate their resources in a way that is targeted on reducing crime.