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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
19 April 2018
Volume 639

Written Statements

Thursday 19 April 2018

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

UK Diplomatic Network in the Commonwealth

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Global Britain is this Government’s ambition to increase the UK’s national security, prosperity and influence, signalling our resolve to remain a big and influential player on the world stage.

In March, I announced plans to open around 10 new sovereign missions over the next two years, drawing on additional funding granted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to enhance our diplomatic capability overseas.

During the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London this week, I am announcing the location of nine new missions: six high commissions in Lesotho (Maseru); Swaziland (Mbabane); the Bahamas (Nassau); Tonga (Nuku’Alofa); Samoa (Apia); Vanuatu (Port Vila); and a further three missions, in Antigua and Barbuda (St John’s); Grenada (St George’s); and St Vincent and the Grenadines (Kingstown). These new missions will strengthen the UK’s diplomatic influence in the Commonwealth and help to deliver the UK’s security and prosperity objectives.

This expansion of our diplomatic network in the Commonwealth, which marks the beginning of the UK’s two-year tenure as chair, demonstrates our commitment to making an even greater success of this historic and important network of like-minded friends.

[HCWS625]

Home Department

Police Funding

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Following the debate on police funding held in this House on 28 March 2018 and the motion of this House, the Government wish to highlight that they are committed to protecting the public and providing the resources necessary for the police to do their critical work. At the 2015 spending review, the Government protected overall police spending (the combination of Government grants to police and crime commissioners (PCCs), police precept, and spending on national priorities such as the police transformation fund) in real terms. Counter-terrorism police grant was also specifically protected.

Before taking decisions on the 2018-19 settlement, the Government were determined to ensure that we continued to enable the police to respond to changing demands on them. I visited or spoke with every police force in England and Wales to better understand the demands they face and how these can best be managed. I saw for myself the exceptional attitude and hard work of police officers and staff around the country, and listened to the evidence about the genuine increases in demand they are facing.

Crime as traditionally measured by the independent crime survey for England and Wales—widely regarded as the best long-term measure of the crime people experience—is down by more than a third since 2010 and by more than two thirds since its peak in 1995. However, we recognise that there have been material changes in the demands on policing since the 2015 spending review. Demand on the police from crimes reported to them has grown and shifted to more complex and resource intensive work such as investigating child sexual exploitation and modern slavery. At the same time the terrorist threat has changed.

We included four key elements in the police funding settlement for 2018-19 to enable the police to respond effectively: an increase in funding, greater future funding certainty, clear opportunities for substantial improvements in productivity and efficiency, and greater financial transparency to ensure effective use is made of police financial reserves.

Following the spending review in 2015, the Government committed to protecting force-level funding in cash terms over the spending review period, when police precept and Government grant are taken together. The 2018-19 settlement changed this by enabling every PCC to maintain their funding in real terms. This was achieved by a combination of protecting the Government grant to PCCs in cash terms (compared to 2017-18) so PCCs retain the full benefit from any additional local precept income, and increasing flexibility to raise precept without calling a referendum (in England). The vast majority of PCCs used the additional flexibility to increase precept, resulting in an over £280 million increase in funding in 2018-19. In addition, many PCCs have set out proposals to use this extra funding to improve frontline policing.

We are also increasing investment in national policing priorities such as police technology and special grant by around £130 million in 2018-19 compared to 2017-18. This reflects our commitment to support the police to deliver a modern digitally enabled workforce, and to manage major events such as the Commonwealth summit and terrorist attacks. We are maintaining the size of the police transformation fund at £175 million in order to help drive police reform.

Counter-terrorism police is receiving a £50 million (7%) increase in like for like funding when compared to 2017-18, enabling the counter-terrorism budget to increase to £757 million, including £29 million for the uplift in armed policing from the police transformation fund. Once the armed uplift programme is complete, there will be around 7,000 armed officers in England and Wales, which exceeds the number of firearms officers in 2010. This is a significant additional investment in the vital work of counter-terrorism police officers across the country. These specialist armed officers will be better trained and equipped than ever before to deal with the full range of complex terrorist attacks.

Separately, the Home Office has also provided £9.8 million in special grant funding to cover the costs of the police response to the Manchester Arena attack and a further £7.6 million to support the costs in London.

Overall, police funding across the system is increasing by around £460 million year on year, including police precept. The House of Commons debated and voted for the police funding settlement on 7 February, as is done on an annual basis.

The motion debated by the House on 28 March referenced the UK Statistics Authority’s recent work on police funding statements. The Government recognise that police funding is a complex topic and are committed to presenting and explaining police funding clearly. The UK Statistics Authority suggested the Home Office should produce a regular analysis of police funding in line with the principles set out in the code of practice for statistics. The Home Office chief statistician is currently considering how this could be achieved.

Police leaders rightly highlighted to me that one year of additional financial support would not be sufficient to mitigate the challenges the police face. It is also important that PCCs and chief constables can plan effectively. Therefore the Government committed at the police settlement to protect police grant in cash terms, and repeat the additional precept flexibility in 2019-20, so long as significant progress is made this year on efficiency and productivity. This approach gives policing the opportunity to make major improvements in efficiency, and use those gains to improve services to the public.

Efficiency and productivity are essential to a sustainable plan to enable the police to manage challenging demands. Since the police funding settlement, I have been working with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Police Chiefs Council to agree concrete proposals to save around £120 million through better procurement and use of shared services. We are also working with the police to deliver the benefits of better, digitally enabled working. The motion debated on 28 March called for 10,000 additional officers. The motion did not make reference to efficiency or productivity. If all forces could deliver the same one hour per officer per day of productivity benefits from mobile working as the best in a recent sample with eight forces, this has the potential to free up the equivalent of 11,000 extra officers nationally to provide the proactive policing that committed police officers want to deliver. The Government believe that it is essential that we work with the police to realise these productivity benefits, rather than focusing on extra funding or having a sterile debate on officer numbers alone.

We are also encouraging the police to make effective and prudent use of their financial reserves. As at March 2017 PCCs held usable resource reserves of over £1.6 billion. This compares to £1.4 billion in 2011. Current reserves held represent 15% of annual police funding to PCCs. There are good reasons for holding reserves, including to invest in better ICT to help officers work smartly. However, PCCs’ plans for using their reserves must be robust and open to public scrutiny. That is why we set out new guidance in January requiring them to publish their reserves strategies in plain English, with a clear justification for each reserve held, as well as publishing national information on the level of reserves held.

Taken together, the Government have listened to the police, we have substantially increased police funding in 2018-19, we have demonstrated our complete commitment to protecting the public from terrorism, and we have provided the police with the tools to respond to changing demand.

[HCWS626]

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Local Government Finance

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I am writing in response to the Opposition day debate on “Reductions in Local Government Funding” of 28 March and the resolution of the House made that day. This Government recognise the vital role of local government in delivering the frontline services which communities across the country rely on. I am writing to the House to confirm the support this Government are providing to ensure councils have the resources they need to deliver vital local services.

In February, the 2018-19 local government finance settlement set out the resources available to councils in England. This is the third year of a four-year offer which was approved by Parliament, as was the case in both preceding years. The multi-year settlement was also overwhelmingly accepted by councils, 97% of which took up the offer in return for publishing efficiency plans. It has provided greater certainty, allowing councils to plan ahead and secure value for money.

Through the settlement, local government has been given access to £45.1 billion in 2018-19 and £45.6 billion in 2019-20. This is an overall increase since 2017-18 of £1.3 billion. This recognises both the growing pressure on local government’s services and higher than expected inflation levels. For adult social care in particular, a further £150 million was provided for 2018-19, which we expect will help support sustainable local care markets, in addition to the £2 billion announced at spring Budget 2017. With this, and other measures, the Government have given councils access to £9.4 billion dedicated funding for adult social care over three years.

Informed by the representations received from councils, organisations and members of the public, we are ensuring that the sector is equipped to drive economic growth, to think and act creatively and to deliver for their residents. We are clear that is about more than just the funding. Through additional flexibilities and responsibilities, we are responding to the sector’s request for more control over the money they raise as well as the tools to make this money go further.

Local authorities already have a strong incentive to grow their economies through 50% business rates retention and benefit from the additional income that growth in their business rates brings. Over 150 local authorities in 16 pilot areas are incentivised further by retaining 100% of their growth in business rates.

We are also looking towards the future. We are undertaking a review of local authorities’ relative needs and resources to address concerns about the fairness of current funding distributions. The consultation has now closed and my Department is carefully assessing over 300 responses from a wide range of stakeholders. We have sought the views of councils, representative associations and others to capture the key factors which should be included in a new funding formula and we will continue to collaborate with local government on this. We aim to implement its findings in 2020-21.

Local government also has a vital role to play in helping the broken housing market. The recent allocation of £866 million from the housing infrastructure fund for 133 local authority projects will help to deliver some 200,000 additional homes, and we have also announced an additional £1 billion of borrowing headroom to enable local authorities in the highest value areas to build more homes for social and affordable rent.

We further announced last month the 45 areas across England we are working with to develop Forward Funding infrastructure projects, with up to £4.1 billion of funding available to unlock a potential 400,000 homes. These are strategic, long-term projects which will deliver housing not just for now, but for generations to come— creating new settlements, growing places and supporting local authority ambition for growth and regeneration.

This Government remain firmly committed to ensuring local government has the support and resource it needs to deliver its services effectively and efficiently, while protecting hard-working taxpayers from excessive council tax rises.

[HCWS627]