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Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng: In due course, but a closer examination of what the Audit Commission has to say on the matter may help the right hon. Gentleman to make his point. The report states:

The Audit Commission made an even more telling finding. It states:

    "Some forces with the biggest reductions in numbers of police officers have also recorded some of the largest increases in the percentage of crimes detected during the same period."

That finding requires an explanation from Conservative Members, who would make a totem of police numbers.

Mr. Beith: Does the Minister acknowledge that, for the public, deploying a sufficient number of uniformed police officers in the community is an important factor in reducing the fear of crime and making people feel safe on the streets?

Mr. Boateng: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, as I am about to deal with that precise point.

Of course, the number of police on our streets remains important. The public feel reassured by the visible presence of police officers on patrol. However, people are also concerned about efficient and effective policing. It is clear from the Audit Commission's report that we must move way from sterile and simplistic arguments about police numbers. Rather, we must move towards the efficient and well targeted use of resources, and the imaginative use of technology.

Indeed, what has transformed the public's safety in many town and city centres--and on many estates as well--has not been an increase in the numbers of police officers on undirected patrol, but a huge increase in coverage by closed circuit television, which in turn has freed up officers for detection and prevention duties.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the number of officers visible on the streets, it is also important that the police deal with matters that people consider to be important? My hon. Friend was in my constituency last weekend, and he will know that the partnership introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which he mentioned earlier, has enabled the local community to discuss with the police those matters that they feel to be important.

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The consequent reduction in crime depends not simply on police numbers, but on the police doing their job in accordance with the objectives of the community.

Mr. Boateng: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In Gedling, I saw about 100 people from the police, the public, the local authority, voluntary organisations and neighbourhood watch. They came together, giving up a Saturday, to determine local policing priorities and to build effective strategies to prevent and reduce crime. They did so within the context provided by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, a law that owes its introduction, implementation and success to the return of a Labour Government in 1997.

We must be clear about the context of our debate. It is not only about partnerships such as those. It is also about technology, and about commitments to new strategies for policing being developed by chief officers and the men and women under their commands. It is important to manifest a police presence in different and novel ways.

Yesterday, I visited Stonehouse and Stroud in Gloucestershire, where one of the most successful innovations has been police information posts. The reality of rural policing is that the numbers game simply does not operate in a way that would provide the assurance referred to by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Information posts are being developed in post offices and shops in rural towns and villages. People are able to make contact with the police, and the use of new technology provides a presence that not only reassures people, but assists in detection and prevention.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): Will the Minister give way.

Mr. Boateng: I am afraid that I must get on. The hon. Gentleman may have a chance to make his own speech.

The Government welcome the Audit Commission's recommendation that local people and the local media should use the commission's report to ask questions about the performance and efficiency of local forces. The Audit Commission has given us an opportunity to stimulate debate about the most effective ways in which to provide policing services.

Only last week, we heard about the radical reorganisation being put in place by the chief constable of West Midlands police. He is streamlining senior posts, restructuring major investigation teams and transferring posts from headquarters to local sectors. All that will release more officers for front-line duties, with up to300 more constables freed to reinforce local operational command units. The chief constable has said that his decisions have led to a turnaround in performance, with crime levels coming down and detection rates going up. That is an excellent example of well targeted, efficient and effective use of resources.

Similarly, the chief constable of Lincolnshire is restructuring top-tier management and merging some divisions to improve community policing. The local newspaper, the Lincolnshire Echo, succinctly put it: "Less brass means more coppers". [Hon. Members: "Oh dear."] Liberal Democrat Members have made something of a political totem of their press releases to local newspapers such as the Lincolnshire Echo. In Focus, their own publication, they have sought time and again to engender

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precisely that kind of headline. You should be revelling in it rather than pouring scorn on a headline that, for once, tells its own story. You could learn a lesson or two from it for Focus.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to have to pull the Minister up, but we are trying to encourage all hon. Members to remember the correct forms of address, and Ministers must conform.

Mr. Boateng: I stand chastened. However, there is more than an element of truth in that headline. It is not all about more money. We need to recognise and build on that point.

Let me turn to the details of next year's funding settlement. The police service has given its general support for the continued distribution of police grant in accordance with the needs-based funding formula that was introduced in 1995.

Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) initiated a review on population sparsity, which is part of the needs-based formula. Is that research continuing and when will it be published?

Mr. Boateng: It is certainly continuing. Hon. Members will regard it as particularly important research. If memory serves, that change in the needs-based formula was pioneered by the Minister responsible for police before the general election. The recognition of the significance of sparsity to an effective needs-based funding formula draws support from both sides of the House. We await the outcome of that research. I hope that it will be with us in the coming year. We will reflect on its implications for the formula.

The police service has given its general support for the continuing distribution of the police grant in the way that I described. We therefore propose to continue to allocate virtually all police grant by means of the funding formula. However, we propose a few changes to reflect the latest data available and in response to representations.

There are two principal changes. First, we are reducing the share of funding allocated on the basis of historical manpower levels in forces from 20 per cent. to 10 per cent. The weighting given to this element of the formula, which was introduced to provide some continuity with the old funding arrangements, was first set at 50 per cent. but has been reduced progressively over the past few years. It is right that it should be given progressively less significance as confidence in the needs-based formula continues to grow. The Association of Police Authorities supports the measure.

The other proposed change is to increase from 13.2 to 14.5 per cent. the proportion of funding allocated on the basis of forces' pensions commitments. This is in recognition of the continuing increase in police pensions costs, which I know concerns hon. Members.

I have some words on Metropolitan police funding because two other elements in the settlement are to be introduced next year. We propose that the Metropolitan police should continue to receive additional funding in recognition of its distinct, exceptional, national and capital

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city functions. It has proved difficult for the principal formula to take account of those circumstances. To maintain public confidence in the capital and its policing, the special payment will be increased next year by£25 million from £151 million to £176 million.

Some chief constables and police authorities have criticised the increase as special treatment for the Met. It is no such thing. The Metropolitan police face extra burdens in policing the capital city and extra national responsibilities, of which all hon. Members are well aware. The overall settlement means that the Metropolitan police will receive funding of £1.744 billion next year, an increase of 1.7 per cent. over the 1998-99 figure and significantly below the national average increase. More than 30 forces will receive larger funding increases than the Met next year.

The financial year 2000-01 will see the establishment of the Metropolitan police authority, which will, for the first time, give Londoners a police authority that is democratically accountable to them.

Policing is rooted in local communities. Any police force will increase its effectiveness if it can secure the support and co-operation of local people. The Metropolitan police authority will give a significant boost to the Met's current programme of work to involve the people of London. It will therefore deliver not only a more accountable police force, but a more effective one.

The MPA will be part of the single financial structure provided by the Greater London Authority Bill. This covers the mayor and assembly, the London development agency, Transport for London and the London fire and emergency planning authority, as well as the MPA. The Greater London authority will set the MPA's budget. However, the Home Secretary will have the power to set a minimum budget to ensure that the MPA is able to secure an efficient and effective police force. There will also be provision for an agreement between the Home Secretary and the MPA to set standards for the Met's performance of its national and international functions.

A further provision of the GLA Bill is the amendment of the Metropolitan police district boundaries. With effect from 1 April 2000, they will be brought into line with the boundaries of the 32 London boroughs.

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