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Greater Manchester Police Funding

1.29 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise matters of utmost concern to my constituents and all other residents and businesses in Greater Manchester.

The Minister will be aware that there are serious concerns about police funding. For instance, the chief constable has long highlighted the anomalous impact on Greater Manchester police of the funding of police pensions. The cost of funding the pensions of the force is £67 million per annum, but the Home Office funds only £60 million of that each year. In comparison, the pensions bill of West Midlands police, a similar size force, is £50 million, but the Home Office funds £52 million. Greater Manchester police force has a £7 million shortfall that must come out of its operational budget, whereas West Midlands police force is, in effect, given a £2 million windfall towards its operational budget.

It must be remembered that the Greater Manchester force faces demands imposed by a crime rate that is 41 per cent. above the national average. It also has to meet some major exceptional costs. The Home Office has met two thirds of the cost of last year's Oldham riots, but a major additional cost is left for Greater Manchester police. The biggest exceptional item, on which I will focus, is the cost of policing the Commonwealth games, which are due to open in Manchester in less than five months time. That cost is estimated by Greater Manchester police and the police authority to be £7.88 million. I believe that that cost should be borne by the nation, not only by the people of Greater Manchester.

The Commonwealth games are a major national and international event that will bring more than 5,000 athletes from 71 nations to Manchester and the United Kingdom. The games will bring thousands of spectators and dozens of heads of state to Manchester. We in Manchester are proud to host the games, and proud that Her Majesty the Queen will visit twice in her jubilee year to open and close the event, which will be the largest and most spectacular multi-sport event ever hosted in the UK. I am confident that the games will be a huge success and that the Greater Manchester police will do the most professional job possible to ensure the safety and security of all involved.

It is intolerable that the Government should make the people of Greater Manchester suffer as a consequence of hosting the games. Councillor Stephen Murphy, the chairman of the police authority, warned on 18 January:

I raised the matter in the House on 24 January. On that occasion, the Leader of the House made it clear that Greater Manchester and its residents should bear the cost. He replied:

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At that point, we were not hopeful that Manchester would receive support for the policing of the games, but matters had improved by 29 January, when the Home Secretary wrote to the police authority to promise to fund £3 million of the £7.88 million requested. None the less, that leaves almost £5 million to be met, perhaps by increases in council tax. My constituents have already suffered a 47 per cent. increase in council tax since Labour took control of the borough of Trafford six years ago. Alternatively, the cost could be funded by cuts in policing.

The Home Secretary has said that officials and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary will carry out a rigorous appraisal of the remainder of the bid. I am sure that the Minister will re-emphasise today that the door is not closed. I am also sure that the rigorous appraisal of the cost of policing will ultimately endorse the Greater Manchester police estimate of the cost of security for the games. The residents of Greater Manchester and I want an absolute commitment today from the Minister that the full cost of policing the games will be met by the Home Office.

The Minister may not accept the estimate for the cost of policing the games, but whatever the ultimate cost of policing them is, it should be the responsibility of the whole nation, not only of the people of Greater Manchester. What I want today is not a commitment to find £7.88 million for the costs of the Greater Manchester police, but an absolute guarantee that the full cost of policing the Commonwealth games will be met by the taxpayer nationally, not dumped on the taxpayers of Greater Manchester.

I remind the Minister of the warning given by the chief constable in the Manchester Evening News on 21 January. He wrote:

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brady : The hon. Lady is in the nick of time, because I was about to conclude my remarks.

Mrs. Fitzsimons : Will the hon. Gentleman accept a comment from a fellow representative of Greater Manchester and taxpayer who takes a keen interest in these matters, having taken part in the parliamentary police scheme this year with Greater Manchester police? To some people, the claim made by the chair of Greater Manchester police authority and the chief constable that the huge increase in their budget this year will result in fewer police officers seems incredible. I have only a simple abacus; how can it be so?

Mr. Brady : I have focused today on the cost of policing the Commonwealth games. I am sure that the hon. Lady will accept that since 11 September, the cost of providing security and guaranteeing safety for a major international event such as the games has increased. It is perfectly reasonable for the view of the police authority and Greater Manchester police to reflect that.

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I do not want to get involved in squabbles between Labour party members, whether they are Members of Parliament or Greater Manchester local authority members. My request today is that the Minister guarantees not a specific sum for the funding of the policing of the games, but funding in full. That is essential. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) and the Minister cannot get away from the fact that if the cost of policing the games is not met by the taxpayer nationally in recognition of the fact that the responsibility is a national one, the burden will fall on the people of Greater Manchester—on the hon. Member for Rochdale, on me, and on all the people whom we represent. Their taxes will rise, or their policing will decline, or a combination of the two will happen.

We face a serious choice. I call on the Minister today to provide certainty and confidence to the organisers of the games, to those who police Greater Manchester, and to the people whom I represent, that the cost will not be imposed on the taxpayers of Greater Manchester, but will be met as a national responsibility, as should always have been intended.

1.39 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) on securing a debate on Greater Manchester police funding. It is a useful opportunity to air some of the funding issues currently affecting Greater Manchester and to discuss what the Government and the police are doing to increase resources and reduce crime. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not use the all the time available to him to discuss some of the broader issues involved in policing and police funding in Manchester. He effectively raised only two issues: pensions and the Commonwealth games. I accept that both are substantial issues that need to be talked about, but I intend in my response to range more widely than he did.

Mr. Brady : I will be delighted if the Minister deals with some of the other concerns about funding for Greater Manchester police, but for the purposes of this debate I would be happy with a simple, short assurance from him that the cost of policing the games will be met by the Government. Were he to give that assurance now, I would be happy for the debate not to take up the rest of the time available. We could all go away happy.

Mr. Ainsworth : I intend to go wider than the hon. Gentleman did. I am only surprised that he, as a Greater Manchester Member of Parliament, has not used the time available to him to discuss more his broader concerns about other issues that affect Greater Manchester police authority and policing in Manchester. I will respond to the Commonwealth games issue, but I want to talk about broader issues as well.

It is appropriate to thank all those front-line officers in the Greater Manchester police force who have worked tirelessly in recent months to protect the public

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in difficult circumstances—policing the disturbances in Oldham, then meeting the heightened security requirements in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September. They have been working under real pressure and we should take our hats off to them. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that they have done a magnificent job in providing the maximum protection to the people of Greater Manchester in such difficult circumstances.

The funding increase for Greater Manchester police this year is in line with the average increase for England and Wales. The authority received an extra £9.5 million from the funding settlement. The force will also benefit indirectly from the additional funding provided by the Government to the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which comes out of the police grant before it is divided among local police authorities.

When Conservative Members suggest that police funding is not adequate for the task, it is appropriate to remind people that until the Government established one, this country did not have a national crime squad. We had regional crime squads, but the funding was far less and was of an altogether different order to that which we provide to NCS. NCIS, too, did not exist under the previous Government. This country had the fourth largest economy in the world, a sophisticated modern society, but no national criminal intelligence service. In this debate, we should accept that it is not only money that helps, but the assistance given by NCS and NCIS. Such assistance is of some importance in helping police in Manchester and elsewhere to tackle criminality.

Turning to the main topic of the hon. Gentleman's speech, we are helping Greater Manchester with the cost of policing the Commonwealth games. As he said, in the police grant debate on 30 January we announced that we have decided to make an initial grant of £3 million toward the cost in view of the substantial policing costs faced by Greater Manchester police. We have asked officials of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary to examine closely the estimates that the Greater Manchester police authority has made of the overall costs that it will face. On the basis of that further assessment, we will consider the extent to which we are prepared to make further grant available to the authority.

The original estimate was £3.9 million, but it has now doubled. The circumstances have changed and there may be considerable justification for changing the figures, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Government can simply accept changes of such magnitude without asking someone to examine whether they are justified, he does not live in same world as me. We will ask HMIC to examine the estimates rigorously, and when we have its report we will announce the extent to which we can help Greater Manchester police authority with the costs that arise from the games. I will not make that announcement in response to this debate.

Mr. Brady : Of course it is reasonable to examine the estimates in detail, but is the Minister saying that he will not fund the whole cost of policing the games even if

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HMIC and officials in his Department find that the estimates are accurate? Will he not give me the assurance that I requested?

Mr. Ainsworth : I have said what I have said. We will examine the estimates that we have received. We have agreed to £3 million, and there is an estimate that is well in excess of that. We must properly evaluate any estimates before we can give any commitments, and we are doing that. We have given the job to HMIC, and we shall consider the issue when we have its report. There are other pressures—

Mr. Brady : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ainsworth : I cannot keep giving way to the hon. Gentleman. He had plenty of opportunity to make his case before I stood up.

The Greater Manchester police authority faces other pressures, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware that on 30 January I also announced special grant of £1.44 million towards the additional cost of policing the riots. That was paid to the authority on 8 February. Funding for special grant is limited, and we had to consider demands from other forces that have also experienced riots. Each application had to be treated fairly, and that is what we did.

The hon. Gentleman raised some issues, but not others. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) mentioned some of the money that has gone into crime reduction in the Manchester area in recent years. I shall run through some of the statistics so that the hon. Gentleman can see that those funds are not inconsiderable. I do not know whether, like me, he believes that partnership is the key to reducing and keeping crime figures down, but we have invested more than £17.2 million in projects in Greater Manchester under the crime reduction programme. Greater Manchester police made successful grant applications for £1.25 million of that. In addition, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has provided more than £3.3 million for neighbourhood and street warden schemes.

The £17.2 million has been distributed as follows: more than £9 million has been spent on 41 closed circuit television schemes; £3.2 million on 10 schemes under the communities against drugs programme; more than £1.7 million on reducing burglary initiatives; £1.3 million on targeted police initiatives; and £471,000 on 33 partnership development fund projects. Some £380,000 has been spent under the violence against women initiative to reduce domestic violence, rape and sexual assault by known perpetrators; £153,000 has been spent on small retail projects; and £100,000 has been spent on projects to tackle prostitution.

In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, £31,000 has been allocated to a reduced burglary initiative on the Racecourse estate in Sale. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has provided £242,000 for two neighbourhood warden and street warden initiatives in Sale, West. That is a significant investment in extra resources. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman so that he can tell me whether he welcomes the money that has gone into his constituency and the rest of Greater Manchester.

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Mr. Brady : The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I welcome any money that goes into my constituency. I am delighted that help has gone to Sale, West. However, I have a straightforward question for him and I hope to receive a simple answer. Does he believe that the policing cost of a major national and international event should be met by the nation or by local taxpayers in the city that hosts the event?

Mr. Ainsworth : The funding formulae used to decide who funds what and to what extent in relation to events such as the Commonwealth games are not new—they were not invented in the past couple of years. We will consider in detail the costs that Manchester is likely to incur as a result of the Commonwealth games. When we have a detailed report and can see how robust the figures are, we will make a decision on whether we can contribute more than the £3 million that we have already allocated.

The hon. Gentleman identified the problem of police pensions without telling the House that it has existed for many years and that Governments of different party political complexions from those currently in power did nothing about it. We accept that pensions costs represent an increasing burden on many police authorities. The overall police settlement includes provision for expected further pensions costs, but the incidence of such costs is bound to be uneven. As we both know, individual cases and pressures will arise in different years.

A review of police pensions by Home Office and Treasury officials is nearing completion. The views of police authorities, including that of the hon. Gentleman's area, will be taken on board with those of other key stakeholders. We must also consider the impact on Government finances, as we are doing. We want a modernised pension arrangement that is more flexible and affordable for future entrants to the police service. We must have a system that gives greater certainty about pensions obligations of individual police forces. A report on the alternatives available to change the way in which we fund pensions is expected very shortly. The issue is important, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that the Government are trying to tackle some difficult issues that were not tackled for many a long year when perhaps they ought to have been.

Mrs. Fitzsimons : Will my hon. Friend hear some concerns from another Member of Parliament for Greater Manchester? Important though it is to deal with the one-off funding of the Commonwealth games, as the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) suggests, the funding formula itself is important. There is a disparity between the metropolitan boroughs and rural areas. I do not want to denigrate any rural areas, but the increased cost of policing a metropolitan area such as Greater Manchester must be accepted.

I fear that scaremongering in this financial debate will affect the people of Rochdale, even though crime in Rochdale has decreased significantly and police numbers have increased significantly since Labour took power. There is a great deal of concern that the comments made by the chief of police and the chair of

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the police authority in their budget debates with the Government are having a detrimental effect on the public and obscuring the facts.

Mr. Ainsworth : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was just about to say something about police numbers. Crime overall, as well as many categories of crime, has decreased in Greater Manchester, as it has in the rest of the country. However, fear of crime is a real issue. People's perception of the problems of crime and their vulnerability to it has not changed in line with the actual crime figures. Those who unnecessarily alarm people are adding to the fear of crime.

Police numbers are important as part of a comprehensive package of measures to ensure a modern and efficient police service. The public rightly feel reassured by the sight of police officers on our streets. That helps to reduce the fear of crime. It is for the police authority and the chief constable to determine the resources, the precise composition of the force, and the distribution of officers. On 30 September 2001, Greater Manchester had 7,036 police officers, 114 more than in March 1997 and the same number as in March 1995. Although there is more to be done, we have effectively restored the cuts to police numbers in the Greater Manchester area that occurred in the last two years of the Conservative Government. Civilian staff numbers have increased by 415 since March 1997, an increase of 6 per cent, to 3,027 on 30 September 2001.

Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle): I hear all that the Minister is saying and I believe that the number of police officers has increased, but last Sunday I visited the Twining Brook road area of Cheadle Hulme in my constituency, where I met people who told me that women were afraid to go out at night or to let their children play outside during the early evening. How does that square with what the Minister is telling us? Is

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the distribution of police officers throughout Greater Manchester such that there are more in some areas than in my constituency? I simply do not understand what he is saying, and neither will my constituents.

Mr. Ainsworth : It squares precisely with what I have said. This is an important issue, so I ask the hon. Lady to think seriously about it, leaving aside party politics. Police numbers are not the whole issue. I mentioned the increase in civilian staff, because how on earth are police constables to do the job that only they are capable of doing and only they have been trained to do if we do not give them the back-up necessary to enable them to spend more time out on the streets?

That is part of the reasoning behind the proposals in the Police Reform Bill that we have introduced. We want police officers to be used much more effectively out on the streets of Greater Manchester and elsewhere in the country. That is what the hon. Lady's constituents and the Government want. I hope that our proposals, currently in Committee in the House of Lords, will receive the support of the Liberal Democrats, so that we can increase police numbers along the lines that we promised and ensure that the police are more effective, more visible and can use their time more efficiently.

Mr. Brady : I am sorry that, despite giving the Minister a clear indication at the start of the debate that I wanted an answer and a promise that the Government would meet the full cost of funding the Commonwealth games, and despite his long, meandering contribution to this short debate, the Minister has refused to do what I asked. He says that HMIC officials would reconsider the estimates, but he has not given a commitment that if those estimates are found to be accurate, they will be fully funded by the Government—

Mr. Bill O'Brien (in the Chair): Order.

Question put and agreed to.

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