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5 Feb 2003 : Column 305—continued

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On the subject of bureaucracy, does the Minister not acknowledge that effective and well-regarded police forces, such as the one in Surrey, are finding that they have less and less freedom to decide their priorities? The force in Surrey is constantly being hit with more targets and more paperwork. Funds that the Government provide are ring-fenced—but not for the things that the police authority, the chief constable and the people of Surrey want.

Mr. Denham: I am not entirely sure whether the hon. Gentleman is advocating having fewer police officers in Surrey; perhaps he will clarify that. We have been discussing with his chief constable ways in which the force can retain officers at the end of their service—for example, by extending the 30-plus retirement scheme to Surrey. We are also discussing ways in which greater use can be made of civilian staff.

I hope that I do not have to repeat this point, but before there was a crime fighting fund the aggregate effect of many individual decisions by individual forces was a sharp decline in the number of police officers. The crime fighting fund is ring-fenced, but it is ring-fenced to support the costs of recruiting and paying police officers where they are needed. I will defend that. I will also defend, on the subject of cutting bureaucracy, the fact that, in addition to the grant that we are discussing today, we are paying centrally for the cost of introducing the case preparation and custody scheme, which is an information technology scheme that has the most potential for reducing duplicate paperwork and avoiding people having to write out names and addresses 17 times. Police officers tell me and, I am sure, other hon. Members that that is what they have to do at the moment. I do not think that forces will object to the money being spent on that scheme, even though it is ring-fenced.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) rose—

Mr. Denham: I need to make a little progress.

Better use of science and technology will improve policing still further. Last month, we published the first science and technology strategy for the police. We are investing in IT. There will be further funding for authorities taking up the Airwave radio communication service. We are supporting the Metropolitan police authority's command, control and communications information system, known as C3i. As I have already mentioned, we are paying for the roll-out of the case preparation and custody scheme, which will enable data on those in custody to be used throughout the criminal justice system.

I will set out the police funding settlement for 2003–04 and what I can reveal of our plans for the two subsequent years. As part of the consultation exercise

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on the funding settlement, I have received 33 representations covering 22 police authority areas. I have taken those representations into account in reaching decisions on the funding proposals that are being put before the House today.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I am sure that my right hon. Friend has received representations from Gloucestershire, so we may as well get this out in the open now. Will he say something about the biggest problem facing police authorities—the police pension fund? That is subject to the biggest top-slice, preventing any real manoeuvrability in the way in which authorities operate their budgets.

Mr. Denham: I acknowledge that police pension costs are a significant part of the budget of police authorities. Police pension costs to the taxpayer and the Government are high because the scheme is good. It is one of the things that attract people into the police service and encourage them to stay. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is advocating cutting the police pension scheme.

Mr. Drew: No.

Mr. Denham: I did not think that he was, but it was important to establish the point.

When we consider different ways of dealing with police pension costs, I am sure that there will, as I said last year, be a case for bringing greater stability into the system. We have been working on that. Forces should not be hit heavily from one year to the next because they have a cohort of officers retiring in one particular year. However, I would not want to offer the possibility of pension costs not being met from the total pool of resources available to the police. Pensions cannot be shuffled off for somebody else to pay for. We must ensure that we have a modern pension structure for the future. We can give some planning assistance to police authorities, but it is an illusion to think that we can somehow magic away the costs of paying the pensions of those who have served the community well. We cannot say that those costs will not be any sort of burden on the police finance system.

The settlement for 2003–04 is a strong one that builds on our substantial investment in policing over the past three years. We are providing grant to support overall police spending of £9,683 million—an increase of 6.2 per cent. More than 90 per cent. of all supported spending is directly available to police authorities

The police grant report deals with Home Office general police grant for revenue expenditure, which amounts to £4,288 million in 2003–04. In addition, police authorities will receive revenue support grant as local authorities. The total general grant will be £7,312 million, which is an increase of 4.3 per cent. on the figures for 2002–03.

In addition, I am providing £600 million for a range of specific initiatives and £270 million to support police authority capital programmes. I will also spend £700 million centrally in direct support of the police. A further £51 million will be available from criminal justice service IT funds next year to meet the costs of rolling out the case preparation and custody scheme.

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For 2004–05 and 2005–06, the cash provision will grow by at least 4 per cent. a year. By 2005–06, funding for policing will be up to £1.5 billion a year higher than in 2002–03, which represents a cash increase of 16 per cent.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): I welcome the general increases in police funding that the Government are making. My right hon. Friend will, however, understand the disappointment in Dorset that we are on the floor of the increase, receiving 3 per cent. Dorset is hit especially hard by the formula. We are a low wage, high house price economy, so we are hit by resource equalisation and do not benefit from area cost adjustment. Will he comment on that? I ask him to understand that, if a Division is called, I may have to abstain. I cannot support the formula, even though I support the increases in funding nationally.

Mr. Denham: I will come to the details of the police grant formula in a moment. The substantive issues that my hon. Friend raised in respect of the area cost adjustment and resource equalisation have been dealt with in the overall RSG settlements. I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions will deal with those issues in the debate that follows this one. I will be going through the funding issues.

Dorset has been protected this year through the application of floors and ceilings. A simple application of the formula would have led to Dorset having a lower level of resources. By capping authorities that might have received greater funds, we have been able to support Dorset. The settlement reflects that. For Dorset, as for other forces, there are substantial resources over and above the grant—funds for Airwave; support for the recruitment of extra police officers through the crime fighting fund; £440,000 through the rural policing fund; and just under £500,000 going directly to police superintendents in basic command units. There is a substantial investment in Dorset over and above the headline figure of a 3 per cent. increase in grants. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to support that, should there be a Division.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) rose—

Mr. Chope rose—

Mr. Denham: I will make a little further progress and then give way.

Before giving details of the funding, I should explain briefly the changes that have been made to the funding formula that is used to distribute general police grant. We reviewed the formula as part of a review of local authority funding formulae. We decided to consider two options that have widespread support among the police community.

The first option was that we should update information on policing activity that underpins 80 per cent. of the funding formula, replacing data that were collected in 1995; the second option, in effect, was that we should eliminate the "establishment component"—

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an old grant damping mechanism that was introduced in 1995. As part of the changes, we have introduced floors and ceilings to protect against grant instability from year to year. As I have already said, the floor was set at 3 per cent. and the ceiling, or maximum increase, at 4.9 per cent.

Floors and ceilings are not part of the local government arrangements that are operated by the National Assembly for Wales. I shall make separate arrangements from funds outside the grant to ensure that Dyfed-Powys and South Wales police authorities, which would otherwise receive a grant increase below 3 per cent., receive the same floor protection as police authorities in England. That additional support is worth £5.1 million to the police in Wales.

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