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5 Feb 2003 : Column 308—continued

Mr. Chope: The Minister recognised in his answer to the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) that Dorset will have an even worse deal next year. One way in which Dorset could deal with that problem would be to have a freeze on recruitment, but the police have apparently been told that if they freeze recruitment they will lose moneys from the crime fighting fund. Can the Minister assure us in Dorset that we will not lose those moneys if our police authority freezes recruitment to achieve an increase of less than 19.6 per cent. in the precept?

Mr. Denham: I am sure that all the hon. Gentleman's constituents have noted his call for a freeze in police recruitment in Dorset. I strongly suspect that the average resident of Dorset would rather have more police officers than a freeze. We have not yet finalised the crime fighting fund arrangements for the coming year, but police forces must maintain the numbers for which they receive support under the crime fighting fund and recruit more police officers to access additional resources. The point of the crime fighting fund is to have more police officers, but the people of Christchurch will have taken note of what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Prisk: Seven interventions ago or perhaps longer, the Minister made a statement, which he has just repeated, about his pride in the increasing number of police officers. In Hertfordshire, however, we are 200 officers short. How can it be right that this year we also face a £5 million shortfall in what the force needs simply to stand still?

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman will know that Hertfordshire will share in the increase of resources, as will other police forces. His police force will get sums over and above the 3 per cent. grant increase, including £3.14 million for the crime fighting fund. We did not receive any representations from Hertfordshire constabulary on the funding settlement that I announced today. The hon. Gentleman would perhaps have been wiser to acknowledge that in March 1997 there were 1,759 police officers in Hertfordshire, whereas in March last year there were 1,825—so the policies introduced by the Government have led to an increase in the number of police officers in Hertfordshire.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Will the Minister admit that there is a slight risk that he will be misunderstood? The police authority boundaries in

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Hertfordshire are not the same as they were in 1997, so his comparisons are incorrect. He said that he had not received any representations from Hertfordshire, but will he confirm that his own Home Office officials met Hertfordshire police authority last week?

Mr. Denham: I will need to take advice on the latter point, but the information given to me by, presumably, the same officials, was that no representations had been received from Hertfordshire. If I have inadvertently misled the House I will seek advice and certainly seek to correct the record. Boundary changes have affected a number of forces on the outskirts of London, but the figures that I gave are those established for Hertfordshire.

As I mentioned earlier, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions has announced wide-ranging changes to funding formulae that affect all local authorities in England, including police authorities. The area cost adjustment and resource equalisation are matters for him.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): While the Minister is checking what he has received from Hertfordshire, will he check something else? I have received a letter from the chief constable of Hertfordshire, who says:

Will the Minister look into that as well?

Mr. Denham: Will the hon. Gentleman remind me of the date on the letter?

Mr. Clappison: The letter is dated 11 November 2002, and the letter sent to him was dated 19 September 2002. A letter is also on the way to him from Hertsmere borough council—from all parties, I believe—complaining about the effects of the settlement.

Mr. Denham: The funding settlement was announced after 19 September. We received many letters from chief constables, police authorities and others who had been stirred up by Opposition Members into believing that there were going to be swingeing cuts in police officer numbers. I do not give credence to representations made before the funding settlement was announced. I have talked about the representations that I have received since the announcement of the funding formula, which, of course, gave the lie to stories that hundreds of police officers would be cut across the country. I am afraid that a little bit of dead horse flogging is going on among Hertfordshire Members.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) rose—

Mr. Denham: I will give way in a moment to the hon. Gentleman, who has another Member's place. Someone has clearly left the Chamber to put out their press release, regardless of whether they spoke in the debate.

I have said that capital will increase. Capital grant and supplementary credit approvals will total £190 million. Once again, we are seeking to reinforce

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the police reform agenda by allocating £20 million for a further premises improvement fund. In many areas, the fund brought about much-needed improvements in police stations, working conditions and so on. In addition, we will support the Metropolitan police's C3i project, Airwave and the case and custody project. Police authorities will receive funding for specific initiatives—about £600 million will be used to back police reform and modernisation, including funding for special priority payments for police officers. Some grants will be available to all forces in England and Wales, others to help forces with particular requirements. We will make details available in due course. The crime fighting fund will continue, providing money towards a further 650 recruits in 2003–04, and continuing to sustain many of those recruited in recent years.

We must remain vigilant against the terrorist threat. Counter-terrorist funding announced in the 2002 budget for police forces will be maintained, and we are determined to make sure that the police service will continue to be resourced effectively to meet its counter-terrorist commitments. In addition to the £47 million funding being provided to the Metropolitan police, a further £12 million will be available to forces outside London, complementing existing funding streams for security and counter-terrorism activities.

The pay and conditions package achieved by the Police Negotiating Board is fully provided for in the settlement through general revenue grant and specific funding. A sum of £82 million is included in the general grant settlement, and a further £38 million is to be allocated as specific grant for special priority payments. A sum of £41 million will be available towards the costs of the community support officers who will act as the eyes and the ears of the police. The £30 million rural policing fund will continue.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I congratulate the Minister on his pronunciation of the Dyfed-Powys police authority, but not on the settlement that it received. A 3 per cent. settlement is on the table, leaving the chief constable to find an extra £5 million to maintain the status quo, which will mean a 28 per cent. increase in the community charge. People in Wales would like policing to be devolved to the Assembly. I am sure that the settlement will enhance that view.

Mr. Denham: On grant, the Welsh forces have been treated on the same basis as English forces, with the exception of the Welsh forces that have received additional funds not available to other forces to bring them up to the floor of 3 per cent. Therefore, I do not see how the hon. Gentleman can honestly say that we have treated Welsh forces unfairly. The truth is that everybody benefits from having a well-integrated police service in England and Wales—yes, with well-managed and accountable local forces, but co-operating together to fight those crimes, including gun crime, drug crime and organised crime, that persistently refuse to stay within national boundaries or police force boundaries. I believe that our constituencies in England and Wales are best served by building on the arrangements that we currently have.

I should like to run through a few more of the headline figures. The sum of £25 million is being made available to support continued police operations against

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street crime. As I have just mentioned, the £30 million for rural policing will continue. Next year, we shall target £50 million of funding directly on basic command units in high-crime areas. The bulk of the money will be available to those units that are at the forefront of local policing in high-crime areas, working with crime and disorder reduction partnerships. The money is part of the £143 million funding for crime reduction to help to combat drugs, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced on 21 January.

In the grant settlement we have once again taken account of the unique position of the Metropolitan police in carrying out national and capital city functions. A special payment of grant is made every year in addition to that provided through the funding formula. The grant has increased from £197 million this year to £202 million next year.

I have already talked about the support available for counter terrorism, for community support officers and for the C3i communications system.

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