Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5 Feb 2003 : Column 325—continued

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by suggesting how he could give comfort to constituents who face a whopping great rise. He should just tell them that they are lucky they do not live in Surrey where we are facing a 46 per cent. increase.

Mr. Heath: This is like an auction to see who can come up with the biggest, most extraordinary and ridiculous council tax increase.

That clearly illustrates the problem with the settlement. It prefaces increased police resources in general and is better than the worst that could have been provided, but it suggests huge increases in council tax for very little benefit for large swathes of our population. It is lacking in transparency, fairness and real improvements and it is increasing costs. An awful lot of people will be paying a great deal more for not a lot.

3.25 pm

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey): I can appreciate Ministers' temptation to turn off their hearing aids when they hear the equivalent of special pleas for particular organisations or authorities, but I have two to make in respect of West Yorkshire police authority and the West Yorkshire police force. The first relates to the huge and continuing additional costs incurred by West Yorkshire police authority as a result of the disturbances in Bradford 18 months ago. I fully recognise that my right hon. Friend has already assisted with a special grant of £2.2 million, which was very welcome, but I hope that he will not regard me as too churlish in coming back once again, in Oliver Twist fashion, for some more.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the overall costs of policing the disturbances, but I will remind him of them nevertheless. Policing the incidents themselves and the immediate aftermath cost £3.4 million. The costs of policing the investigation, public reassurance and contingency arrangements for possible recurrences have also been substantial. They have been estimated at £4.3 million up to August 2002, and they continue to rise at a cost of around £246,000 a month.

In addition, the police authority faces damage claims of about £7.5 million. I appreciate that the figure may reduce as a result of the usual legal and cost adjusting processes, but it still represents quite a drain on the authority. In that respect, although the £2.2 million special grant was welcome, I urge my right hon. Friend to give active and enthusiastic consideration to the case that has been put forward by West Yorkshire.

I can accept, as can the West Yorkshire police authority, that budgeting for services such as the police, where the unexpected can and frequently does happen, requires contingency funding. It is not the Government's automatic role to ride in over the horizon with bags of money to bail out authorities that have not been prudent in budgeting for such contingencies. However, the costs to which I have referred associated with the Bradford disturbances could not reasonably have been met by even the most prudent of authorities.

5 Feb 2003 : Column 326

In tribute to my right hon. Friend, he has already recognised that to a degree, because £2.2 million was a significant contribution. It was not a sum that the Government were obliged to pay, but it was based on good government. He saw that there was a problem and intervened to do something about it. But that problem continues. The financial cost of the disturbances has not been contained in the period immediately following them. As I say, they are continuing.

In West Yorkshire we are certainly not blind to all the extra funding going into the police nationally and in the county itself. We have benefited from crime-fighting moneys. This year we will receive a budget increase of 4.9 per cent., which is well above the rate of inflation. Basic command units in West Yorkshire are to receive £3.2 million, and the two divisions that serve my constituency will receive a share of about £374,000. West Yorkshire will receive £1.8 million as part of the street crime initiative; previous sums given under that initiative have helped to halve the amount of such crime since March. The force is also being funded to the tune of 60 community support officers.

I should also like to acknowledge the grants that West Yorkshire has recently received, such as the £550,000 that was made available to the Leeds distraction burglary project, which targets the villains and conmen who callously prey on the older members of our community. We have received funding for CCTV. My constituents in Horsforth are benefiting from that, and hopefully the technology can be rolled out to other communities. That is welcome additional money in the battle against crime, and it demonstrates the Government's commitment.

As I said, however, there is a dark lining to the silver cloud in West Yorkshire. The funding must be viewed not only against the backdrop of the pressures caused by the Bradford disturbances but against the historical funding position in the county. I have to say that unlike many other forces West Yorkshire is not enjoying a record number of officers, far from it. The authority's projected figure for the end of March is 5,080 officers, which is more than 150 below the number on the establishment in March 1997. Before Conservative Members welcome that admission, I should say that according to the police authority, the short explanation is that, first, in budgeting terms, the peak 1997 figure was not sustainable. Secondly, and here I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), the Government took the ill-advised course of keeping to Conservative spending plans for two years.

This year, the West Yorkshire force will recruit about 420 new officers. However, that will not represent a net increase because the figure will have to be offset against the natural wastage that occurs in so many different ways. We will still be left perilously short of the number of officers that we had in 1997. Again echoing the hon. Gentleman's remarks, as well as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), I point out that new officers recruited at that level may represent a net loss to the force because trained, experienced officers are tied up accompanying them and are thereby diverted from the front-line presence.

5 Feb 2003 : Column 327

Two other statistics bear mention. The first is that West Yorkshire receives below average funding in metropolitan terms. The average figure for metropolitan forces is £156 per resident; in West Yorkshire the figure is £146 per resident. The force has fewer officers per head of population than any other metropolitan force. The metropolitan average is one officer per 363 people; in West Yorkshire we have one officer for every 425 people. That is quite a disparity.

In a nutshell, I urge my right hon. Friend to recognise further West Yorkshire's position as regards the continuing costs of the Bradford disturbances and to view that position in the wider context that I have briefly described. It is important that the number of officers continues to grow and that resources are not diverted or distracted from front-line policing throughout West Yorkshire, including my constituency, by the continuing financial black hole created by the Bradford disturbances.

My right hon. Friend will know that the police authority has a relatively new chairman, Melvyn Smith, and a new chief constable, Colin Cramphorn. I hope that he will see fit to greet them with a golden hello. He could dig into some of the sums available to him this year, or the many sums that he has said will be available next year, to give them a cash boost and make their job a little easier, because they face great challenges in their new jobs. I know that my right hon. Friend will do his best on that score.

3.33 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): This police settlement is grossly unfair, unaffordable and unacceptable to the people of Dorset. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), who is no longer in his place, told the Minister, in his very mild manner, that he found the settlement unacceptable and would abstain in a vote, and I commend him for that principled stand. I wish that he would go further and vote against the Government because that is the only language that they understand. Surely the Minister realises that when one of his colleagues, who won his seat at the last general election, is absolutely dismayed by the way in which his constituents, and my constituents, have been treated by what is supposedly his own Government, it is time to take note. Indeed, when Dorset Members of Parliament complained bitterly to the Deputy Prime Minister's representative about the injustice of the new system, the hon. Member for South Dorset asked how any of the authorities in Dorset could be blamed when they were commended on their efficiency. Despite that, increases of 19.6 per cent. for the police and 16 per cent. for the county council have been set. The hon. Gentleman said that he would have to blame the Government for imposing that burden on the people of Dorset.

People in Dorset are fed up to the back teeth. The outrage is not synthetic because a high proportion of the population is on fixed incomes. Unlike us, they do not enjoy the luxury of annual increases. They have to put up with small increases in their pensions. The Minister, in a rather cavalier fashion, said that a 20 per cent.

5 Feb 2003 : Column 328

increase in the police precept in Hampshire, where his constituency is based, was perfectly affordable. How can it be affordable? He explained that it was only £9 a head.

Mr. Denham: I am sure that the record will show that I made no comments on the Hampshire precept or what it would cost.

Next Section

IndexHome Page