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Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): The hon. Lady will not be surprised to hear that as a Surrey Member I am not enthusiastic about Surrey's proportion of the grant. As the motion will almost certainly be agreed by the House tonight, will she agree to meet me and a few of my colleagues from Surrey to discuss some peripheral issues along the lines of her opening words?
Ms Blears: If the hon. Gentleman would like to discuss effectiveness, efficiency and how we can work with the police to help them provide an excellent service to his constituents, I am more than happy to meet him and a delegation. I have met several delegations and I am always keen to hear ideas from the front line about how we can be more effective.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): My hon. Friend spoke about investment and reform. Nottinghamshire police have had record investment. We have a record number of police officers and the force is changing and performing better. Having visited the area, however, she knows that there are still concerns about the formula for funding police authorities. Will she give a commitment to examine that in the future?
My hon. Friend has been a champion of police services in his constituency. I have visited the area on a number of occasions and I have seen the dedicated work carried out by officers there. Since their engagement with the police standards unit, their performance has improved dramatically. I commend the police force for that. My hon. Friend knows that we are considering the formula for future years. That review is taking place together with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, and we will take
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account of the need of all forces for sufficient resources. I commend the recent work of the police service in Nottingham, which is making a significant difference for local people.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): We have a fine force in North Yorkshire, which is well led and delivers a good service. Over the past two years there has been a 93 per cent. increase in the precept, which has had a devastating effect on many of my constituents. I now find that some £25 million is currently held in balances, and that 60 per cent. of the capital that the Government have provided for the past three years has not been spent. What steps will the hon. Lady take to ensure that the money allocated by the Government and by council tax payers is effectively spent, not dumped into balances?
Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. From the comments that I am about to make, he will see that efficiency savings and an efficiency drive are important this year to ensure a balance between the record amount of central Government investment and the amount raised from local people. We will look at efficiency and the use of balances as well. That combination means that local authorities should be able to provide an excellent standard of policing to their communities without excessive council tax rises.
Government investment over the past five years has increased by 39 per cent., or more than £3 billion, so significant investment is taking place. Crime has fallen by 30 per cent. since 1997. In the past year, according to the British crime surveythe most authoritative survey that has been conducted under parties of all persuasionscrime is down by another 11 per cent. We are pleased that the investment is producing results. The risk of being a victim of crime is the lowest it has been for 25 years, and fear of crime is also coming down, which I am particularly pleased about.
We have record numbers of police officers140,000 in August last yearand of police staff. There were about 4,500 community support officers out on patrol at the end of December, an increase of 400 since September, so we are making excellent progress there. We are making progress on tackling bureaucracy, an issue that concerns all hon. Members. We are trying to get more of our officers out on the front line by using video identification, the Livescan units and our work force modernisation projects. In our recent White Paper, "Building Communities, Beating Crime", we set out an ambitious programme of change. The introduction of widespread neighbourhood and community-based policing will help build trust and confidence in local areas, because there will be much more direct contact with the police service.
The police funding settlement for 200506 will support the priorities that we set out in the national policing plan, which range from tackling terrorism all the way through to dealing with antisocial behaviour and the acts that make people's lives a misery in local neighbourhoods. We have a particular drive to increase the rate of sanction detections, which had gone down in recent years but is, I am happy to say, improving across the board.
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The settlement is considerably better than the police service anticipated. When representatives of Cheshire police authority came to see me recently, they acknowledged that they were about £1 million better off than they had expected under the assumptions that they had made. They still did not think the sum was quite enough and they made some important points to me, but they recognised that it was a much better settlement. The Association of Police Authorities had anticipated a 3 per cent. increase in grant and a possible 3 per cent. precept uplift. We have managed to do significantly better than that.
We are providing grant to support overall police spending of £11.8 billion. That is an overall increase this year of almost £750 million, or 6.7 per cent. That is a significant settlement, and one of the best in recent years. Central Government revenue grant funding will increase by 5.1 per cent.that is, 4.8 per cent. in the total revenue grant and 0.3 per cent. in specific grants. There is increased funding for important central support services including IT, extending the DNA database, looking at the Bichard recommendations, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. That brings the total increase, as I said, to 6.7 per cent.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Among all the special payments that the Minister just mentioned, is any funding allowed for the new unit to combat animal rights terrorism, a crucial issue in my constituency? I welcome the tougher line that the Government have taken on animal rights terrorism. Now that we have a national unit, it needs funding to carry out the intelligence work necessary to combat the evil people behind those acts.
Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman is right that that work is important. The amendments that we have tabled to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill indicate the importance that the Government attach to such work. The funding for the Serious Organised Crime Agency will consist of the existing funding from the agencies that have been brought together, and increased funding of some £24 million to tackle the priorities that have been outlined. I do not have the detail of the exact sum that we will be able to allocate to that important area of work, but I can let him have that as the situation develops. We recognise that an increased focus is needed in order to protect our very important industry and the individuals whose lives have, in some cases, been destroyed by these people's actions. He makes an important point.
The police grant report deals with Home Office general police grant for revenue expenditure. That is £4,574 million in 200506. In addition to that, police authorities will receive £3,043 million of revenue support grant as local authorities. In Wales they will get £14 million of special Home Office grant. There is no floor as there are only four police authorities in Wales, so we have put extra money in to help Wales. The total sum represents an overall increase of 4.8 per cent.
In addition, we are providing £766 million for specific initiatives and £358 million for capital programmes. There is a 13 per cent. increase in capital support for the police, which I hope will be welcomed. Hon. Members will be aware that we spend a massive amount on our
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national drugs strategy. Although that is not included in this settlement, £1.5 billion will be spent next year to tackle the scourge of drugs in our communities.
Ms Blears: The rural policing fund has been in place for three years. It is £30 million again this year. That is a flat rate. There is no inflation increase for the rural policing grant because we consider it fairer to put the inflation increase into the general grant, but the £30 million is to be divided among the local authorities, which find it extremely useful in trying to improve policing services to their more sparsely populated areas.
In 200405, we took the wholly exceptional decision to provide a broadly standard flat rate increase of 3.25 per cent. to all police authorities in England and Wales. Since then, I have been pressed by many forces to see whether we can move to a more accurate reflection of the funding formula, and I am pleased to say that in this settlement we are able to move some way towards more accurately reflecting the policing needs that the formula has identified.
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