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Judy Mallaber: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that it is somehow wrong for the Government to respond to representations and thus come up with a generous settlement after taking account of all considerations put before them?
Mr. Mitchell: What was wrong was the extensive game of cat and mouse that was played with the people who implement decisions on the ground. I shall later address a way in which we can help the Government to ensure that that does not happen in the future.
I can tell the House that the Conservative party, when re-elected, will make local funding more sustainable by ending the current system of annual grants and moving to a system of three-year budgets. That would enable the police to make their strategic planning and implementation more effective, and end the unsatisfactory routine of short-term initiatives that last only a year or two before their funding dries up.
Mr. Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman is not listening to what I am saying. Three-year budgets would make it much easier for those with the difficult job of implementing such measures to work out how to fund police work locally.
I want to ask the Minister several detailed questions. She helpfully said something about pensions and mentioned the expected 12 per cent. increase to the cost of pensions this year. The money that has so far been made available to address the situation has not been anything of that order, so the House is entitled to a commitment in her winding-up speech that she will keep the matter closely under review. What will happen about
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the considerable costs not funded by the settlement that are associated with IT and technological developments, including the important yet unfunded recommendations of the Bichard report and the costs associated with the Government's deluge of Home Office legislation?
We should consider not only inputs, but outputs, because it is clear that the Government's record on that is truly appalling. The Minister frequently cites the British crime survey, but she knows perfectly well that it does not include one of the fastest growing areas of crime, which is crime against children. It excludes specifically the most serious crimes and the survey embraces only 40,000 people. The fact that it is a flawed way of identifying trends in crime was why the leader of her party, when he was shadow Home Secretary, persistently rejected it and said that he preferred to deal with recorded crime figures. I agree with the leader of the Minister's party and disagree with her.
The sad facts are these. Violent crime in Britain has virtually doubled under the Government and, for the first time ever, the number of such crimes has risen to more than 1 million. There is a specific worry that youth crime is out of control, with a massive growth of 63 per cent. in persistent young offenders appearing before our courts. Meanwhile, detection rates have slumped. Detection rates for burglary have practically halved under the Government. For the record, before the Minister asks, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the leader of the Conservative party was Home Secretary, recorded crime fell by the largest amount since records began, but under the Labour Government, recorded crimes are up by 800,000. These are extremely serious matters, so we must examine outputs to discover how the Government's policies on law and order are proceeding.
What is the Minister's estimate of the time and cost that will be incurred policing the Government's legislation to allow 24-hour licensing? Stephen Green, the chief constable of Nottinghamshire police and ACPO's spokesman on alcohol-fuelled violence, has warned specifically that policing the new measure will
What will the Minister do to help Lincolnshire police, which faces a £4 million shortfall in meeting its requirements, although the Government have presided over a doubling in violent crime since 1997? Following the intervention made by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), will she say a little more about Gloucestershire police, which is extremely worried that it will face a shortfall of £1.1 million merely by maintaining front-line services? What can she do to assist Gloucestershire police? The excellent chief constable of the force, Tim Brain, described her settlement as "an undoubted disappointment".
What comfort was the Minister able to give to my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) and for Congleton (Ann Winterton), other Cheshire Members and the chief constable of Cheshire police when they warned her that as a result of the Government's settlement, the people of Cheshire face a significant hike in their council tax or a
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reduction in front-line policingor both? They face the prospect that uniformed officers will have to fill up to 50 civilian posts. Such direct worrieshon. Members of all parties could give further examplesshow the way in which the settlement rubs uneasily against local circumstances. I will be grateful if the Minister comments specifically on those two points.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the very serious challenges faced by the police in Cheshire. The tension arises between the exhortation, whether directly by the Minister or by others, to seek the flexibility to put up the council tax precept, over which they will have no control, versus the obligations put on the police and the expectations that the Government have raised in the population of Cheshire regarding police resources. Does my hon. Friend agree that in fairness the Government should fund that instead of asking councils, yet again, to raise taxes?
I turn to the way in which the Government make this money available to local forces. Significant sums arrive ring-fenced for particular schemes that are dictated by the Home Office, not by local circumstances and needs. The Minister mentioned many of them. We are told that £277 million will be available through the crime fighting fund. There will be nearly £61 million for the Metropolitan police and £35 million for other forces for counter-terrorism; £50 million for basic command unit funds; £210 million for the safer and stronger communities fund, which is clearly a breach of trades description legislation, since virtually no communities are safer or stronger under this Government; £69 million for the special priority payments fund; and £6.5 million for phone theft and other robberies. Two grants are ring-fenced for community support officers: £49.5 million for continuing support of CSOs recruited in the first three rounds and £50 million for additional CSOs in a new neighbourhood policing fund. If one assumes an approximate cost of £50,000 per officer, that money alone could have made available an extra 2,000 policemen and women.
I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that in Hampshire, the police authority decided by a majority of two to one to reject ring-fenced funding from the Home Office for CSOs. Its chairman, Simon Hayes, said:
"Central funding to pump prime new initiatives and priorities can be effective. However, the growth in funding now held centrally by the Government is reaching a level where local discretionand the ability of Police Authorities to invest in local initiatives to meet the needs of local communitiesis being threatened."
The next Conservative Government will scrap all this micro-management in favour of a much more honest and straightforward approach. Money from central Government will come in a block grant. The days of ring-fenced funds will come to an end. Central
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Government will no longer hold local policing to ransom by keeping control of the purse-strings in this way. We will not force police forces to choose between the latest gimmick handed down from Whitehall or increasing the number of bobbies on the beat. The funding settlement will be transparent and the funding formula will be simpler. Under the Conservatives, there will be no more fiddled funding for the pet projects of politicians in Whitehall.
Along with micro-managing funding comes this Labour Government's obsession with micro-managing how policing takes place around the country. No wonder police morale, described by the Home Secretary when he was last a junior Minister in the Home Office as being defined by the number of people leaving the service, has fallen sharply. The Government have been somewhat evasive about the number of police officers resigning from police forces, but we know that the number of resignations more than doubled between 1997 and 2002. In 1997, there were 774 resignations. In 2002, there were 1,634an increase of 112 per cent. Needless to say, since then the Home Office has stopped recording the number of resignations in its reports on police service strength. In October, when the shadow Home Secretary tabled a parliamentary question to identify how many resignations had taken place, the Minister advised that those figures were no longer kept.
Police morale is low because local policing is fettered by this Government's obsession with micro-management, targets, bureaucracy and top-down management. It is low because of the state of the criminal justice system, whereby even if more villains were arrested, courts in many parts of the country, including London, would not have the capacity to process them; and even if they did, the prisons are bulging at the seams. Even if the police solve a crime, the courts convict, and the prisons accommodate, 90,000 criminals have been let out of prison under the home detention curfew scheme. What thanks and encouragement does that offer to our policemen and women?
A good illustration of morale in the police today can be deduced from a poem written last year for the Christmas edition of the Police Federation magazine, which is no doubt required reading for the Minister as well as for me. It was penned by a constable who has worked on the streets of Merseyside for 18 years, and it sums up how our police feel let down by this Government. If I may, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to quote a few lines:
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