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Mr. Heath: No, the Minister will give the answer in her winding-up speech. Unless we have that capital allocation and it is sufficient for needs, there will be a cramping of the style, if I may put it that way, or, more properly, a reduction in the investment, which is needed to make the police service more efficient.
There will not be a reduction in police numbers because of, first, how chief constables set their priorities, and secondly, the crime fighting fund. However, if we are not careful, police will be put back into jobs that have been civilianised, which is not in the interests of the service. If there is static capital, there will not be the investment in IT that will reduce paperwork to allow police officers on to the streets. There will not be the new police stations that we need or the custody suites, for which I have argued for some time. There will not be what people want in terms of greater visibility in the rural areas and a higher police presence in our cities.
Furthermore, there will not be innovative schemes such as prolific offender schemes, which have enormous potential but need investment as they are not cheap options, to reduce the worst offending rates in the country. There will not be better drug interdiction, and we shall not continue to bear down on burglaries and car crime. There will not be the extra investment that I want in dealing with domestic violence. There will not be an adequate response to organised crime in the time that it will take to get the Serious Organised Crime Agency up and running and, I hope, doing that job more effectively.
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That is what people expect from the police service. In our debates over recent months, I have come to believe that the Minister shares a lot of my aspirations for the police service and that we want to achieve some of the same ends. This funding proposal is not adequate to that task, but it is not wholly inadequate either.
We have traded crime statistics, but that turns off the general public no end. They do not want to know that someone says that a certain figure is 23 per cent. while someone else says it is 27 per cent. The individual is either 100 per cent. mugged or 0 per cent. mugged, 100 per cent. burgled or 0 per cent. burgled, and 100 per cent. afraid to go out on to the streets at night or 0 per cent. afraid. That is what matters to peoplewhether they see the police officers on their streets, able and equipped to do the job, and effective in doing that job. That is what we should be achieving through this settlement.
One sad thing about the system is that we have only the bald statement of the police grant report, which does not tell us the whole picture. It would be far more useful if that report covered not only the grant given to police authorities, but some of the things that the Minister talked about, such as use of central Home Office funding in support of the fight against crime and the different aspects of capital funding in explicit terms, so that we know what the Government are doing in the round to fight crime. That would make for a much more effective and much more valuable report, which the House could properly debate.
Although we all have our queries about our own police forces, we also want to know that Terrorism Inc. is being effectively addressed, that communications are being addressed and that British Transport police, which has been mentioned and is one of my hobby horses, has the funds to do its job. If we had all that, we would have a more effective debate and a better idea of exactly what the Home Office is trying to achieve with the considerable funds at its disposal.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I want to reiterate the comments of my west midlands colleagues, including the Opposition spokesman, on the grant given to West Midlands police. Historically, West Midlands police considered themselves underfunded, and there was considerable concern about the potential level of funding in this round of settlements. The outcome was more than satisfactory, and West Midlands police were very appreciative of the recognition given to the historical problems and the funding to address them. The Minister took representations from me and other west midlands MPs, listened to them, and delivered on them.
There are still concerns about the implementation of the formula. We have quarrels not with the formula as such, but with the speed at which it is reached. The application of the floors and ceilings principle still means that we receive less, shall we say, than our potential funding. I recognise, however, that the increase given to West Midlands police is considerable, that it will help, and that it has been done at the same time as the Minister has managed to achieve growth funding for all other police forces in the country. She deserves commendation on that. On the drive for efficiency in the police force, I am pleased to say that
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West Midlands police have more than delivered on the previous year's efficiency targets, and have plans to ensure that they conform to the Government's revised efficiency targets.
An interesting difference in philosophy of approach is emerging. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) commented that he felt that funding should be a block grant to the local police authoritythose were more or less the words that he usedand that we should not micro-manage local police forces. To some extent, I agree with him, but a balance must be struck between providing funding to meet the aspirations of local people and micro-management issues.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), who is unfortunately not in his place, complained that policemen were no longer using police notebooks, and that they were looking at e-mails instead. I am sure that the police notebook has a long and honourable tradition in crime fighting in all areas of the country, but I do not see that as a result of any element of micro-management by the Home Office. Obviously, it is a by-product of the changing ways in which local police authorities manage their business. The figures for the west midlands show an increase in the average time that police officers now spend out in the community rather than in their offices dealing with paperwork.
In terms of perception of crime, the big issue is antisocial behaviour and what we might consider low-level crime. That is uppermost in most people's minds. The partnership approach of the community, local authority and local police is essential in dealing with that. I do not see how that developing approach and change of culture squares with the comments made by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield about giving a block grant to the police authority and having no specific grant to realise the particular aspirations of people in local communities.
As I said, there has been a debate about figures in relation to crime and police. I agree with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)I think that I have both the name of his constituency and the pronunciation correct, as I am a fellow west country manthat the bandying around of statistics turns people off. People's experience on the ground is what matters, and I am confident that most people recognise that crime is falling, although violent crime is an issue.
On local delivery, I have received the latest figures from the Safer Sandwell partnership in my locality. I shall not go through all of those figures, but all the key indicators are down, and total crime is down. I accept that antisocial behaviour is still a huge issue in my constituency, but the number of police officers and community support officers in the area has increased, and that is recognised. The crime fighting fund has been a valued part of Home Office funding and is much appreciated by local police forces and the people it serves.
I also welcome the money allocated to expand the role of community support officers, who are playing an essential part in changing people's perception of crime and in giving them confidence to deal with it. I
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understand from my local police force, who were initially sceptical of the role of community support officers, that they are now totally convinced about their role in the local community. They say that they provide valuable local intelligence, which aids police officers; a visible presence, which reassures the law-abiding citizens in the area and deters those who are not law-abiding; and that they are working well with the police, local communities and the local authority to provide support for local citizens in their battle against antisocial behaviour.
On the Home Office's Together programme, Sandwell is one of the pilot local authorities, and two of my local residents, Carol Sutton and Evelyn Lissemore, recently received a Home office award for their work in combating antisocial behaviour in the community. I have visited Carol Sutton, and had a meeting with her, the police and the local authority antisocial behaviour unit. From that discussion, I have identified a range of issues that need to be taken forward by the Home Office in helping our fight against antisocial behaviour.
A couple of things above all have arisen from the project. First, it has given local people the confidence to take on those who are destroying the quality of life of others in their neighbourhood. Secondly, people see that if they take action, it will get support and be publicly recognised. I commend the Home Office on pursuing that approach, and I hope that, as those projects produce results, further funding will be provided. Above all, by involving local representatives, information is obtained that I and others can feed into the Home Office to ensure that antisocial behaviour legislation and funding priorities are more specific and better geared to delivering the outcomes that we want.
Let me end by saying first, that we are grateful for the extra funds, and secondly, that in the Sandwell area and in the west midlands we recognise the value of partnership working and the specific grants and funding streams that make it possible. We are confident that although there is still a huge job to be done, the Government are moving in the right direction, and we will build on the progress that we have made today.
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