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The Minister for Local and Regional Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): Fantasy police.

Ms Blears: Indeed, as my right hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, they are fantasy police, because the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield also said that his party would cut taxes. Our most popular poster has been one of the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition doing some sums, in which two and two equals five. That is probably how the Conservatives' sums will add up.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: I am extremely sorry that the Minister found my contribution intemperate. I do not think that it was intemperate at all. At no point in my speech did I mention cutting the amount of money spent on the police, as she has just alleged. We have set out absolutely clearly in a document from the shadow Chief Secretary—which I will send to her if she wants to see it—how expenditure on asylum, which was £200 million when we left office, has increased to more than £2 billion spent and wasted by this Government, and how we will increase expenditure on police. What aspect does she not understand?

Ms Blears: We have just had some evidence of the intemperate nature of the hon. Gentleman's contribution. He doth protest too much, methinks. He referred to funding being transparent under his party, which is certainly true: as a result of the shadow Chancellor's promised budget cuts, it will be so thin that we will all be able to see through it, as we will be able to see through the empty promises that his party has been making. We look forward to transparent funding—it will be sheer, and we will all be able to see exactly what it means.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield also raised a couple of technical issues, with which I am happy to deal. He asked whether there was funding for the Bichard recommendations. I can confirm that there is £65 million of central provision. We will see all those recommendations through and make sure that our police force have access to central intelligence so that they can be more effective in future. On the issue of reserves in relation to pensions across forces, there is about £290 million in money set aside and reserves for pensions. In our budget strategy, we expect not just record increases and low precepts but efficiency savings, including consideration of reserves, to be part of that picture. I hope that authorities will do that.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to Hampshire refusing to take its community support officers. I suggested ever so gently that we might give its allocation to forces who wanted to take the excess, and I had lots of bidders, certainly among Labour Members. I am delighted that Hampshire has now decided to take up its
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full allocation of community support officers, and I have no doubt that they will do excellent work in that community.

I simply did not recognise the picture that the hon. Gentleman painted in his final comments. He talked about low morale in the police force. I do not know how often he goes out and visits forces, but I do it nearly every week. Tomorrow I am visiting the north Liverpool division, which has done a fantastic job in reducing crime. Sickness figures are often a good indication of morale in an organisation. In his local force in the west midlands, sickness days lost have decreased by 23.9 per cent. per officer and by nearly 20 per cent. per police staff, in the past year. If that is not an organisation with high morale, which has the best police funding settlement that it has ever had and which is reducing crime and effective on the ground, I do not know what is.

The hon. Gentleman quoted a poem from a Merseyside officer. When I was last in Merseyside, however, I met the chief superintendent in Skelmersdale—a pretty tough policing area—and he said to me that he had never been more motivated in his life. When he turns up at an incident now, he has a range of powers to tackle antisocial behaviour that he never had before. He never now has to say to local people, "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do," and walk away. He felt more motivated than ever before in his police career. The hon. Gentleman needs to get out more and look at what the police service is doing on the ground.

This is an excellent settlement for the police, welcomed throughout the House. I am sure there is much more that we need to do to improve policing, but it is this Government who have put their money where their mouth is, and are really helping the police force to do an excellent job—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motions, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question agreed to.


Madam Deputy Speaker then put the remaining Question required to be put at that hour.



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Local Government Finance

4.50 pm

The Minister for Local and Regional Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford ): I beg to move,

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following motion:

Mr. Raynsford: I am pleased to be able to tell the House that I am confirming in its essentials the grant settlement that I proposed for all local authorities on 2 December. The increase in formula grant for 2005–06 is £2.6 billion, or 5.6 per cent. All councils will receive a formula grant increase at least in line with inflation. On top of that, councils will receive increases in specific grants. That takes the total increase in grant to £3.6 billion, or 6.3 per cent. The Local Government Association has welcomed the earlier announcement of specific grants this year, which has been of assistance in total budget planning for local authorities.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): The Minister just said, as he says every year, that every local authority would receive a real-terms increase in formula grant. Will he confirm, however, that when we look at the total grant received by local authorities, we see that not all authorities have received real-terms increases? Indeed, a considerable number have received real-terms decreases.

Mr. Raynsford: No, I will not confirm that. The hon. Gentleman will know from the system that the specific and special grants come on top of the formula grant. If every authority has an increase in formula grant at least matching inflation, any additional grant will be a benefit ahead of inflation. This is pretty rich, coming from the hon. Gentleman. When his party was in government, year after year local authorities faced real-terms cuts in their grants—a point that the Prime Minister made quite forcefully in response to the hon. Gentleman during Prime Minister's Questions earlier today. He ought to recognise the real change that there has been: local authorities have received real-terms increases in grant in all parts of the country.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way so early in his speech. His Government are, however, considerably less generous to the borough of Bromley, where the Department for Education and Skills has made a mistake to the tune of 30 per cent. of the additional formula grant. The Department for Education and Skills and, I think, the Minister's Department have told Bromley that it will receive the money only if an amending report is issued for 2005–06.
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I understand that it is rare for such reports to be issued, but if one if not issued the borough will not get the 30 per cent. Will the right hon. Gentleman be generous enough to commit himself, here and now, to publishing an amending report, or else give Bromley the 30 per cent. today?

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Lady makes a fair point. From time to time problems do occur in the highly complex process of local government settlements. This problem was drawn to my attention fairly recently, but when similar problems have been identified in the past I have agreed to amending reports. Indeed, this year we have made an amending report in respect of a number of mistakes in the census calculation for a number of authorities.

I need to understand the figures better. As I said, I have not had a chance to look at the details because the matter has only just been drawn to my attention. We have a de minimis rule that is obviously necessary for good administration, but if the figures show a significant difference that affects the authority adversely, I shall be more than happy to put it right with an amending report.

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