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Police (Greater Manchester)

3.30 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a subject that is of great significance and concern to my constituents. I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), in her place. I understand that the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), cannot take part as she is a Member for a Greater Manchester constituency.

It is one of the ironies for the Greater Manchester police that the preponderance of local MPs who have held ministerial office in the Home Department apparently does not help us in communicating the realities of the policing situation in Greater Manchester to the Government. Until recently, we had the right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes). We now have the hon. Member for Salford and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), and until recently the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary. When the chips are down, Ministers appear determined to ignore the real problems that we face in Manchester.

I realise, of course, that Greater Manchester's problems are not unique. Yesterday, the chief constable of Nottinghamshire, Steve Green, was reportedly blaming the Home Office's culture of targets and form-filling for his force's inability to keep up with serious crime. He told the Daily Mail that he could not simply switch more police to murder investigations because if he cut the number of officers doing clerical work he would lose money from the Home Office's crime fighting fund.

Incidentally, I note from the Bassetlaw Crusader, a newspaper that I read every week, that Mr. Jonathan Shepherd, our excellent parliamentary candidate in Bassetlaw, has highlighted the 740 additional police officers that a Conservative Government would put in place in Nottinghamshire.

Closer to home, Peter Aaronson, one of my local superintendents, spoke last week about a "frightening" rise in the number of guns on the streets of south Manchester. After 16 shootings during the course of one month, he was quoted in the Manchester Evening News as saying,

Yesterday, in response to the chief constable of Nottinghamshire, the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety said that the Government are committed to reducing red tape for the police. She stated:

I am sure that the Under-Secretary will offer similar statistics today.

My purpose today is to try to persuade Ministers to confront the yawning chasm that is opening up between their words and the daily experience of those who have
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to make our police services work. Indeed, a few weeks ago the Greater Manchester police authority wrote to the Home Secretary saying:

The letter set out some of the major reasons for that difficulty.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Is it not the case that, as a result of the Government's—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton): Order. I am afraid that an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman is not allowed to intervene in an Adjournment debate. Such debates are a private matter between the Back-Bench Member and the Minister. I have to rule the hon. Gentleman out of order: he cannot intervene.

Mr. Brady : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry that I cannot give way to my hon. Friend. I am sure that his intervention would have been excellent.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman could have intervened from the Back Bench, but he cannot do so from the Front Bench.

Mr. Brady : That is extremely helpful to all hon. Members. [Interruption.]

Mr. Mitchell : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Brady : I am delighted to give way.

Mr. Mitchell : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Is not the burden of the point that he is making on behalf of his constituents that, intended or not, as a result of the Government's policies his force may have to reduce front-line policing? By contrast, following the election manifesto commitment to an increase of 40,000 police officers across the country over eight years, the Conservative party is committed to ensuring that that force has at least 2,200 more police.

Mr. Brady : My hon. Friend demonstrates huge versatility in making that absolutely core point. The experience of my constituents under the Labour Government is that front-line policing may be cut, whereas they know that it would be increased considerably across Greater Manchester under a Conservative Government. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point so clearly.

As the police authority has pointed out, the major reasons for its funding shortfall are increases in the costs of employment, the fact that Greater Manchester is hit harder than most other forces by increased pension costs, increases in the costs that it has to bear for private finance initiative projects that now have to be funded by the force, and a variety of other exceptional factors. The police authority's concern was repeated by the chief constable, Mike Todd, who stated in the Manchester Evening News on 18 February:

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He concluded by stating:

That was the chief constable making the point in his own words.

The Manchester Evening News rightly picked up on the issue in its editorial and clearly made the point that the present Government's election pledges were being called into question by the local policing situation. As it happened, the editorial was adjacent to an article by Andrew Grimes with the excellent headline, "Is it time to put Tony out to grass?" I am sure that it made interesting reading, and it was an appropriate juxtaposition in the context of broken election pledges.

Mr. Todd warned that Greater Manchester police may have to make redundancies for the first time in their 30-year history. In response to comments from Home Office Ministers, he said that it would be naive to imagine that redundancies in support staff would not impact on front-line policing.

On 19 February, the Manchester Evening News reported that the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety had said that she expected Mr. Todd to get on with the job and put more bobbies on the beat. That is all very well. We would be delighted to have the chief constable get on with the job, and we all want more bobbies on the beat, and I am sure that the chief constable wants that as well, but he cannot do those things, given the resources and the situation that he is faced with as a result of Government policies and what the Home Office is doing.

My constituents, who worry about crime and particularly the frightening levels of violent crime and gun use, are faced with a war of words between the chief constable and the Minister with responsibility for policing. The Minister says that everything is fine. The chief constable says that the force faces cuts in front-line policing. I mean no offence when I say that I am more inclined to believe the man who is charged with delivering policing in Greater Manchester, and I think that the people of Greater Manchester know who to believe as well.

The evidence is already mounting. Greater Manchester police recruitment, which was previously 100 officers a month, was cut to 30 officers a month, and there is a complete freeze on recruitment this month. The cuts in the Centrex training budget have forced Greater Manchester police to take on more of the cost of training their own officers. I welcome community support officers as long as they are an additional resource and are not used to replace fully trained front-line police officers, but the community support officers already in place are now being funded from the Greater Manchester police budget, not directly from the Home Office. The Home Office wants more community support officers, but long-term funding will come from existing budgets, which will put yet more pressure on the budget for fully trained police officers.

Far from reducing the red tape, the new stop-and-search requirements and the changes to the national recording of crime are increasing the burden of form-
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filling and bureaucracy. Even with cuts in recruitment, a £500,000 cut in street crime overtime and the withdrawal of funding for local crime-fighting initiatives, GMP still face a significant shortfall. That comes at a time when there are unparalleled challenges in dealing with violent crime and when Greater Manchester police have a regional and national role in fighting terrorism.

The Minister knows that the Opposition understand the importance of policing. That is why the Conservative party has pledged to recruit 40,000 more police officers, more than 2,200 of whom would be in Greater Manchester. That has been taken up by my Conservative colleagues who, after a resounding victory in June—on which I know the Minister will want to congratulate them—are running Trafford metropolitan borough council. The council will hold its own debate on the crisis of police resources in Greater Manchester and I am sure that, as a result, it will want to press Ministers to resolve matters in a way that avoids cuts in front-line policing in Greater Manchester. My colleagues, Councillor Alex Williams and Councillor Stephen Ogden, are playing a significant role in that, as is Mr. Damian Hinds, who is the prospective parliamentary candidate for Stretford and Urmston.

The Minister, in her reply, must accept that it is not good enough just to tell my constituents and Greater Manchester police that they have never had it so good. We constantly hear statistics, whether on funding or the number of officers, and receive endless good-news press releases from the Home Office, but the reality that is being experienced on the ground—the reality that we heard about yesterday from the chief constable in Nottinghamshire and that has been expressed by my chief constable in Greater Manchester—is very different.

I hope that when the Minister replies she will accept that there is a real problem that could lead to cuts in front-line policing. Most importantly, I hope that she will set out, in clear, measurable terms, how the Home Office proposes to reduce the burdens of cost and bureaucracy and to ensure that Greater Manchester police continue to have the resources that they need to protect my constituents. We do not want to hear that everything is fine because we know that it is not. What we want to hear from her is some real reassurance that cuts in front-line policing in Greater Manchester can be stopped and that the security and safety of my constituents can be guaranteed.

3.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) on securing the debate on police resources in Manchester. I know that police resources have been the subject of much local debate over the past month. This is a useful opportunity to set the record straight and show the extent of Government support for, and investment in, local policing. The Government are committed to providing the resources that the police need to do their work effectively and to fulfil their commitments.
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Since 2000–01, expenditure on policing supported by Government grants across England and Wales has increased by 39 per cent. or £3 billion. That is not the picture that the hon. Gentleman was painting. Crime has fallen by 30 per cent. since 1997, using the British crime survey figures, which are universally accepted as the most accurate. Overall levels of crime fell by 11 per cent. in the year to September 2004. The risk of becoming a victim of crime is at its lowest since the British crime survey records began.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell : The hon. Lady said that the British crime survey is the most authoritatively accepted measure of crime. Will she accept that that simply is not the case? The survey does not include many aspects of violent crime; nor does it include murders or the fastest growing areas of crime, including juvenile crime. Surely she should look at recorded crime. Does she not agree with the leader of her party, who, when in opposition, made it clear that he was interested not in the crime survey but in actual recorded crimes?

Fiona Mactaggart : Of course we should look at recorded crime, and although we cannot get a long-term series of figures because of the changes in recorded crime, one of the things that those figures do is show where we need to make our effort in dealing with crime; one of those areas is violent crime, which is why we are focusing on it. The common experience of crime is most accurately shown by the British crime survey, which surveys victims of crime. If we are to put the victim at the heart of our criminal justice system, which is what we should be doing, we should use figures that accurately capture the experience of the victim.

I am pleased that the Opposition did not seek to divide the House on the police funding settlement for 2005–06, because it was a good one. It was, indeed, better than predicted by many, including people in Greater Manchester. Within that settlement, Greater Manchester police got £412.5 million in general grants, which is an increase on the previous year of 4.9 per cent., or £19.3 million, including an extra £800,000 from the amending report, which makes for an overall increase of 5.1 per cent.

That is substantially higher than the 3.75 per cent. funding floor increase guaranteed for all police authorities, and it is above the police pay increase of 3 per cent. and non-pay inflation of about 2.6 per cent. In addition, there is over £32 million in specific grants for targeted funding and a further £10.9 million in capital provision. Of the £32 million in specific grants, more than half is from the crime fighting fund specifically to help to maintain record police officer numbers.

The situation is significantly better for Greater Manchester police than it was during the previous year when their grant was a broadly standard rate increase in common with other police authorities. Some claim that 5.1 per cent. is insufficient, but I am confident that it is a favourable outcome for Greater Manchester police.

The budget set by the police authority of £493.9 million for 2005–06 is an increase of £25 million or 5.3 per cent. We have provided the necessary resources to enable police authorities to produce an increase in activity to sustain the increased police
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numbers that we have advanced, and to deliver the improvements in policing. We have also asked the police service to make efficient use of its resources by making value-for-money improvements of over £1 billion—about 3 per cent. per year starting in 2005–06.

The police service has a good record of achieving efficiency gains in recent years, and collaborative procurement is one of the key themes of the tripartite police efficiency strategy. I congratulate Greater Manchester police on saving over £600,000 from regional collaboration on the purchase of body armour. It is through such initiatives that further resources can be released for front-line policing efforts. Releasing officers to the front line is an important element in the police efficiency strategy, and GMP have carried out a best value review which will help to identify opportunities for such redeployment in the force.

Mr. Brady : I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and for acknowledging the excellent work that has already been done by Greater Manchester police in achieving the efficiency savings that have been asked of them; they are doing far more to that end. She is now talking about the importance of getting more police officers out on the beat and out of administrative support functions. Surely she has heard what the chief constable said: he has to do the reverse. Because he may have to make support staff redundant, police officers will be going off the beat, back into the offices, not fighting crime where they are meant to be. Has she not heard that point?

Fiona Mactaggart : I do not predict that that will happen. If we consider the number of police who are available to the chief constable, we see that GMP have sustained that number through the use of the crime fighting fund. Indeed, that was an important part of our strategy to ensure that there will be police on the street.

I can see that the hon. Gentleman is asking who should be trusted. It is a sensible question, because he has referred to his party's commitment to put 2,200 more police on the streets. I cannot yet square that with its commitment to make cuts, as that commitment would cost around £90 million a year. However, let us leave that aside and not poke holes in the Conservatives' fantasy figures; instead, let us consider the record.

Let us consider the Conservative party manifesto in 1992. It said:

I looked at the figures for police officers in that year: there were 7,061. I looked at the figures for 1993: there were 7,060. The 1,000 extra police officers that were promised turned into one fewer.

Let us take a more recent figure, as the hon. Gentleman seemed to want to do when I referred to the 1992 manifesto. Let us consider the words of his former Prime Minister, John Major, on 13 October 1995:

This was his offer to chief constables, such as the chief constable of Greater Manchester. He continued:

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Again, I looked at the figures. John Major did not stay in power for the following three years, but nevertheless the Budgets set then were operated by the Labour party—to our cost, frankly—in government. In 1995, there were 7,037 police officers; in 1996, 6,938. Did the number go up the following year, which, as I am using the March figures, was also fully under a Conservative Government? We should remember that we were promised an extra 5,000 officers over three years. In 1997, the figure was 6,922. The following year, under the Labour Government, the numbers began to creep up, and there were 6,949 officers.

Who is to be trusted? The hon. Gentleman's party has a consistent—

Mr. Brady : Will the Minister give way?

Fiona Mactaggart : I will when I have finished this sentence. The hon. Gentleman's party has a consistent record of making promises and not only not achieving them but doing the precise opposite.

Mr. Brady : I am sure that my constituents and others will be fascinated at the Minister's trip down memory lane, whether it is accurate or not. They will also recall that following 1997 police numbers have not risen inexorably, although recently there has been an increase.

Surely the crucial point is what is happening now and the mismatch between what Ministers say, what they promise and what happens in services for all our constituents. We are clearly seeing a stark difference between what the chief constable finds in operational terms and what Ministers say he should find. My question was about whether people should trust Home Office Ministers today or the chief constable who actually has to do the job. I hope that the Minister is not suggesting that Mike Todd cannot be trusted when he says that he may have to make cuts.

Fiona Mactaggart : No, I did not say that and I do not believe that Mike Todd will have to make cuts, although I do believe that there will be a challenge—that is the point, is it not? We have discovered that one reason why, in the early years of a Labour Government, our commitments did not immediately translate into front-line police numbers was that we did not establish a clear mechanism to guarantee that the extra investment would turn into extra officers.

That is precisely why we made the crime fighting fund work as it does and why it gives the power to ensure that the resources translate directly into officers. The crime fighting fund pays for 643 recruits and is making a real difference in Greater Manchester, which has also enjoyed an increase in police support staff of 662 since March 1997. Even though there has been a 39 per cent. increase in police budgets since the election, there will be challenges for front-line police officers. However, we have sought to give them the tools to meet the challenges effectively.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the important example of gun crime and bureaucracy. The biggest increase in gun crime is with replica guns, a significant problem that must be tackled. We have given the police an unbureaucratic and effective tool for dealing with
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gun crime, by including in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 an arrestable offence of carrying an imitation firearm in public without a reasonable excuse. In addition, we have introduced a minimum five-year sentence for possession of an illegal firearm. Both measures have given the police effective tools to help them to deal with gun crime.

The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that the most powerful way we have helped the police force to deal with red tape is through video identity parades. If one talks to police officers, they will all say that they spend hugely less time nowadays managing identification parades, because of the video identification parade electronic recording scheme, known as VIPER.

The hon. Gentleman referred to stop and search, and yes, some additional bureaucracy is involved in counting the incidence of that. That is because if stop and search is to be an effective policing tool, it must enjoy the confidence of all our communities. We have asked police officers to record stop and search in order to make it the effective policing tool that it is when it does enjoy that confidence.

I was in Reading today, visiting someone in whose shop a crime had been committed, and talking about his experience as a witness and how the police responded to him. As I was there, I walked past two police officers patrolling that side street in Reading. Knowing the area well, I must confess that I was struck by that example, because five years ago those officers would not have been there. We have more police on our streets than at any time. Of course there are challenges to the management of the police, but we have more than 8,000 police officers in Manchester, backed up by additional community support officers.

The extra resources that we have given to Manchester are not, and never will be, enough for the individual officer to say that he can deliver the perfect police force. However, that officer has had a substantial increase in resources, which, along with the resourcefulness that he and his team can show, will enable him to continue to ensure that there are more police officers on the streets of Manchester and that they continue to increase the effectiveness with which they police the community that they serve.

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