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I am also concerned about the narrowing of options relating to regionalism. Until I heard the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) refer to the extraordinarily unique nature of Staffordshire crime, I was tempted to explore the opportunity of co-operation between the Staffordshire and Derbyshire forces. That would have put together two relatively powerful forces to the benefit of people in that part of the country, but he claimed that Staffordshire criminals are unique and that we could not possibly proceed on that basis, so I must defer to the Home Office's guidance on this issue. However, given that I represent a constituency that is right on the border of a region, it is perhaps natural for me to take the view that the drawing of such a hard and narrow dividing line does not at all reflect criminal patterns.
I have two worries about the options being pursued: the possible loss of local focus, intelligence and awareness in addressing lower-level criminality; and the likely redirection of resources from well-policed, lower-level crime areas such as mine, toward areas within the new regions where policing has been ineffective. It might be possible to address those two concerns, which is why I have taken a qualified position in my conversations with Home Office Ministers. I do not start from a position of innate support for these proposals, but I could be persuaded to support them if it can be demonstrated that there are ways of dealing with my concerns.
First, is it possible to strengthen basic command unit representational frameworks? For exampleI have used this example in meetingswe in South Derbyshire have an extremely successful crime and disorder partnership. I recognise that that is not repeated in all parts of the country, but it provides a relationship model in my area that the police could work comfortably with in strengthening operational activities. I want some
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flexibility. Instead of simply opting for a local authority model involving a police committee, for example, let us look at local examples that work and that work with the existing grain.
I would not want to turn such a partnership into a rigid framework. The strength of our partnership has been the mutually respectful voluntary framework within which it has worked. Local people in South Derbyshire tend to work practically together to solve problems without doing a lot of grandstanding and point scoring among themselves. That strength would be lost if someone threw the pot of money into the equation and said, "You're going to have to carve up exactly how this is to be dealt with in a very practical way", or if such people had too much direct operational control over policing in their area. What we have works very well and we should work with the existing grain.
Tom Levitt: My experience of Derbyshire constabulary is just as positive as my hon. Friend's, but does he agree that it does not matter where the constabulary headquarters is based? In fact, many people in Derbyshire probably could not name the town in which it is currently based.
Mr. Todd: Indeed. It happens to be based in Ripley, but my hon. Friend makes a powerful point. South Derbyshire is at the bottom end of a long county, and the people who live there tend to think that most places are a long way away, so locating the headquarters some distance away is not one of my major concerns. People will think that it is a long way away wherever it is located, and, as my hon. Friend says, many people do not know where it is located now.
I turn to my second point, which is the redistribution of resources. Here, I will be blunt. We heard earlier some brief interventions from Nottinghamshire Members and I well understand their desire to move ahead with the combining of forces in that area. However, they must understand that their desire and anxiety is matched by an anxiety on the part of those in better performing areas that such a combination may involve the redistribution of resources. That has also to be balanced by the recognition that Nottinghamshire has a higher expenditure on policing per head than does Derbyshire. I have heard the argument that we will get our hands on a larger pot and that that would be great, but the greater anxiety is that a lot of that pot will go toward solving problems in the Nottinghamshire area and away from better policed areas with relatively limited resources, such as mine.
I turn to the process of transition. Such restructuring will be disruptive in all sorts of ways. In any merger, substantial career decisions have to be made that inevitably lead to distractionthere is no way round that. The cost of the east midlands option has been estimated at a little over £100 million and although that is a back-of-an-envelope calculation at this stage, the sum involved will certainly be large. The police authority has rightly said that it is very difficult to commend such an option without first knowing where the money will come from. If it comes from the normal expenditure of the newly created authority, that will inevitably mean cuts in other activities while the
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transition takes place. The authority also predicts an ongoing expenditure increase, simply to bring that part of the country up to the standards for protective services that the O'Connor report identifies as desirable. The question of how to distribute resources within the new authority is arguable; nevertheless, it is a fair question and it needs to be resolved now.
I finish by pointing to the differences in policing function within my region. I am sorry, in a way, that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) is no longer in his place. He shares with me an interest in Traveller law policy and I have to say that that policy is not the same in Derbyshire as it is in Leicestershire, for examplea fact that is well exploited by the people of those communities. I would not wish to see a blanket, lowest common denominator approach applied to policing policy, simply because we were required to have a strategic focus for policy development. Local differences are valuable and have been fought for, in this particular case, extremely hard by those such as me, who have directly engaged with this issue. I do not want the hard-won ground to be lost.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I am pleased to be taking part in this debate, just as I was pleased to take part in the recent Westminster Hall debate on this issue. Like other Members, I also look forward to having a debate that involves a substantive vote on the issue at hand.
I thank the Home Office for agreeing to my request for a meeting at least to discuss the specifics of the proposed merger involving Gloucestershire constabulary. The granting of that request, which I appreciate, implies a welcome willingness to talk about the specifics. The specifics in Gloucestershire are clear: we have an outstanding police force and we have had an 8 per cent. reduction in crime in the past year. As my neighbour the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) said earlier, our constabulary has been commended for its record on level 2 crime, thereby rather undermining the stereotype of small forces presented by the Home Office.
Specifics have been lacking in the Government's proposals. The "Closing the Gap" report refers to a lot of general trends and draws general conclusions from them. The Home Office's briefing, which we received in the past week, contains an impressive-looking chart showing the shortfall in protective service scores by force officer strength, and shows a trend line implying that only large forces can really cope. However, although it shows all six of the forces with an officer strength of above 4,000 scoring less than a 40-point shortfall in protective services, it also showsthis is not implied by the trend linethat 11 smaller forces have a 40-point shortfall, or less. Therefore, one size does not really fit all in this debate, despite the Government's attempts to suggest otherwise.
It is instructive to note that the forces with more than 4,000 officersand which the "Closing the Gap" report therefore describes as those successful in tackling crimeare generally in metropolitan, urban areas: the Metropolitan police themselves, the West Midlands police, West Yorkshire police, Merseyside police, and so
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on. There is no reason why that model of success in large urban areas will necessarily succeed if it is applied to much larger geographical areas, including large rural areas. There is an immediate geographical problem in the south-west: the sheer size of the option 1 proposal for a mega-force for the entire south-west, which would cover 9,000 square miles. There are parts of north Gloucestershire that are closer to Scotland than they are to the opposite end of that areathe Scilly Isles. If hon. Members are worried about different types of crime, I can tell them that we have very different crimes to the Scilly Isles. There is not much trawler crime in Cheltenham.
The Home Secretary mentioned economies of scale and implied that press offices could be merged. That seems a marginal point, but let us take him at his word. Is he seriously suggesting that the same connection to the local community that the present county force has could be achieved by someone trying to relate to the local mediawhich are important when trying to get the crime prevention message acrossall the way from Tewkesbury to the Scilly Isles? I just do not think that that would be possible. Much more seriously, does the Home Secretary really think that democratic accountability and the same sensitivity to local needs would be possible? Many hon. Members have pointed out that they meet their chief constables regularly and we have all had good communications with them in the course of discussions on the Government's proposals. I cannot conceive how that would be possible with a chief constable based miles away in Exeter who was trying to deal with MPs from the entire south-west region.
What about the cost and disruption? The Association of Police Authorities estimates start-up costs of £500 million to £600 million nationwide. In the south-west, our chief constable has estimated £64 million of start-up costs. If that was paid for out of borrowing, and landed an annual debt on the police forces instead of being raised through the council tax, he estimates that it would cost some £6 million a year initially, which would offset more than half of the possible savings that the proposals suggest would be possible in the south-west. Most of the rest of the savings could be achieved through collaboration and federation and would not require the merger of forces. The numbers do not add up.
The Home Secretary said in his opening remarks that the evidence was straightforward and he cited the "Closing the Gap" report, which is the only piece of evidence that the Home Office has. However, as has been said, the detailed suggestions in that report are somewhat qualified. On page 11, under the heading "Stakeholders have mixed views", it admits:
On page 25, the report makes the point, which I made earlier, that basic command units are already getting larger, not smaller. That undermines the Government's point on that score. On page 35, the report admits that
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there is only a rough correlation between size and reactivity at level 2, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of the Government's position.
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