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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to contribute briefly to this debate. I am aware that numerous colleagues also want to speak. I have often raised police issues in the ChamberI have family links with the police, I have been a magistrate and a chair of my local safer communities forum, and my maiden speech concentrated on policing in North-West Leicestershire.
There is something of an anomaly in the debate tonight. We might have discovered a new phenomenon of the whole being less than the sum of the parts. We have heard many attestations to the quality of individual forces and the progress that has been made in particular areas, yet Opposition Members are quick to criticise, or set at low levels, the progress made in the police service as a whole.
I am very happy with the progress that we have seen in Leicestershire, where during eight and a half years of Labour government the number of police officers has risen from 1,950 to 2,311. I am reasonably happy about the increases in police grant, although I accept that the proportion of police funding required from council tax payers is probably too high, and causes problems to my constituents in particular.
An important example of progressI have supported the Government strongly on it, although I have not always supported what they have done in the public sectoris the new role of community support officers. I have seen them in action in my constituency and throughout Leicestershire. There are 100 or more in the county, and they are doing an excellent job. I am very pleased with the way in which the initiative has worked in practice.
Leicestershire has a good force. Like every other Member, I have had regular contact with the local policing unit commanders, the area commanders and the chief constable, Matt Baggott, to whom I pay tribute. I pay even more tribute to the outgoing chair of the police authority, David Saville, who has done a magnificent job for eight and a half years.
That is the good bit. I have a criticism. Why are we changing what is a reasonable and decent force? Leicestershire is well known, rightly, for being an innovative and creative force. It is accessible, open and responsive, as I said earlier in an intervention. It
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contains some 2,300 officers, serving a population of just under 1 million. How would we benefit from being absorbed, aggregated and expanded into a region containing nearly 4.5 million people and 10,000 officers?
I understand the argument that a force of a minimum size is necessary to tackle major crimes, serious organised and cross-border crimes, terrorism, civil contingencies, critical incidents and problems of public order. In Leicestershire and the east Midlands, however, there has been collaboration with some of the forces with which a merger may take place at some point. There has been a successful project involving Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, which have jointly investigated drug trafficking, money laundering and the criminal use of firearms. Why, when we are seeing the benefits of exploratory piloting of such collaboration, do we want to run down this path far too fast?
I am baffled by the requirement for a decision from the constituent police forces by 23 December. The East Midlands strategic board, which represents collaboration by all the existing police authorities, has reluctantly concludedthat is my view, although it may not be the view of the boardthat two options might work in practice, the whole-region option and the two-force option. The second option would involve Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire as one force and Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire as the other. At its meeting on Thursday, the day before the deadline, the board concluded:
"Integral to the cost benefit analysis in respect of either option is a requirement for substantial initial and recurring expenditure that is well beyond any existing, or projected, means of the authorities."
As was mentioned earlier, the one-off implementation cost of an east midlands regional force would be £100 million, and there would be a continuing cost in the medium term of £30 million a year. The two-force option would cost £111 million, with a medium-term revenue cost of £50 million a year. I cannot believe that that is a sensible or coherent approach for the policing of the midlands and east midlands of England. The constituent authorities must be given more time and allowed to revisit other options than forced mergers. Collaboration and federation have some attractions and some benefits.
The authorities have been clear from the outset about the need to ensure partner and public consent to any proposed changes. A large-scale survey of people involved in the process has been undertaken. Surprise, surprise, the level of support for what is proposed and for the available options is very low indeed. Why are we going down this path? It will add nothing to the policing of the 4.5 million people of the east midlands or the 1 million people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con):
I represent North Shropshire and, according to a combination of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary's baseline assessment and the police standards unit, it is the No. 1 police force in the country even though it has the fourth lowest level of funding in the country. For example, we receive £94.38 per head
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from the Government, while neighbouring North Wales gets £116 and Staffordshire gets £107. I am not whingeing about money. What that means is that if West Mercia received the average of its surrounding forces, it would get £130 per citizen, which would provide an equivalent of 1,600 more police officersand, hey presto, we would hit the magic 4,000 figure and there would be no need for an argument. The Government's threat to West Mercia is completely bogus on money grounds. The force has 2,380 officers, but if it were funded at the same level as its surrounding forces, it would have 4,000 officers.
However, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) was absolutely roasted in the café under Westminster Hall recently when she wholly failed to answer the questions put to her by Chief Constable Paul West and the chairman, Paul Deneen. She was unable to say where the 4,000 figure came from, to identify the statistics that backed it up or to clarify whether the proposal had been peer reviewed.
I take my hat off to Paul West. He is extremely brave. As a chief constable, he has been put in an impossible position by a request to destroy the forcea force that is his life's work. He told the Under-Secretary that speaking
it would not be possible for West Mercia to provide the same level of performance under a regional structure. Yet we have platitudes and bullying from the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, who has just slipped out. She merely says:
"West Mercia as a standalone force does not meet HMIC's criteria . . . and is unlikely to deliver sufficient capacity . . . to meet the requirements for provision of protective services to national standards."
Already in West Mercia, we have a force that is going ahead towards strategic status on its own, backed by the remarkable analysis today from Professor Lawrance, statistics professor at the university of Warwick. He comprehensively rubbishes the statistical basis of the 4,000 figure. To provide a flavour of his argument, he refers to page 30 and states:
"no scales on either axis, no data plotted . . . It is almost impossible to obtain any critical understanding from it, except that it is intended to prove that score for protective capability increases with force size. I can see very little hard evidence in pages 30 and 31 to justify the 4000 figure."
We have had an astonishing series of public meetingsmore than 100with massive support for the prospect of keeping West Mercia strategic. Support comes from all the 13 MPs in the area, all the county councils, all the district councils, 108 parish and town councils, 14 statutory organisations, 11 police community consultative groups and 15 community
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groups. West Mercia has the capability to move forward. It is going ahead and intends to invest £2.5 million in 95 extra officers. The force has a record of level 2 care in respect of SAS Hereford, it handled Shrewsbury castle and Tern Hill when they were blown up by the IRA and it collaborated successfully with neighbouring forces at the Weston Park IRA summit and the G8 summit.
I give the force full marks for all of that and I want the Minister to assure me that Paul West and Paul Deneen will be given a fair hearing when they bring these proposals forward. I can assure the Minister that they will be considerably better prepared than the cack-handed proposals of the Government.
These proposals are totally alien to our traditions. In Elizabethan times, jury service and policing went together and citizens were expected to perform those functions. Ten years after Peel introduced his reforms, the royal commission demanded a national force but Parliament refused because it believed that policing should be rooted in our local communities. On that basis, I bitterly oppose this rushed and unnecessary attempt to bring about the greatest change in our policing in 100 years. It is based on totally bogus statistics, there is no justification for the hurry and it rides roughshod over the No. 1 police force in the country, which, on its own, would be a successful strategic force.
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