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David Davis: I accept one point from the right hon. Gentleman. He is right that there are various views from leading senior police officers. My conversations with many members of ACPO indicate to me that that is not their current collective view. We will see what happens in the course of the debate in the coming days.
I did not read the whole of Professor Lawrance's critique. I dispute the idea of an optimum size for a police force. That differs around the country. The right size of police force will be different in a big urban area such as Manchester from what it would be in East Yorkshire. A one-size-fits-all model is just plumb wrong. I am sure the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) has read the Lawrance report, as he is an assiduous Select Committee Chairman. He will have seen that if one took three of the
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bigger forces out of the 43 in the analysis, there would be no correlation whatever for any optimum size. The whole statistical analysis is based on a flawed concept, flawed data and a flawed analytical approach. The right hon. Gentleman's Committee will no doubt consider the matter again in the coming year or so and reach a similar conclusion.
I have broken my stricture about interventions, but I shall try to make progress. The other concerns that arise are manifold. Let me go through them one by one. The first concerns accountability. Regional forces would cover a huge area. A south-west regional forcesome Members from the south-west are presentwould cover a massive 8,187 square miles. People living in the north of Gloucestershire are nearer to Scotland than they are to the south of Cornwall. The proposal is madness, if the aim is local identification and local accountability. Chief constables will be hundreds of miles away from many towns and villages. As I said last time, Kent officers could be closer to Calais than to their proposed regional headquarters. Inevitably, regional police forces will become more remote from the communities they are meant to serve.
David Davis: Not for the moment. [Hon. Members: "He is one of the dimmer ones."] Exactly. The hon. Gentleman does not realise the temptation he places before me with respect to the concept of dimmer Labour Members. However, I will go to another one, the Prime Minister, and the House can make its own judgment. When he was shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield argued that
"wholesale amalgamation of the smaller police services . . . will remove local policing further from local people when there is no evidence that it will create a more effective police service."[Official Report, 5 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 273.]
Let us move to the issue of cost. The O'Connor report calls itself "Closing the Gap", but far from closing the gap, it will open a gaping black hole in the finances of our local police forces. Based on the submissions made by police authorities, the Association of Police Authorities estimates the cost of mergers to be over £525 million across England and Wales. As is the way with IT-based costings, I suspect that that is a grotesque underestimate. Indeed, the APA itself says the cost could be double that£1 billionwhen the associated costs of police restructuring are taken into account.
Let us consider that conservative estimate, which is based on the submissions of individual authorities. The sum of £525 million represents an average of £12.5 million per police force. The Home Secretary belatedly offered just £125 million, less than a quarter of the funding necessary, to pay for amalgamations. What is more, the Home Secretary's promised funds are in any case being raided from the existing police capital budget, not new money. So resources that should have been
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spent on improvements to policing will be used to pay for management consultants, merged IT systems, new headquarters and the like, none of them making a contribution to better policing.
More than £400 million must still be found by police authorities to finance amalgamations. There are only two places that they can get £400 million; they can borrow it or raise it through a higher precept on the council tax. We know where it will come from, don't we? Either way, in the end, the cost of the exercise will fall on the council tax payer. Assuming that police authorities do not cut services, the average police precept would rise by 21 per cent.up to £37 on a band D propertyon top of increases already planned and on top of the fact that the police precept has more than doubled in the past eight years in most cases.
Philip Davies: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Given that West Yorkshire police has calculated a cost of £50 million for the amalgamation, given that the force already meets the criteria set down by the Home Office and given that the merger is opposed by the local police authority and by hon. Members from both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), who made an excellent speech in a previous debate on the matter, does my right hon. Friend agree that the £50 million cost would be much better spent on real policing than on an unnecessary merger?
David Davis: I agree with everything my hon. Friend said. The model is repeated throughout the country. I should, perhaps, explain to the House my softness in giving way to my hon. Friend. He is a namesake, he used to be a constituent of mine and his wife was my agent, so I had to give way.
Let us remind ourselves what the exercise was meant to do. The exercise was meant to strengthen protective servicesthe ability of police forces to tackle serious crimebut not one penny of the £500 million spent on amalgamation will be invested in them. The numbers do not add up, which is one of the reasons why the Association of Police Authorities opposes the Government's plan.
Last week, the APA asked the Government to consider the option of forces sharing services as an alternative to amalgamation, and at a recent Prime Minister's Question Time, the Prime Minister seemed to agree:
"Some people think that a form of federation would be a more effective way of dealing with aspects of the situation than strategic forces. I take the view . . . that that is not the right approach".[Official Report, 19 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 1583.]
The Prime Minister is for sharing services, and the Home Secretary is against, so what is the Government's policy? Is the Home Secretary looking at federations with an open mind? The Prime Minister is often accused of wanting to associate himself with popular initiatives, and if he is successful in persuading the Home Secretary that the federated option is worth considering, this will be the one occasion when he will have our full support, whether he turns up or not.
The Government are attempting to drive through the biggest reorganisation of the police for 40 years with little debate or consultation. Police authorities were given just three months to prepare their cases before Christmas. When police forces were last restructured in the 1960s, a royal commission was formed. It took two years to report, and there was then another two years of debate on the report before legislation was enacted. Denis O'Connor, the author of the report, believes that this process should take longer:
The Home Secretary has already been rebuffed by the police authorities, which will not submit to his absurdly tight three-month deadline. He must realise that more time is needed to assess the costs of restructuring, the implications for accountability, the objections of local communities and potential alternatives to amalgamations, many of which are strongly opposed by police authorities, chief constables and local people.
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