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Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Is the hon. Lady aware that Cumbria police authority is the only authority in Britain that has received an excellent charter mark for citizen focus? People throughout Cumbria and in my constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale are concerned that, if decisions affecting our area are taken in Preston or Liverpool, that focus will be removed from our communities. I am sure that she will agree that the widening scope and centralisation of police decision making will have a negative effect on her own area and on citizen focus.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Local residents need to identify with their local
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police. If that association is taken away from the local community, particularly in areas where fear of crime is a major concern, the problem will be compounded, as people will know that the police are further away.
In a letter written in January, the Association of Police Authorities made it clear, as the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety will know, that it had serious concerns about restructuring and was alarmed about the speed with which the Home Secretary was rushing the changes through. It wanted more time for the police and communities to be consulted. It was concerned about the costs of restructuring, which cannot be met from already overstretched police budgets. For Surrey, that is a serious issue. I am convinced the Government are restructuring their way out of huge problems of police underfunding.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): We in Staffordshire have grave concerns about centralisation if we were merged with the west midlands, because the problems in society are totally different. Does my hon. Friend accept that it would be a disaster for Staffordshire to be merged, for Treasury-driven reasons, with a body as big as the west midlands?
Anne Milton: I thank my hon. Friend. With reference to the comments of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, it is important to realise that every area is different. She painted an entirely different picture from the one that I will paint and the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has painted. We do not need a one-size-fits-all model.
Surrey has the worst grant settlement of any force in the country. According to the police, the funding gap can be reduced only by reducing costs, which means decreasing services. Surrey police authority considers that restructuring will be not only expensive but disruptive, and of little overall benefit. Analysis by the police locally reveals that the real issue is not structure, but how the police resources are used and the removal of red tape, which constrains chief officers. Surrey has long been underfunded, creating, as the police authority recognises, an unreasonable council tax burden for Surrey's residents.
"would increase resilience in providing Force level protective services, for example major crime investigation, strategic roads policing, counter terrorism capabilities and other services, the same level of resilience could be built into the Surrey Force at a similar cost but without the upheaval of a merger",
"To achieve full resilience (avoiding abstracting local police resources to deal with anything but the most critical events) would require an additional £26 million of funding per annum in Surrey alone."
The police authority has not offered to merge with another police authority because it is deeply unhappy about the proposal. As Surrey police have said, merging Surrey and Sussex forces would bring two poorly funded forces together to create one larger poorly funded force.
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I shall conclude my remarks because other hon. Members wish to speak. Like many of my hon. Friends who represent Surrey constituencies, I remain deeply unhappy about the plans to restructure our Surrey force. My local residents' fears about their safety and about crime will not be dealt with by the proposals. I urge the Home Secretary and the Minister to say not just to Opposition Members, but to Surrey police authority, to Surrey police and to Surrey residents that the restructuring will not go ahead, and that there are better things to do with the £29 million that will be spent on the exercise.
It is understandable that the Government want to do something. One can be critical of a Government who have been in office for eight yearsnearly ninewhen that is the verdict of the report that they commissioned.
The question is: what does the O'Connor report recommend, and is that the right course of action? The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) pointed out that the conclusions reached by the report are not quite as conclusive as the Government like to make out. If one looks at the analysis of the various parts of protective servicesthe initiative is being driven by protective servicesagain, things are not quite so clear-cut.
On critical incidents, it states that forces, including smaller forces such as Dorset and Leicestershire, that have suffered a significant critical incident demonstrate a high degree of capability. I cite a local example at Buncefield in Hertfordshire, where the police handled an incident very successfully, with mutual aid. According to the report, forces that perceive themselves to be low risk tend to take a less structured approachin other words, forces that do not see much of a problem do not prepare to the same degree. That is understandable.
The O'Connor report also notes that not all forces have profiled their communities to identify vulnerabilities. There is just a hint in that section that larger forces are slightly more politically correct. I do not want to over-egg that argument, but perhaps larger forces are doing more analysis of the make-up of their communities and as a result become slightly more politically correct and less focused on the matter in hand.
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Individual forces have developed expertise in particular aspects of public orderfor example, party conferences in Dorset and Huntington Life Sciences in Cambridge. There is also evidence that expertise is passed from force to force, which is perhaps an example of the federal approach working better. On public order, the O'Connor report says that there is a rough correlation between size and reactivity, but it also says that an establishment of 2,200 officers is the minimum size for preparedness, rather than 4,000 officersthe figure that the Government often quote.
The O'Connor report identifies failures in the way in which all forces deal with major crime, and states that success is to some extent dependent on whether forces have dedicated major investigations teams. In a recent written reply, the Minister revealed that 13 forces have got major investigation teams. A force does not require 4,000 officers to have a major investigation team, because while there are only six forces of that size, 13 forces have major investigation teams, which once again suggests that the 4,000 limit is unnecessary.
One would have thought that the Government would take all sorts of steps on counter-terrorism, but in a recent written answer, the Minister said that the current regional and national counter-terrorism structures were appropriate. I do not have time to go into that matter in further detail, but the point had to be made.
The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) has said that Hampshire have the necessary protective services, but it has 3,800 officers. Furthermore, if Hertfordshire police authority were to merge with Bedfordshire police authority, the new force would not meet the 4,000 mark, but its protective services capability would be greater than if Cambridgeshire were involved, too. I hope that the Government will consider such matters on a case-by-case basis and not stick rigidly to the 4,000 limit.
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