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Paul Goggins: I cannot confirm the precise figure, but we are involving a range of experts so that we can get the assessments absolutely right. We have already been presented with an array of different estimates and figures this afternoon. It is important for the figures to be robust, and we need the best minds to help us analyse them. It would be sensible to invest in that at this stage in order to produce the best possible outcome. However, I should emphasise that such matters have not simply been put out to external consultants. Consultants may have had some involvement, but essentially, these are
 
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issues for the police authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers and a range of Government Departments. We need to scrutinise the business cases and to make sure that we get the figures right.

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I thank the Minister for his patience in giving way so readily, which I know is his custom. To what extent do the figures on force amalgamations involve the British Transport police? I recognise that the British Transport police are resourced from a different funding stream, but the savings and amalgamations that the Minister refers to could take into account their amalgamation into existing forces. To what extent are they included in the figures and the financing?

Paul Goggins: Nothing that I have said today, or that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said in his written statement to the House today, takes account of the British Transport police and their funding. However, in operational terms it is clearly important that they be part of the wider police family—which they of course are, as indeed are many others. We are trying to place great emphasis in our policing policy on the fact that, in a sense, everybody is part of that family and has a role to play. But nothing that I am announcing this afternoon bears on the funding or financing of the British Transport police.

As I have pointed out, we have set aside some £125 million of police capital grant over the next two years to support forces committing to early amalgamation. This will be allocated in the light of emerging pressures, as authorities coalesce into new structures. As I have emphasised, we will also look to authorities to reshape their existing investments so that they reflect the new structure, and to reap the benefit of future efficiency savings in making their own investments.

Mr. Beith: The Minister has not clarified the position on precept equalisation, and the question is: why should council tax payers in Northumbria, who have a police force that meets the Government's criteria, have their precept raised to a level similar to that applying to forces that are being compulsorily amalgamated because they do not meet those criteria?

Paul Goggins: What matters is that the right hon. Gentleman's constituents, my constituents and all our constituents have effective policing. What does that mean? It means policing that can cope with the threats of terrorism and organised crime—as well, of course, as providing neighbourhood policing. As I have acknowledged, as we bring authorities together there will be different levels of precept. There needs to be a process by which those precept levels are merged into one level, but over a period of time. I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has established a working group to look at the fine detail of that process, to ensure that it is used fairly and not as a blunt instrument, which would clearly be unfair. Officials are working on the details, which will be shared with him and other Members as and when such information becomes available.

The significant development in the threat from international terrorism and the consequent increase in the funding of counter-terrorism in recent years has led
 
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us to focus on the best way of ensuring effective funding for this vital work. Following consultation, we decided to consolidate existing funding streams for countering terrorism and domestic extremism, which were a mix of specific grants and general grant. Following consultation with key stakeholders, including ACPO, we have created a new specific grant for counter-terrorism and other national security priorities. The counter-terrorism fund comprises £213 million for dedicated security posts, which is transferred from police grant; existing specific grants for counter-terrorism, totalling £96 million in resource and £8 million in capital each year; and the transfer of £50 million from formula grant to specific grant for the relevant part of the special funding for the Metropolitan Police Authority. In addition, on 25 January the Home Secretary announced substantial additional police service funding specifically for counter-terrorism and dealing with domestic extremism. This comes to some £63 million in revenue and £30 million in capital in 2006–07, rising to £110 million in revenue and £35 million in capital in 2007–08.

In drawing my remarks to a conclusion, I would like to mention a number of additional points about the overall police funding settlement for 2006–07. For several years, the Home Secretary has provided additional funding to ensure that Welsh police authorities receive at least a minimum grant increase in line with English authorities. For the coming two years, we have adjusted the Home Office police grant for Welsh police authorities to maintain consistency with the English. That additional support will total £9.3 million next year for Dyfed-Powys, Gwent and North Wales police authorities.

Police authorities will continue to receive funding for specific programmes on top of the general grant. We have tried to minimise the specific grant, thereby maximising the general grant so that police authorities can direct funds at their discretion, but there are still a number of areas in which we want to highlight particular funds. The crime fighting fund was mentioned earlier, and £277 million will be made available to forces in 2006–07 to continue to support the costs of officers recruited through the CFF. A number of forces have asked for greater flexibility, and that fund has been extremely successful in reversing the previous decline in the number of police officers. Strength has grown to historically high levels, we have invested heavily over the past few years to support that growth, and we remain committed to maintaining high numbers.

Neighbourhood policing teams will be rolled out across the country over the next two years and uniformed police officers will play an increasingly key role in those teams. Through the front-line policing measure, we expect to see more of them released from back-office duties into front-line operation as we reduce levels of bureaucracy and put the freed up resource on to the front line. Forces should, of course, determine the right mix of personnel for their own work force. Decisions on police officer strength should be taken by authorities, not by the Government. There will be greater flexibility for most forces during 2005–06 and we look forward to seeing what further flexibility can be offered in 2006–07.
 
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Most of the funding for community support officers will come from the neighbourhood policing fund. In the year of recruitment it will meet 100 per cent. of salary and direct costs, subject to a cap, and a fixed sum of £2,500 per recruit will also be payable towards start-up costs. Thereafter, funding will be at 75 per cent., and with such support we expect CSO numbers to reach 24,000 in 2008.

Some authorities have expressed concern about having to find some of the funding required for their CSOs, but the Home Office should not be the only source of funding. Community safety is an outcome shared with many partners; other central funding streams, local government, business and other organisations all have an interest. We shall shortly publish some guidance and examples of good practice to help authorities to secure match funding, and any surplus resources secured in this way may be spent as the force sees fit, so long as they are spent on neighbourhood policing.

Michael Fabricant: Is the Minister saying that CSOs should be partly funded by private businesses?

Paul Goggins: I am saying that we are about to publish some guidance about ways in which others who wish to contribute to the funding of CSOs will be able to do so. That is not an enforced measure, but one that will allow businesses or other public authorities to put in resources to make sure that our communities are made more secure. That is not being forced on people; it is something that they want to do, and we will provide good examples and guidance to help them do it as effectively as possible.

In 2006–07, the fourth year of the basic command unit fund, £50 million will again be provided for basic command units, which are at the forefront of local policing. The grant will be targeted towards forces with BCUs in high-crime areas to help reduce crime, in partnership with crime and disorder reduction partnerships. All forces in England and Wales will continue to receive a share of the grant and BCU commanders will have discretion locally to pool their BCU allocations with the new safer and stronger communities fund.

A capital grant of £250 million will be available in 2006–07 to support police capital programmes. That is an increase of £25 million over 2005–06, and it includes provision of £50 million, to which I have already referred, to fund police force restructuring. Forces were notified of capital allocations for next year on 13 January, earlier than in the past three years, which gives authorities more time to take allocations into account when setting final budgets.

We have considered fully the written representations received in response to the provisional funding settlement. The settlement is a good one and builds on sustained investment since 2000–01. Our proposals will ensure that all forces in England and Wales receive a fair share of resources next year at a time of radical restructuring. I believe that we have struck the right balance, and I commend the police grant reports to the House.
 
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5.30 pm


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