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Mr. Blunt: I could also refer to terraced accommodation in Fulham, which is where my London home is. I have a vague idea of what my home is worth—it is a great deal more than it was when my wife and I bought it 12 years ago. I find it very odd that the factor is used in such a way.

I wonder whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or any other hon. Member is able to understand the definition of wealthy achievers:

I hope that the House is assisted by that. It would help if the Government, when bringing documents before the House, made them available and simplified them as much as possible so that we can understand precisely what they are doing with these formulae. I suspect that they do not want to do that because if we could see exactly what they were doing with the formulae, the extent of the rearrangement to move money for political rather than operational purposes would be made all too clear.

My particular concern on behalf of the Surrey police authority is that it is caught in the Catch-22 of management options. If it thought that reducing the number of officers was the best way to try to maximise the limited amount of money it has for dealing with crime in Surrey, it could not do that. If it did, it would lose the crime fighting fund of £4 million. If Surrey goes under 1,921 officers, which is what it had on 1 April 2004, it loses another £4 million, even if having fewer officers would be a better way of using its limited resources. The force must have a set number of community support officers by 2008—326, I think—but the funding for that appears to come to an end in that year.

The greatest management tool that will make life difficult for Surrey is, of course, capping. I know from having spoken to the chairman of Surrey police authority and others that it will be impossible for the
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authority to set a budget below the expected capping limit and sustain current performance. The Government, by imposing the capping limit, will enforce falling police standards in Surrey—that is the situation that we have to face. That is despite the fact that the authority will be plundering its reserves, which are already said to be inadequate by Denis O'Connor in "Closing the Gap".

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): Although I do not have the benefit of an A grade in A-level mathematics, I have taken the trouble to look at the papers provided to the House for this debate. There appears to me to have been the most monumental typographical or arithmetical error. I draw the attention of the House to the ministerial statement on 5 December 2005, in which the provisional police funding announcements were made, which indicated that the Home Office police grant would rise from £4.574 billion in 2005–06. The very same number is presented to us at the foot of the table on page 3 of "The Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2005/06". In the ministerial statement, the equivalent figure for 2006–07 was £4.714 billion, representing an increase of 3.1 per cent. If you look, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the table on page 3 of "The Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2006/07", you will see that the figure at the bottom, which is the sum of all the allocations for the authorities, is £4.335 billion, some £400 million less than the figure identified—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I find two things wrong with the hon. Gentleman's intervention. First, it is too long. Secondly, he should be a little more adroit in relating it to what his hon. Friend, on whom he is intervening, has been saying. I call Mr. Crispin Blunt.

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention because I am sure that, as he has drawn those figures to the attention of the House, Ministers can now draw on some of the services, for which they are currently paying £45,000 a day, from the consultants who are assessing the business case for the amalgamations so unwanted by police forces throughout the country.

Mr. Pelling : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunt: No, I will not, if my hon. Friend will forgive me. I know that others want to speak and I want to get to the end of my remarks as soon as possible

It is suggested that the British Transport police may be wound up and their responsibilities passed to local area police forces. I understand—my source is the clerk, or chief executive, of the British Transport police authority—that the force receives some of its funding from train operating companies. In Surrey, we have the busy Brighton main line, and a number of other important train services pass through the county, but of course none of the money would be passed on from the train operating companies to assist in taking on that policing responsibility. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that point.

There is only a faint silver lining to the cloud of amalgamation hanging over Surrey: the county is so poorly funded that it would have a negative dowry if it
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entered a marriage with any of the surrounding county forces, so they are all fighting not to have anything to do with it. If Sussex, the county of my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), was amalgamated with Surrey, an immediate 17.6 per cent. increase in the council tax would be required to pay for that. If we are amalgamated with Hampshire, an extra 15 per cent. in council tax will be required.

That illustrates the extent to which the Surrey police force has been underfunded since 1997. Over the past eight years, successive chief constables and chairmen of the police authority have made a very good fist of sustaining operational performance despite enormous financial stringency. However, the pips have squeaked long enough. Operational performance will be severely threatened if this continues, and I urge the Government urgently to take a serious look at the formula. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) seeks to bring me and other colleagues to see the Minister to discuss the matter in detail.

7.7 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The main issue that Dyfed-Powys police authority has with the settlement is a £2.7 million shortfall. It pleaded with the Government to deal with that—and to be fair, I must tell the House that they met the authority part of the way and, on 30 January, announced a further £1.1 million. The authority still has a shortfall of £1.3 million. Unfortunately, that means a hefty increase in council tax, because that is now the authority's only option.

Dyfed-Powys police force is opening up small police stations, not closing them down. It has an excellent track record, but it will probably be capped because it foresees an increase of 6. 8 per cent. in council tax to fund the shortfall. Without that shortfall, the estimated council tax increase would have been about 1 per cent. I understand that the authority is seeking legal advice. It is far from happy, so the Minister's rather upbeat introduction is not being echoed in Dyfed-Powys.

North Wales has received a 3.2 per cent. settlement, and major changes to the funding formula and pension payments have been protected by the floor grant of 3.2 per cent. Unfortunately, council tax payers in north Wales already pay the highest police precept in Wales, and they face another inflation-busting increase this year. They could end up paying more than 10 per cent. extra this year just to maintain the same level of service. That is one of the four options for the force. The other "standstill" proposal would involve a 6.58 per cent. rise in the bill for policing, with the force having to find an additional £1.8 million. Last week, a police authority committee meeting at Colwyn Bay said that the authority would have to face very difficult choices.

The performance figures for North Wales police are excellent, with the fourth lowest crime rate in England and Wales for recorded offences, at 56.1 per thousand of population. Recorded offences have dropped by 3,688, with a sharp fall in vehicle crime and house burglaries, and the detection rate has reached 43 per cent. This year's draft police authority newsletter boasts, "We are winning"—and I am sure that it is. Serious violent crime has shown an increase slightly below the UK average.
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The forecast for the police services budget involves an increase of about 6 per cent., for which the council tax increase is likely to be between 5 and 7 per cent. That is a serious position, and the North Wales police are concerned about it. As I have said, they have been performing very well. I made the point of comparing their performance to that of Dyfed-Powys, and I shall refer to that of Gwent in a moment, before briefly addressing the question of the rushed and ill-thought-out amalgamation.

A great deal of data have been produced comparing North Wales police with other forces, and the reports show that they are performing excellently and investing in the right areas. For example, the police officer to police staff ratio is higher than in most other UK forces. Even so, the £1.5 million cut will mean between 30 and 50 job cuts, although North Wales police already have fewer staff than other forces. This will inevitably put North Wales's good financial and performance records at risk.

Changes have been made to the way in which port security at Holyhead is funded. Obviously, this is a sensitive subject, but just as the Home Office identified a perceived gap in the capacity to deal with level 2 crime in these areas, it has cut its financial investment for that purpose in the North Wales police. The budget for police community support officers—PCSOs—will also be cut in due course. The rate at which the North Wales force is now being funded does not allow it to pay PCSOs at the right grade, which is creating problems for morale, job satisfaction and retention. And all this is in advance of the tapering that will inevitably take effect, cutting off the money from the centre to finance these officers.

The chief constable of the Gwent police force has rightly said that the funding formula is too complex—a point that was echoed just now by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). Gwent must find £5 million savings, and the suggested restructuring that we are now hearing about might have to be paid for by borrowing. That is another force—albeit a small one—that is doing excellently for its size. There are no problems at all there. Only a few months ago, Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary gave the Gwent, North Wales, Dyfed-Powys and South Wales forces a clean bill of health.

All those forces are doing well. However, the preliminary budget for Gwent for 2006–07 shows an increase over the budget for the current year of £6.1 million, or 6 per cent. That increase, which is in line with those for other police requirements across England and Wales, will be needed to cover pay awards, price inflation, reducing specific grants on Government initiatives, pension costs and unavoidable operational items. Because of the gearing effect, an increase in expenditure of 6 per cent. and an increase in central funding of only 3 per cent. will produce an increase in council tax of 13.6 per cent—and, of course, we expect a cap of 5 per cent., so huge savings will have to be made elsewhere, including job cuts and cuts in services. That is the last thing that Gwent police would want.

I want to talk briefly about the statement that was sneaked out today. That was an abominable thing to do. The press and media in north Wales were briefed about this matter on Friday evening, because a member of the press told me personally that "the game was over"—he used those words. As a Member of Parliament, I was
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rung by the BBC at my home yesterday evening, also to be told that the game was apparently over. I find it abhorrent that the Government should brief the media on a Friday, and I should be told about it on an off-hand basis the night before the statement was sneaked out through the Library today.

That is an appalling way to do things, and it simply underlines the fact that the case for the amalgamation has not been made. I pressed the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety for weeks to give me the justification for the magical figure of 4,000 officers. I finally received a stupid little graph showing me how it would work. It had nothing to do with policing, and it was absolute nonsense; the case for the amalgamation has not been made.

When the proposal was first announced in September, the Secretary of State for Wales said that the case for the amalgamation would have to be proven. It has not been proven in any shape or form. In Wales, we remain totally opposed to the proposals. Many senior officers and all the police authorities are against them. It would take a chief officer between four and a half and five hours to travel by car from Cardiff to Holyhead; that is absolutely ridiculous.

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