House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
WELSH AFFAIRS committee
Tuesday 4 July 2006
MR TONY McNULTY MP and MS LOUISE DOMINIAN
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Welsh Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 4 July 2006
Dr Hywel Francis, in the Chair
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mr Martyn Jones
Witnesses: Mr Tony McNulty, a Member of the House, Minister of State for Policing, Security and Community Safety, and Ms Louise Dominian, Regional Head for Wales on Police Restructuring, gave evidence.
Q1 Chairman: Good morning and welcome to the Welsh Affairs Committee. Minister, for the record, could you introduce yourself and your colleague, please?
Mr McNulty: Tony McNulty MP, Minister of State for Policing, Security and Community Safety at the Home Office. This is Louise Dominian, Regional Head for Wales on Police Restructuring.
Q2 Chairman: Minister, could I begin by asking you why the original timetable has been extended?
Mr McNulty: Let me say, first of all, Dr Francis, that it is a huge pleasure to be here. I think it is very interesting that what the Home Secretary said at the last Home Office Questions about a change in the timetable was said, I thought, in very straightforward language and interpreted in about ten different ways. In essence, we have listened to what people have said about there being a number of issues that remain outstanding, and the overwhelming issue from all quarters, whatever side of the argument people were on, was that the timetable was overly ambitious, not least for the first tier 1 authorities that were effectively going to be merged and replaced by the fist wave in 2007. Having reflected on that, we thought it was worth taking stock, reflecting and having a further look at all matters. That I am sure will be a focus of much of what we will deliberate on today. Secondly, from my own perspective of having met any number of people on the matter before and after his announcement, I think there was a general feeling that perhaps, certainly for the last couple of months, there had not been the engagement, discourse and two-way flow in terms of discussion on such an important issue that should have been. In that context, it was right and proper to adjust the timetable and slow things down, but from the starting perspective that the direction, destination and how we think, there are still places that we want to get to in terms of strategic forces, but that it is right and proper, given such an important public policy initiative, that we slow things down, reflect and take on board very seriously people's concerns about dialogue and a whole range of issues that I am sure we will discuss today.
Q3 Chairman: I am sure you will want to put on record a response to a statement made by representatives of police authorities when they gave evidence to us that they had a strong feeling that it was a done deal. Would you like to say something about that and would you wish to reassure us and the public in Wales that it is not a done deal?
Mr McNulty: If 'done deal' means is it still the prevailing view of the Government that one force for Wales is the direction we should go in, then that is where we start from, but I need to make that very clear. It is not a done deal in the sense that now that we have slowed things down, now that we have come off the over-ambitious timetable, it is appropriate to talk and engage with people on their concerns and other options that they might look to put forward. I think it is not a done deal in that sense. I just do not think it is appropriate for Government to say, "We quite like the notion of a strategic police authority". We start from the premise that there are gaps at level 2 in protective services and they need filling, on which I think everyone broadly agrees, rather than say on the over-ambitious timetable, "Here is how we are going to fill it. Now let us talk about the details of that". The position we are at now is: here is how we think, with all our professional advice, the gaps should be filled. Here is how we think the way forward is for a 21st century police force in Wales. If people disagree with that, now that we are off the other timetable, let us talk and talk seriously about it.
Q4 Jessica Morden: Leading on from that, the Welsh Chief Constables, when they came to see us, said that they did not think there had been much effective debate within the Home Office, particularly on the issues of funding, command and governance. How would you respond to those issues?
Mr McNulty: I think there had been that level of debate on those issues but I do not think, to be perfectly fair, that they were bottomed out to the extent that they should have been in the context of a 1 April 2007 timetable. We do not take a 'let us just hope it goes away' type attitude just because it is all too difficult and people are making too much noise, but we take very seriously from police authorities and others all the concerns about governance, accountability, finance, council tax percept equalisation and the balance between urban and rural. All the issues that people have raised are very genuine issues that we think as Government we need to talk about more with the key stakeholders involved and could not, to be perfectly frank, in the context of 1 April 2007 timetable. They are right and they are wrong in the sense that there was that degree of debate, but I think too constrained by that initial timetable, which, was why we have got off the hook of that ambitious timetable and now have real time to reflect and think about these issues, other alternatives and those sorts of elements. I do say that in the context not of a done deal but of our starting premise, we still think that one force is really the way to go.
Q5 Jessica Morden: On the timetable, the police authorities obviously welcomed the extension to the deadline but they feel they have not a clear steer on the new process and the timetables and what is expected of them. Could you explain a bit more about the new timetable and the date that you would come up with a final decision?
Mr McNulty: I think that is an entirely fair point. It was our job really at the earliest opportunity, having reflected on it, to say that Dr Reid might be in a position on the initial task force to say: is this now still a realistic timetable? Well, no, it is not, so let us get on. What he resisted at Home Office Questions, and I have done since, is to create some other timetable. Because we have not reflected properly and we have not talked to people sufficiently, in six months' time, will we get it off again? I have said very clearly that if we could say, "Here is the new timetable; here are the new time lines and the new deadlines and everything else by the summer", all well and good because I do appreciate there are a lot of things going on out there underneath the merger process in terms of project teams and everything else. I would far rather take the time and if it means September/October, then so be it, to let people know that here is the timetable, here are the processes, and here is how things are going forward in terms of Wales and in terms of the other forces. I think, if we are taking time to reflect, that is a better approach than getting straight locked into another timetable where we have not engaged sufficiently with people on all these issues we were talking about earlier.
Q6 Jessica Morden: How do you feel you can make this period of consultation a bit different; i.e. more satisfactory to the one we had previously?
Mr McNulty: Certainly we can do it at ministerial level - and I know it is going on at official level anyway - by engaging and being seen to engage and taking very seriously not only people's concerns about the outstanding issues but also their options in terms of going in some other direction. If it is a one-way dialogue, for whatever reason, it is not terribly helpful for anybody. I have already seen the Chief Constables and someone from the Welsh Office and the Welsh Assembly Government Minister concerned. I have the great pleasure of going down next Thursday to see the Chairs of the police authorities and others. We do want that serous engagement in Wales and elsewhere to put the case as we see it and to listen very seriously, and be seen to listen very seriously, to concerns that people have over a whole range of issues.
Q7 Mr Crabb: In terms of resolving the detailed issues of structure, governance and finance, about four months ago the Secretary of State for Wales announced that he was setting up a cross-government working group, which involved representation from the Assembly, to resolve issues. Could you update us on the progress of the group? How many times has it met and who from the Assembly site on that?
Mr McNulty: I do not have to hand those exact details but METIC has them, engaged with officials it has them, and there is a close working relationship with the Welsh Office and the Home Office. The problem in part, if I can say it in this way as I think I said at the Adjournment Debate that you had, is that it was at the ministerial and political level that engagement has been lacking, for very good reasons in terms of the ambitious timetable, and it is at that level I think the engagement needs to be far more readily now than it has been in the past, and be seen to be. I think in part at least that we have not argued or put the case as readily as we can in terms of how restructuring and how the merger fits in with our vision of policing. For whatever reason, it has got lost in the structural process debate that was not terribly helpful. I have been given the answer. The Finance Working Group has representatives from the Welsh Assembly Government, ACPO, APA, Department of Communities and Local Government, Local Government Association, Metropolitan Police, Metropolitan Police Authority and the Home Office. It last met on 27 April and it has met three times thus far this year. As part of the ongoing dialogue with the service, we will be arranging further meetings of the Finance Woking Group as required. That gives partly an answer. In terms of more substantial bits about composition and who from the Welsh Assembly Government, official or otherwise, is on that, I will certainly you know.
Q8 Hywel Williams: Can I discuss something that you said in the House last week, which was reported early on in the Welsh press? You said: "It may well be that the destination is right but that some kind of federation or confederation on the way to an all-Wales force is the right one." You seem to be saying two or perhaps even three things in that sentence. You say it may be that the destination is right. Presumably it may be that the destination is not the right one either. Is there some ambiguity there?
Mr McNulty: If I am saying two or three things, that probably is not one of them. I emphasise that we start from thinking that is the destination. What I meant, and I obviously did not say it articulately as I meant to, was that it may well be that rather than go from the four forces as now straight to - in the ambitious timetable or otherwise - the unified force, there may be steps along the way. What I emphasise, as I said to others, is that it really is now for those who would suggest either alternatives to the single force or alternatives and phasing in terms of the timetable that gets us to the individual force to put up those arguments now. I am open to listen to and engage with people on those options. That is how I think the Western Mail and others interpreted that collaboration and confederation might still be on the agenda. It may well be the case, and it is not for me to speculate and it is a rather silly thing for a minister and a politician to do generally but let me do it anyway, that if not firstly in 2007, we can work to 2008 or 2009 and do it in stages. There may well be a compelling case to say, "Let us get the back office rationalisation done because that can be done within the context of four forces. Let us have a look at how things are then and later push things on and see how that fills the gaps in terms of level 2 protective services". Then, at the end of the day that which we say it is will be the one force at the end, with all the incumbent issues about governance, reflecting Welsh geography and all the other evidence; the merged force will come down the line some. I think if the compelling point is filling in the gaps and making sure that protective services are covered, then that is a model worth looking at. I still say, and I am sorry to repeat it, that we start from the premise that we think a strategic force uniting the four forces as quickly as possible, with all the attendant difficulties still to be discussed, is the way forward. I am sorry if that sounds like two or three different things but it is fairly clear to me that that is where we are going. I do want to say that I want people to be as inventive and as imaginative as they want to be in terms of alternative models. I am happy to engage and discuss those but that is where we start from. It is only honest and fair to say that is where we start from rather than suggesting that the delay or the slowing down of the timetable suddenly means everything is up for grabs again. I am happy to have that dialogue but it is within the context of us thinking that the one force is the way forward.
Q9 Hywel Williams: It is matter of people coming to you with models rather than you looking at anything fundamental again. I accept that. Will you be taking any active steps yourself to look for example at building on the cooperation between the three South Wales and the West Wales forces, or perhaps even looking at the model they have in Scotland for dealing with drugs and some aspects of serious crime? Will you be looking at those sorts of issues again or just waiting for people to come at you with their preferred alternatives?
Mr McNulty: I will, given that we have made clear and the timetable aside it remains the case that we think one strategic force is the way to go forward. I understand perfectly why up till now, not least in the context of that timetable, people's principal position has been, 'We do not like the end result of one strategic force', for all the reasons why they are against it, which is perfectly fair in terms of the political discourse. All I am saying now is that now we have the time and space to reflect on these matters, it is incumbent on those people to move away from 'Here is why we are against that model' and tell me what the alternative is. Certainly in the Adjournment Debate we had the other day, everybody started from the point perhaps that there are gaps in terms of protective services at level 2 provision throughout Wales, and they need resolving. I am saying that I think that the discourse is changed from 'here is what we want and everyone else saying why they are against it' to 'here is still what we want, albeit not at the same timetable; now, please, it is incumbent on those who do not like that as a destination to tell us why in substance other ways can be found to fill those gaps with the collapse of the federal model or whatever'. I do not think that is the Government is saying, 'No, you do all the work rather than us'. I think it is a reasonable way to have the argument and debate about what is, we all agree, a serious public policy issue in terms of future policing in Wales.
Q10 Hywel Williams: How do you see the remaining issues to be resolved before the four forces in Wales can be merged into one force? What are the main issues before we get to that position?
Mr McNulty: I think there is still debate and discussion, although we think we are pretty sure where we start from, in terms of finance and the commitment that we have made to 100% cover and reasonable start-up costs. I think there is still an issue over council tax precept equalisation. There must be a nicer and less clumsy way of saying that that is what it is, and that remains an issue for discussion. There is the broad issue, which is particularly acute in Wales but is an issue in other forces too, of the whole urban/rural split in general before you get to the specifics of Welsh geography, which we have tried to recognise with some of the things we are doing in Police and Justice Bill. Then there is a broad issue of accountability and provenance, again reflecting the peculiarities, if I can say it in that way, of the way things are currently configured in Wales. I think it is probably unfair for people to have said in the past that we were trying to ram a one-size-fits-all model on forces throughout England and Wales. I think we are trying, as much as we can, on account of the Government's initiatives, to reflect what are peculiar local circumstances. Those, I would guess, are the main issues, and aside from a discourse about people wanting other models rather than the model we would prefer and have made clear we prefer, those issues all need to be subject to very real and serious discussion with the appropriate authorities: police authorities, chief constables and politicians from Welsh Assembly Government as well as the UK Parliament.
Q11 Mr Jones: Minister, I have been trying to keep count of the amount of times you have said that a North Wales police force is what you are really aiming for. I think I am round about six or seven now. It does not give us a lot of confidence that what you are really looking at is tackling the problem which was identified in the report Bridging the Gap. I am going to speak from a North Wales perspective, naturally enough, as that is where I am from. That is what I am paid to do; that is what we are all paid to do. The Closing the Gap proposals are talking about police forces of between 4,000 and 6,000 police officers in order to free up staff, as I took it. Correct me if I am wrong, but the idea is that if you have a police force of 4,000 to 6,000, then you have the ability to free up police officers. A North Wales police force would have around about 7,500 to 8000 police officers. Unfortunately, from the point of freeing up officers, something like 6,500 of them are going to be south of Brecon. I am considerably north of Brecon as a lot of my colleagues are. Our level 2 policing, as I know you are aware, comes from the problems associated with cross-border issues and Merseyside, Manchester and so on. There is also a problem with our protective services. Can you tell this committee in words of one syllable precisely how creating an all-Wales police force is going to free up officers in North Wales, given that is where they live and the South Wales police officers live south of Brecon, in order in some way that we are going to be able to tackle the issues that this has all been driven by?
Mr McNulty: With apologies for words of more than one syllable, I think the starting premise of the HMI report was not simply about merging forces, getting to some magic number and thereby freeing up forces and being able to do the job in terms of protective services. It was far more about saying that there was a nominal size for a police force, as you say between 4,000 or 6,000, and that you had then got to a stage where, with economies of scale and the wider focus, a police force could seriously look at filling the gaps that cover all its area in terms of level 2 and protective services. I do not think it is as simple as the merger somehow magically saying that there is scope then to free up police from North Wales and go and do whatever they need to do in terms of level 2 protective services down in the south. I do not think it was as straightforward as that. I would happily say that in the main people know what the small weaknesses are, and there are small weaknesses, in terms of four forces. The four forces work and work well, but we just think that together, with all the economies of scale that would bring, with all it would bring in terms of back office staff and getting a quantum so that you can get a body of expertise that will deal with level 2 and protective services, it will work better, but it is not just about getting some magic number to remove people. Your point about cross-border is a fair one and it is recognised by the report in terms of criminal markets. An all-Wales force does not preclude and should not preclude all the very good cross-border cooperation there is up and along the border with Avon and Somerset at one end through to Cheshire and Merseyside at the other; that should still prevail. It will still be the case that if something substantial happens in the North Wales, Cheshire and Merseyside will help.
Q12 Mr Jones: I knew you were going to say that. That is happening now. What is the difference in an all-Wales police force? You have said it is not solely about freeing up officers, which is fair enough. You are also talking about freeing up resources. We know that in any kind of major change of this magnitude we are not going to free up financial or regional resources to any great extent for a considerable number of years. You are nodding and so I take it you agree with me on that. We are realistically talking about freeing up officers if that is going to be any kind of reason for doing this all. It may be that in certain parts of the country that will be the case. What I am saying is that for our level 2 policing, our protective service problems, it is not going to work. I want you to tell me that you have got a plan that is going to get some kind of extra policing to tackle our cross-border issues from South Wales into North Wales where you have a 200 mile gap and some very big mountains in the way.
Mr McNulty: I would say, with the greatest respect, that you are looking at the wrong end of the telescope. There are significant strategic policing issues that go beyond simply the cross‑border matters that you refer to on protective services and level 2 that we think very seriously cannot be sustained and developed over the next period of time simply by the North Wales Force, other than in conjunction with the other forces. The point about cross-border is just as marked in some other areas. I can develop a really rather strange map of the Metropolitan Police area, that is my area, if it included every single criminal market that impacted on the Met Police and what they do. The French might have some issues with that because probably much of the northern provinces of Calais would be part of that. Yes, criminal markets are part of the equation and criteria but not the only one. The cross-border stuff must continue, of course, and there has been some very good work in that regard, but I do not think there is a sustainable case - and I know you have not said this - for a merger of North Wales and Cheshire and Merseyside. That cross-border cooperation must continue but we think it is the case that there are strategic policing issues around protective services at level 2 that are best dealt with in an all-Wales capacity. At least in part, as in some other areas, that is bringing some of the expertise from some forces to help with other forces. The starting premise of the Welsh Office, Government and everybody is that those strategic policing issues are best dealt with in an all-Wales police force. The bit that we have missed in terms of engagement in the past in the broad debate is how those strategic policing matters relate to basic command unit structure, neighbourhood policing and all the other elements that go to a vision of policing rather than being lost in some sterile structural debate as though it floats above all these other concerns in terms of policing. I would argue very strongly that it does not. I would argue very strongly that if you do close the gap throughout Wales in terms of level 2 and protective services, then it will do precisely not what you fear it will do in terms of ripping out at any given moment when needed all the very good work done in the North Wales in terms of neighbourhood policing; it will actually get us to a stage where the provision of those strategic policing events are done elsewhere and will preserve rather than abstract every single time the neighbourhood policing in North Wales or anywhere else.
Q13 Mr Jones: In one word - how?
Mr McNulty: By filling those gaps.
Q14 Mr Jones: How?
Mr McNulty: The absolute how is a matter of substance operationally for chief constables to sort out.
Q15 Mr Jones: You do not know, Minister?
Mr McNulty: It is not that I do not know but it is not right for me to dictate. This is not about one-size-fits-all. This is not about me dictating from Whitehall how the new Chief Constable in a merged force should implement policing in Wales, any more than it is at the moment my job to tell the North Wales Chief Constable operationally how to do policing in North Wales. We can provide a strategic framework; we can provide the resources in terms of neighbourhood policing. I am not about to tell your Chief Constable whether neighbourhood police teams should go, any more than I am about to tell the Chief Constable of the North Wales force how those gaps are to be filled. They are recognised by all in terms of level 2 - serious and organised crime, protective services and all the other elements. We are saying they can be filled, as HMI says, and that that job can be better done by a united force of the sort of numbers between 4,000 and 6000 plus that you suggest, and that that sort of quantum is needed to start seriously to address the specific issues that everyone agrees are gaps in policing in Wales.
Q16 Mr Jones: Minister, I fail to see how you can say that without being able to give some kind of design, guidance and idea of how that is done. It is all very well saying you do not want to interfere in operational policing, which is fair enough. If you are going to make a huge change like this and you are saying that it has to be done to bridge a gap, if you cannot give us any idea of how that is done specifically in North Wales, because of the specific problems we have with the North Wales Police Force, then to me this seems like one-size-fits-all. I cannot understand how this is going to work.
Mr McNulty: Actually, it is not one-size-fits-all. I have stressed that. I do understand entirely that it is right and proper for you to have a North Wales focus, but we seriously think that the four individual forces and what they can or cannot do to fit the gap in terms of protective services and level 2 services will be insufficient for Wales in the context of the HMI report, for the reasons laid out in that report. It is not simply a nuclear option somehow to tell Wales how to do its policing at the basic command unit level or at the neighbourhood policing level. Everyone agrees that there are gaps at level 2 and protective services. We are saying now, after adjusting the timetable, that we still think the strategic force is the way to go, the way to fill those gaps that everyone agrees exist, and that it is for those who detract from that not simply to say "Don't want it, don't like it; we would far rather just keep hiring the force" but to say how we will fill those gaps, which is the starting point that we will share but those gaps are there and need to be filled.
Q17 Hywel Williams: Can I just look at the very practical example, one offered by your predecessor. She told us that if there was a typical murder, a larger force would be able to deal with it more effectively. It is the example offered by your department. Can I ask you: if there was a triple murder in Holyhead, would you envisage officers travelling up from Cardiff to deal with it?
Mr McNulty: Again, that would be a matter for the new Chief Constable or the new senior and all the other bits. I suspect no. As I have said I think on a number of occasions, if there was a significant public disorder or serious crime in Prestatyn, then I would guess that the most immediate response, were one to be needed, would come from the neighbouring force in England. I think that is right and proper but it is not the case, as I said earlier, that all serious crime or organised crime, high level violent crime and counter-terrorism are about rapid responses to specific events all the time.
Q18 Hywel Williams: With respect, Minister, it was an example offered by your predecessor as being the case, which would be more effectively dealt with by a merged police office in Wales. You seem to be saying now that that is not the case.
Mr McNulty: No. There are degrees, are there not, of murder inquiries, as we all know. In a major, major case, it may well be that the strategic force could do it better if it had that central pooled expertise that currently exits between the four forces. I do take the point. I was almost going back to the previous question and saying that other objections have gone around incidents where a rapid response is required where it would still be the case that you go to, as any police force would, the closest point to help and assist. It does not follow that you wait until people get up from South Wales or wherever else. Much of serious and organised crime, counter-terrorism and the upper elements, the gaps we are seeking to fill, by definition require rather long and tedious processes in intelligence service and detection terms. We are saying that all of that expertise to fill the gaps that we all understand are there would be better done, more expertly done, by one force than otherwise. I put down the challenge, if you like, to those who detract from that to say: you tell me how, in a Welsh context, those gaps can very seriously be met by collaboration, federation or some degree of regionalisation and pooling of particular expertise rather than everything. I would say, in passing, that one of the first questions I asked was: what was so bad about the Regional Crime Squad type model that you could not that? They did not work and they did not work for any number of reasons, not all associated with policing, but turf wars and various other bits and pieces. If people are serious about moving towards collaboration and federation to fill these gaps and to pool that expertise, then I will listen. I say "serious" because I think I have read in at least one place - and I cannot remember the exact number but if I have mis‑remembered, I do apologise - that there will need to be a standing force, in terms of a response unit, of some 279 officers just in case something went off in Wales in an all-Wales force, which is clearly ludicrous. Pooling that expertise to address what will be, sadly I think, increasingly serious organised crime, even if the level stays as it is the impact is still very serious, needs to be addressed. I am saying we think that would be better done in the one force than otherwise, but I do need to emphasise, and I keep repeating this now rather than saying that one force fits all (if I have said that six or seven times that is probably sufficient for the committee's purposes) that we are now in properly connected engaged mode and seriously want to talk about what people think the alternatives could be. It is just not enough, I think, to say: this is our model; it works fine for us. Yes, there are gaps but I am more concerned with BCU and neighbourhood policing than I am with filling those gaps.
Q19 Mark Williams: Turning now to specific issues related to Government, the Government has been working toward a Strategic Police Authority of 43 members to be reduced to 33 after the first two years. Concerns have been expressed that there is an element of pre-determination as to the success of that committee in reducing it after two years but police authorities have said that "a review of the effectiveness of the SPA should be undertaken after it has been given a reasonable chance to be in and its effectiveness can be properly evaluated - not before it has even been formed." What are your views on that or do you feel this particular issue is not in the melting pot of the dialogue that you have outlined you are going to undertake over the summer?
Mr McNulty: I think there are two or three things going on. Firstly, the 43 will reflect a police authority roughly reflective of the composition now in terms of local authorities and the majority - local authorities plus one equals a majority. That is in statute, so that is fixed and rather clunky in terms of any flexibility. The Police and Justice Bill, you are quite right, going through the House now, puts that down to 33 in the first instance, reflected I think by magistrates and some other component parts of the existing police force. The Police and Justice Bill also affords us, through orders rather than primary legislation, the flexibility, working with each new force, to reflect the authority that they require rather than being locked into the statutory obligation of 14 or 43. Although it may seem like 43 down to 33, that casts all sorts of judgments on the new police authority straight away and makes assumptions about the direction in which it is going. Actually, I think that once the Police and Justice Bill has gone through the House, and I think by October/November that should certainly be rather than this time in the summer, then it will afford us a greater degree of flexibility. That is a long‑winded way of saying that I agree with your last point that it is then, with that flexibility, in the melting pot and we can discuss with each particular new force quite the direction they want to go in terms of policing.
Q20 Mark Williams: Just to reiterate, and you have more or less answered my second question, relegation to area committee should envisage that discussion taking place here when we return after the recess?
Mr McNulty: No doubt there will be some discussion on area committees, deputy chief constables and the whole composition of police authority issues when the Police and Justice Bill comes back. In substance, we have said that there will be area committee and we need to talk with each force about that. Quite how they work and relate to the authority and all those other elements I think are matters for discussion that probably goes beyond simply the Police and Justice Bill that gives us the ability to do these things. I do not think there will be a huge set-piece debate on a Welsh force or any other force in November but simply the tail end of the Police and Justice Bill debate.
Q21 Mr Jones: The Police Authorities of Wales, and I quote "seek parity with councils which are able to use local government provision to devolve decision making to cabinet or area committees". How would you respond to that?
Mr McNulty: As I say, now that we have put in place the notion of area committees, then once we have got what the overall force will look like in each area, we have a degree of flexibility to look at what the relative devolution or power structure will be between a force‑wide police authority and the area committees. That really is a matter of serious debate and discussion, as I was saying.
Q22 Mr Crabb: Just thinking about regions within Wales, you may be aware of the broader Beecham Review of the reform of public service delivery in Wales. How do you think the current proposals for restructuring the police forces in Wales fits with that review, in particular local delivery of those services much more?
Mr McNulty: I think there is still a debate to be had on that within the context of policing specifically, but I do think we have understood the starting point in terms of the specifics of geography, which clearly has an impact on local service delivery by what we have done on area committees, by saying that an additional deputy chief constable may well be the way forward, and I think by continually working with the Welsh Office and the Welsh Assembly Government on every aspect of public service delivery and not having the police stand outside of that whole debate because I think it is, as you imply, hugely important.
Q23 Nia Griffith: When the four Welsh Chief Constables were giving evidence to the committee, they told us that the "effectiveness of arrangements (in an all Wales Force) depends entirely on the resilience and accessibility of the command function". They added that "for command reasons alone the Welsh ACPO team must be dispersed across the country... to ensure a 24-hour geographical command resilience". What will you do to ensure that this is in fact the case if an all-Wales force is created?
Mr McNulty: I do not want to hide behind the notion that that is an operational matter but it is but I take the point. I know people have in their head in all these matters a model that says "everything sucked to one centre and everything on policing is dictated from that centre" and somehow that is where we have got to in terms of the whole restructuring debate, which I think is profoundly a wrong interpretation. Although it will be a matter for the overall force, that sounds entirely right to me, not least for the same reasons we suggest accountability in government needs to have a slightly different focus in Wales because of geography. Intuitively, I think that would be entirely the way I would expect them to go. It is not a mass urban sprawl. In a mass urban sprawl like London, there is not simply one command and control focus for resilience; that is dispersed too. It would make perfect sense in an operational matter, which as I am on a roll I will comment on anyway although I probably should not, that there should be the resilience centres across Wales as a nation to fill those gaps in terms of that key area. I agree with the thrust of what they are saying. It is a matter for them and nothing we do will work against them being able to design things in that way as a new force, rather than otherwise.
Q24 Hywel Williams: We understand that the Government have agreed to amend the Police Act 1996 so that forces can have more than one deputy chief constable but also that the Home Secretary will reserve the power to approve such an arrangement. Can you tell us how that would work in practice?
Mr McNulty: As with all these reserve matters, the force will come up with a suggestion and a rationale behind the suggestion and more often than not I would say in practical terms, the Home Secretary would agree it. Rather than a power grab, I think that is more about providing a statutory hook where things are, for whatever reason, perverse or capricious, and so that nine times out of ten or 99 times out of 100, after discussion, if the rationale is there and it makes perfect sense, then it will not be rubber stamped but it will be agreed, I would say, by the Home Secretary. Again, the people who think that is another centralising power and "you might want that but I will decide whether you get it or not" is the wrong way of looking at it. It is there as a kind of public policy escape clause, should there be perverse overtones, which of course in the Welsh context - four forces, one force or otherwise - would never be the case.
Q25 Mr Crabb: One of the most concerning bits of evidence that came before us in our inquiry from my point of view was the statement from the Welsh Chief Constables who said that "there is a real doubt that an all-Wales force created as things stand would be financially viable". How do you propose the question of financing is going to be resolved?
Mr McNulty: Number one, by getting off the hook of the over-ambitious timetable, so there is time and space to think and discuss and take these concerns up more readily with people. To be fair, you will agree that that comment was made in the context of the timetable and the constraints that would follow in terms of negotiations and everything else. Because it is twin‑track, I will seriously engage both on finance in terms of start-up costs that we are committed to and finance in terms of council tax precept equalisation, both of which are real issues, in Wales as elsewhere, and are matters that we are seriously considering now, as we were in the past, both across Government and with each of the assorted forces in England and Wales. This concern really was in that narrow focus of where they were at with the timetable. That does not mean that now we have elongated the timetable all of a sudden all finance matters have gone away and are no longer the concern of chief constables. There are still, and would have been even on the existing timetable, some concerns about finance in both those regards that, in the normal course of things, we would have discussed in a rather hurried fashion on the old timetable, but now we have the time and space to reflect on those while everyone is telling me the 100 ways we can get to level 2 protective services, gaps being closed, without going for a full or merged force.
Q26 Mr Crabb: You will be aware of the medium-term financial forecast that the Chief Constables produced which indicated that by 2012/2013 there will be a £51 million deficit. Do you still recognise those figures as robust?
Mr McNulty: I hesitate on the word "still" because I am not sure that we ever did recognise those as robustly as perhaps the authors intended, but again I would say that they were, within the constraints, quite properly and fairly assumptions about council tax precept equalisation and assumptions about reasonable starting-up costs. You will know as well as I that you can build in all sort of assumptions and then extrapolate and get to those sorts of figures. I think, rather than dwell on those, there is scope and time now for discussions on both the start-up costs side and the council precept equalisation, and we need to have those discussions sooner rather than later, which is what we are doing.
Q27 Mr Crabb: They worked with one set of figures and they had their work evaluated by PricewaterhouseCoopers. You are saying you do not recognise those figures. You have an alternative set of figures in front of you. Are you still looking at a deficit for an all-Wales force within the timescale that they were looking at, by about 2012/2013?
Mr McNulty: I am saying validated by Pricewaterhouse or whoever, which I am sure was a perfectly fair way to go, I do not recognise many of the starting assumptions they make, quite properly because they do not have all the facts and figures in front of them. I do not say that we are programming a deficit or otherwise by 2012/2013 or otherwise but that, now we have the time and space, those matters need to be discussed, crucially I think, and we do need to address their presumptions about council tax precept equalisation that lead them in that direction. I am not challenging the validity of what they have done or how they have done it. I am just saying that some of their assumptions that may or may not have been appropriate in the rather constrained timetable we had are now, along with everything else, matters for debate and discourse. If you are asking me as a matter of policy if we are determined to make sure that by the turn of the next decade there will be a deficit for an all-Wales force, I think, to be fair, the answer is no.
Q28 Mr Crabb: I was not asking that. I was asking whether the figures that you have before you, which you might consider more appropriate than the ones the Chief Constables were working from, point to a deficit in 2012/2013. Moving on, who do you think will pay for the increased financial commitment of an all-Wales police force?
Mr McNulty: Again that is a very short question with a huge amount of supposition in it. Firstly, for reasonable start-up costs, we have said the Government. Secondly, if people can persuade me that the model we are attached to, part of which I shall not repeat, is not the right one, what are the alternatives? Let us look at the financing resources of those alternatives. It may well be that I am suitably persuaded and we do not go for this model. Thirdly, you will know, and this is part of the supposition behind the earlier figures, that we have said in the course of any of these mergers that over time there has to be equalisation of the precept, which is again perfectly reasonable. There are all sorts of variations there in terms of how you do it, over what time, at what speed, and within what capping regime or otherwise. Any one of those assumptions can lead you to all sorts of lines in terms of financing in the future, let alone a combination of all of them. So those are all in the pot now and are matters for discussion.
Q29 Mr Crabb: I can say that there is a massive fear back home in Wales that there will be a big financial hit recurring year-on-year with a new all-Wales force and that there are only two ways to pay for that, either by service cuts or by an increased burden on council taxpayers. That is the fear down in Wales at the moment. You have a huge task to dispel that.
Mr McNulty: I do doubt that fear is there, not least, as I think I said right at the beginning, for a three to six month lack of real engagement in terms of politics and details of this on behalf of Government. I do not think we did that very well and it did not do us any favours. I say that as candidly as I can. I recognise those fears. It is my job to challenge and overcome them.
Q30 Mr Jones: The written evidence from the Chief Constables in Wales states that the police funding formula will be reviewed next year for implementation in 2008. It is likely that it going to be coming into being at the same time as the new police force, if we go along that line, which it seems you are determined to do. If, as they claim, this happens, they say, and I am quoting from their evidence, "for those charged with the creation of an all-Wales force, not knowing the future funding position.... at the design stage represents a real headache". How do you propose to address that issue then, Minister?
Mr McNulty: I think the whole issue of the funding formula is reviewed on a regular basis and it will need to be reviewed in the context of when we get back on the restructuring timetable. I know that there are concerns too, and there always are, about issues such as sparsity and other elements and how they feed into performance. I think it is right and proper that the formula should be reviewed. There are inputs into that from all relevant stakeholders in Wales as elsewhere. It does need to be done in the context of where we are going on the restructuring process. It is an entirely fair point and one that does need very careful attention, as ever in local government terms, because that is the root of it, aside from simply in the context of restructuring.
Q31 Mr Jones: So that the change in the police force structure would have an effect on the funding formula rather than vice versa?
Mr McNulty: Only I think to the extent that issues such as sparsity and all the other elements that go to make up the police funding formula will be done in base terms of the population of the new force covered rather than otherwise. The relationship, whether it is the police funding formula or more broadly local government funding, is always done in the context of what the population base is that those services are going to be serving. In that way, yes.
Q32 Nia Griffith: The Welsh Police Service tells us that the revised funding formula is advantageous to metropolitan areas but disadvantageous to the sparsely populated areas. Given that any proposal for an all-Wales police force is likely to be the most sparsely populated area of any police force in England or Wales, what assurances can you give us that the budget for an all-Wales force would not be any less than the sum of the four existing police forces?
Mr McNulty: Without rushing quickly for a crystal ball, I probably can give that assurance and the assurance, and this might sound sleight of hand, that sparsity will remain a key issue for those involved in the formula to look at. You will know as well as I do that sparsity is very important in terms of the actual spend on any number of services - road maintenance and a whole bunch of other things as well as just policing - and they do try to capture that within the wider context of local government funding and the formulae. The Welsh Association of Local Government, the Welsh Assembly and others all have inputs into the review process of the funded formulae and they all understand as readily as many of the English counties that have equal difficulties the importance of the sparsity factor. Without digressing, it is even more complex than you suggest. I have many colleagues in counties that are overwhelmingly rural but have this huge urban metropolitan lump in the middle and they think they are getting severely under-funded in the context of sparsity value because all the focus is on their urban bit but not on the rural bit. In a broad sense, we do need to get to a stage where, whatever happens in terms of structuring and mergers, that overall balance, not simply in terms of funding but more broadly between urban-based policing and rural-based policing, is taken into account. Sparsity tries to capture that in terms of the formula, principally through strategic and operational matters. Whatever this force ends up as, single force or otherwise, will have to take that into account as readily as other forces in England. It is a tension and real balance between the policing of rural communities and the policing of urban communities.
Q33 Nia Griffith: Can we turn now to council tax? Can you tell us what proposals there might be for the equalisation of the council tax contributions from the four force areas which presently do not all contribute the same amounts when a proposed force would be created?
Mr McNulty: At the risk of repetition, now that we are off the original timetable, that will have to be looked at in detail along with all the other matters. I think the broad principle that it is right and appropriate to equalise is the right start. In that context, you will know that, as you suggest, certainly South Wales needs to go up and others come down in terms of the starting point.
Q34 Nia Griffith: That is obviously a concern.
Mr McNulty: I say that for no other reason than to represent fact, but whatever discussion there is on that and how we move forward, I have not heard in the context of even those who object to merger models throughout England and Wales, any notion that there was somehow something wrong with the notion or concept that there should be equalisation, whatever the final area is.
Q35 Nia Griffith: If we can move then to the total budget, the Welsh chief constables claim that based on the draft amalgamation order and likely constraints in terms of council tax capping, they see that there will be an annual loss of income of £10.2 million in 2009, rising to an annual deficit of £27.8 million by 2012. How would you respond to their claim and how would you propose to solve this problem?
Mr McNulty: As I suggested earlier, there are assumptions made in there about the capital regime, there are assumptions made in there about how to equalise and how quickly to equalise, and I seriously say all those matters are now matters for negotiation and discussion. I do not decry what they say in the context of what events were and what the facts were at the time, but myself and the Home Secretary have not slowed things down - as I said right at the beginning - because it is too hard so we are not going to do it all, because there are compelling reasons why these gaps should be filled. Neither, at the other end, are we saying we will do it in three months or six months when no one is looking and they think it has all gone away. We are serious now about engaging with all stakeholders across all forces involved; yes, in terms of broad principles going ahead and what alternatives there might be, as I suggest, but equally in terms of the nuts and bolts of each of these areas: finance, accountability, council tax precept, equalisation and other elements, because it is important to do so while there is this reflection period now. I am not just pushing the question away in the context of the new circumstances, I think the new circumstances give us a chance and an opportunity to continue to look, perhaps in more depth in the time afforded at all these matters than we could have under the more ambitious timetable that we have just come off.
Q36 Jessica Morden: The other financial worry that the chief constables have is about the funding of neighbourhood policing and they were saying that in 2008, given that the additional Home Office funding for PCSOs was going to be consolidated into their base budget, thereon it is going to in fact give about £10 million deficit. Talking of my own personal experience, given the success of neighbourhood policing in my patch, can you guarantee that it will not be put at risk in future because of financial issues?
Mr McNulty: I can guarantee that the Home Office will fight as manfully as it can in the next Comprehensive Spending Review round for such a success to endure in terms of being fully resourced, as it has this time round. It is really the three year bites in terms of the spending review that put that impact on it, but I do say as strongly as I can that whatever your politics neighbourhood policing is the way forward. How it relates to the basic funding and whatever else is above that is of course important, but that accountability and visibility of policemen and women out on the streets, although in some cases it is early days, has had a profound result that we do not want to challenge in any way or undermine.
Q37 Mr Crabb: Can you confirm whether after 2008 your department will be looking for the private sector in Wales to help shoulder some of the burden or finance the additional PCSOs that are coming on stream in the next 12 months?
Mr McNulty: We will welcome support from wherever it comes.
Q38 Mr Crabb: Will there be a targeted push to attract financial resources from businesses in Wales to help with the funding shortfall?
Mr McNulty: Firstly, that starts to go into the next CSR but, secondly, we have always said quite seriously - if I sounded flippant I apologise - that it is incumbent on the whole community to contribute to the policing of their neighbourhoods and communities and we will look to business to help in that regard generally, I do not think necessarily to fill any shortfall or any kind of pre-planned function. It has worked and worked well in some instances where businesses, especially in town centres and things, have contributed significantly, largely because they can see the results that go to quality of life, environment and all the other issues around their business. We will keep pressure in that regard to get contributions in that direction and work with local authorities in imaginative ways to ensure that that happens. I say local authorities because it has happened in some instances in terms of the street wardens and community wardens, that they have been a pre-cursor - although that is not strictly the use as a historical matter - to the development of PCSOs.
Q39 Mr Jones: Minister, although a variable number of chief constables and police authorities at different times and in different places have said that they support the merger in principle, they claim that as things stand they cannot offer their "unqualified operational support". What steps will you take to secure that support?
Mr McNulty: Meeting with them, engaging with them, explaining what the new process is as quickly as I can and explaining to them that whatever substantive concerns they have had, that essentially - not all but half revolved around the timetable and the rush, as they would term it - now that we have the time and space I have to sit down and engage with them to try and allay those fears, without stepping into strategic operational matters and telling them that we think is the way forward. If I can allay those fears, hopefully they will skip up to the sunny uplands with me.
Mr Jones: The sunny uplands are the problem; we have too many sunny uplands in Wales. On that note I will leave it.
Q40 Chairman: That is a happy note on which to end. Thank you, Minister, for your very refreshing and open and frank way in which you answered the questions; I hope that in the same spirit you will respond to our second report on this matter. In our first report I would like to place on record the fact that we were scrutinising the process and there were some unwarranted criticisms, not from the Home Office but from elsewhere, about the fact that we did not come forward with our own proposals. I hope that when we will compile our report this time we may well come forward with our own proposals and that you will respond in a positive and constructive way.
Mr McNulty: I look forward to being able to do so.