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29 Nov 2006 : Column 133WH—continued

We must ensure that we end up with an improved service and I am happy to place those impact assessments in the Library for each area. Every
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Member of Parliament will be able to see precisely what the employment opportunities are locally, whether or not the withdrawal of the office would have a dramatic effect, and whether other employment opportunities in the local area are being strengthened. Those are perfectly reasonable things to do and I am absolutely clear that we need to be transparent in how we approach this debate and to ensure that the information is available.

Nia Griffith: Will consideration be given to the relative values of properties that are freed up? That should be looked into if we are to obtain value for money. Clearly, in centres such as Cardiff, property and office space is worth a lot more than in parts of rural west Wales.

Dawn Primarolo: Indeed. We also need to consider availability in the labour market; there is no point having an HMRC office in a location where we cannot recruit the relevant staff. There are many factors and I am happy—it is not a secret—to write to my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman to give examples of the things that should be covered. I have asked the Department to consider a range factors in the impact assessment and if hon. Members think it reasonable that other economic and social factors should be taken into account, I am happy to consider those.

At the heart of this is not just my responsibility as Minister, but our responsibility as Members of Parliament to face reality and to recognise that the Department spends taxpayers’ money and that money should be spent in the most efficient and productive way. A slightly more complex picture emerges in the public sector in relation to where resources are located. If I put all the relevant information on the table, in order to maintain the office he would like to keep, the hon. Gentleman would need to increase HMRC’s budget by £1 billion and state that he would do so in his election manifesto and that of his hon. Friends. Otherwise, he is faced with the same question as me: how do we reorganise efficiently, fairly, effectively, take all matters into consideration and ensure that the process is transparent, so that people understand the real reasons why decisions were taken, and not just have the rumours and worries that often circulate in the absence of accurate information?

I hope on that basis that the hon. Gentleman will embrace the consultation exercise and I look forward to receiving his submission.

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Derbyshire Police

4.30 pm

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): I shall first set out the record of Derbyshire police and the improvement in that record under the present Government, because that is an important backdrop to the points that I want to make. First, in sheer numerical terms, Derbyshire’s force is much more substantial than it was in 1997. There were just under 1,800 full-time equivalent officers at the end of 1996, and there are now 2,063. Staff numbers have also increased, by about 500, providing critical support services to front-line officers. The introduction of police community support officers has been one of the major innovations of the present Government. The authority now has 56 of those, and our special constabulary, which is a critical part particularly of neighbourhood and community policing, has also increased in that time, by 70 heads. Overall, the force is much larger than it was 10 years ago. That needs to be recognised and appreciated.

It also needs to be recognised that those people have not just been sitting around, messing about. They have been bringing down crime sharply in the constituencies of all right hon. and hon. Members who are here from Derbyshire. Crime is down by 21 per cent. over the past three years, domestic burglary is down by 52 per cent. in that period and vehicle crime is down by 41 per cent. There have been dramatic changes, particularly in burglary and vehicle crime, which are among the most numerous offences and are the ones that most affect ordinary people.

We also have a tremendous track record across much of the county—at this point, I speak up particularly for what happens in my own area, South Derbyshire—for establishing crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Across Derbyshire, those partnerships spend £1.7 million a year and they are extraordinarily effective in focusing on local initiatives that will both reduce crime and improve detection rates in the communities involved. For example, in South Derbyshire, there has been a huge amount of work on target hardening, employing a joiner service to go round properties that have been broken into and providing much more secure locks and doors to prevent a repetition. Operation Liberal is also supported by the crime and disorder reduction partnerships and, particularly in my area, is a hugely successful initiative. It deals with distraction burglary and focuses mainly on older people, and it has been immensely successful in its objectives.

There have been external reviews of the force’s performance as well. The police performance assessment framework report out last month showed significant improvements in performance in neighbourhood policing, in crime investigation and crime reduction—I have cited statistics—and in reducing antisocial behaviour.

The Audit Commission has examined the financial performance of the authority. I think it is fair to say that, partly for historical reasons—authority members with longer memories of how the force was run during the 1990s will know that this authority has had to exercise rigour in its financial management for some considerable time—the authority is good at managing its resources. That needs to be recognised, too. We are
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talking about a success story, on which the Government and particularly the force, its authority and the population that works with it deserve congratulations.

What are some of the things that we perhaps ought to be a little concerned about? First, the O’Connor review considered protective services and, rightly, highlighted the fact that Derbyshire, among many forces, was poorly equipped to respond to higher-level threats such as terrorism or very serious organised crime. The force is not resourced to do that. Indeed, most of the east midlands forces had virtually nothing available in those fields either. One reason why I was an opponent of the merger was that merging five forces that had very few resources into one would be a bit like multiplying nought by five—we still get nought. The critical issue of providing appropriate resources for protective services had not been addressed. Therefore, the merger proposal did not do what it said on the tin, which was specifically to address that requirement.

The other context is that, last year, we had a useful review of the funding formulae for police authorities. That involved a great deal of work by police authorities and by the Home Office and it attracted plaudits. My right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio, who at the time was the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, said that the new formula was

and brought the funding mechanism for police authorities

It was recognised as the appropriate way to recognise the needs of police services across the country.

However, the floors applied to protect forces that might lose under the formula in effect mean that the formula was negated entirely last year and will also be this year, given yesterday’s announcement. No progress has been made towards addressing the needs identified in that recalculation, which particularly benefits forces such as Derbyshire. Let me set that out clearly. Last year, the force contributed, as a gaining force, £5.5 million to the floor to protect other authorities that would lose and, in the settlement announced yesterday for consultation, Derbyshire would contribute £5.7 million from the formula that it would otherwise get towards supporting other police authorities. To put that in concrete terms, it is equivalent to 163 police officers or 230 PCSOs. I am not saying that the resources would all be used for those purposes, but we are talking about a very significant contribution towards improving still further the standards of policing activity in Derbyshire.

To maintain existing services and to meet obligations for growth in the number of PCSOs requires the authority to make contributions from reserves. Those of us who have spent time in local government know that reserves can be spent only once and that if people use reserves to support ongoing revenue expenditure, such as paying for staff, they face a major problem when those reserves are used up. The authority needs to have a clear understanding of where it is going in the future if it is to commit reserves for that purpose. It cannot continue to do that, because it will end up in a major financial crisis. It is managing this year and it
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has done so knowingly. I suspect that it can probably cope in the oncoming year, but there is no doubt that a crisis looms.

We are talking about an outcome that is clearly unfair. Let me give a graphic example. Forces are directly compared to Derbyshire in respect of performance. Quite rightly, to try to measure whether a force is doing a good job, one picks comparable authorities and says, “How are you doing against them?” Let us take West Mercia, which is among the group of most similar authorities. West Mercia should receive under the formula £4 million less in grant than Derbyshire, but it will actually receive £10 million more than Derbyshire.

I do not represent a constituency in West Mercia. No doubt if I did, I might have a slightly different view, but I would not urge a draconian application of the formula in one swipe. I have always endorsed floors and ceilings as a method of smoothing the effect, but one has to say that a floor that is the same as the ceiling means that we get nowhere, and that is what we are dealing with at the moment. The floor applied to police authorities is 3.6 per cent., but for all other authorities covered by yesterday’s announcement it is 2.7 per cent. One must question why the floor has been raised to such a high level for police authorities that the effect of the new formula is entirely negated. That cannot be reasonable. Authorities that contributed their time and effort to developing the formula might justifiably ask why they did so, as it appears to have delivered no outcome.

I shall give some examples of what Derbyshire would like to spend its money on if were funded to the correct formula. I do not like dealing in vague sums of money or numbers of officers; we should try to apply the figures to a real need. First, we have one major crime team in Derbyshire, which is a relatively new innovation. The case used to be that if there were murders in Derbyshire, officers had to be drawn off the front line to resource the investigation. We have one such team, and we would like a second, because although Derbyshire is a relatively low crime county, major incidents do occur concurrently from time to time. A second team would allow the running of a major, complex investigation—or perhaps two or three more predictable major crime investigations in which one knows roughly who the suspects might be—at the same time as other investigations, without the burden of having to take officers away from the front line of any local force.

Secondly, we should do better on serious organised crime. That is obviously substantially a national activity, but local resources are also critical. The O’Connor review highlighted weaknesses on that matter, and it is important that we should be able to target resources at major crime enterprises that are either based in Derbyshire or affect people there.

Thirdly, we need a surveillance team to support those two activities and anti-terrorist activities. Sadly, my constituency has some knowledge of terrorism: a young lad who later drowned himself off Israel after attempting a suicide bomb attack there spent part of his time in South Derbyshire, and the area is not completely immune to knowledge of terrorist activity. It is important for us to devote resources to the critical need to prevent terrorism and to identify its early precursors.

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We need to improve forensic computing ability and strengthen our ability to deal with financial investigations. We also need a stronger special branch capacity specifically devoted to counter-terrorism, and extra child protection resources.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): As we enter the week of the campaign against violence against women, is my hon. Friend concerned that we might move backwards on the good work that has been done by Derbyshire constabulary on violent offences against women, particularly domestic violence and rape? It is always under-resourced in such cases, and violence against women makes up a huge proportion of violent crimes. Is he concerned that we might move backwards on that due to the funding formula?

Mr. Todd: I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the matter. As she rightly says, the force has a good record on dealing with domestic violence at the moment, but I agree that if the constraints remain in place, that record could be placed in jeopardy.

Among other aims is the continued extension of neighbourhood policing, which has benefited all our constituencies in the past few years. We must continue the deepening of the level of resources, which is certainly being noticed in my area. Those are the sort of things that we would seek to do.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) mentioned violence against women. His constituency borders mine, which was relevant in the tragic case of Tania Moore. Does he accept that the Independent Police Complaints Commission issued a very critical report about the performance of the police in that case? I know that the chief constable is determined to match the challenges in that report and ensure that such an incident does not happen again, but his job is made all the more difficult, as the hon. Gentleman has made clear, if continual financial pressure is applied to him.

Mr. Todd: It certainly is. Just before Christmas, I will be meeting the chief constable and some of his officers specifically on issues raised by that appalling crime to discuss what we can learn from them. The right hon. Gentleman is right that a lower level of resources makes such issues more likely to arise again.

The Home Office should either reduce the floors so that less money is pumped from Derbyshire to forces such as West Mercia or, if it feels that it cannot do that this year, target resources at other initiatives that are specifically intended to address, for example, some of the weaknesses mentioned by O’Connor. Some of the matters that I have listed are specifically related to that agenda. The Home Office should indicate clearly that the formula is meant seriously and will be applied seriously from next year, so that forces can prepare themselves for their task. I recognise the need for floors to protect authorities that are losing money, but we need the formula to be applied next year so that we can make meaningful progress towards a fair allocation of resources to Derbyshire constabulary for the benefit of us all.

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4.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) on securing this debate and on his timing in having it the day after the announcement of the police funding settlement. That was a brilliant piece of intuition. This is not the first time that he has contributed to a debate on police funding and policing in Derbyshire: he has been a regular contributor to such debates for a number of years. I am sure that his constituents recognise that he has fought assiduously for the best possible police service.

From what my hon. Friend has told me about the good work of the local crime and disorder partnership in south Derbyshire in combating crime and establishing a good partnership, I know that it has led people to feel safer in their communities and made a real contribution to the work that is being done. I hope that he feels that he is making a contribution to everything in his own area. I am glad to see him supported here by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber). We are also joined by the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin).

I wish to discuss the announcement of the national funding, and the funding picture in general, before turning to the specifics in Derbyshire. This time last year, we announced the provisional allocations for both 2006-07 and 2007-08. Police forces and police authorities have welcomed the extra certainty brought by the two-year settlements, which is why we will move to a three-year settlement next year. All police authorities and forces have received a 3.6 per cent. increase in the general formula grant, which makes up the great bulk of central Government support to the police. Adding in specific grants, capital support and central spending, the overall increase in Government spending on policing is 3.1 per cent. That represents a generous settlement for the police, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire knows, coming at a time when inflation is at 2.7 per cent. It builds on a series of similarly generous settlements.

To put that into context, funding for the police service as a whole will have increased by £4.2 billion between 2000-01 and 2007-08, an increase of 62 per cent. Such sustained increases are unprecedented and demonstrate the Government’s commitment to law and order and to a well financed police service.

I turn specifically to the Derbyshire police force. Like every other force, it has benefited from the generous funding settlements of the past few years. Following the normal consultation process, to which my hon. Friend will be able to contribute, if the House approves the provisional allocations that were announced yesterday, Derbyshire will next year receive £105.8 million in general grants and £18 million in specific grants. Compared with the total of £92.4 million in 2000-01, that is an increase of well over a third. From 2006-07 to 2007-08, there will be a 3.7 per cent. increase, which is a cash total of £3.8 million.

As my hon. Friend noted, the products of the investment can clearly be seen. On 31 March, Derbyshire had 2,046 police officers, which is 255 more than in March 1997, and 1,084 support staff—an
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increase of 361 from 1997. There were also 42 community support officers, which were an innovation of the Labour Government. He will remember that the idea of introducing CSOs was controversial, whereas now everyone is trying to get more of them. There are 42 in Derbyshire so far, and 429 special constables.

All that is significant, but as well as looking at resources we must consider what the taxpayer is getting for all the extra investment. Those results are also impressive both nationally and in Derbyshire. In Derbyshire, overall recorded crime has fallen by 21 per cent. in the past three years. That equates to more than 20,000 fewer victims of crime. Vehicle crime fell by 41 per cent. between April 2003 and March 2006, and domestic burglary fell by more than half. In the past year, violent crime has fallen by 4 per cent. and drug offences by 17 per cent.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to everyone concerned at Derbyshire for their efforts and for the real improvements they have made to the safety of constituents in Derbyshire. I echo the words of Janet Birkin, the chair of Derbyshire police authority, who recently said:

I know that my hon. Friends the Members for South Derbyshire and for Amber Valley will agree with that.

I give all that information to set the context for the debate, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire did. Whatever complaints police authorities and forces may have are set against the background of substantial increases in funding for all forces and significant falls in the volume of crime.

Derbyshire police force and others in the east midlands have suggested that they are relatively underfunded compared with forces in other parts of England and Wales. My hon. Friend also made that point. One argument advanced to support that point is that the funding per head of the population in the east midlands is lower than in other regions, but population has never been the sole measure on which police funding is determined. A moment’s thought reveals that using population alone would be a crude and inaccurate way of determining the relative policing needs of each area and therefore the allocation of resources to individual police forces. We have to take account of the demographic composition of the population, including wealth and employment status, and factors such as population density.

All those elements are factored into the relative needs formula on which is based the distribution of available funds between police authorities in England and Wales. I could not begin to describe the higher mathematics used to operate the formula, but it is set out in full detail in the police grant report. As my hon. Friend said, the draft of the report was sent to all hon. Members in England and Wales yesterday. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire wants to intervene to explain the formula.

Mr. McLoughlin indicated dissent.

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