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23 Jan 2007 : Column 406WH—continued

Unfortunately, total crimes in Greater Manchester were up by 4.5 per cent. in the period from December 2005 until November 2006 compared with the previous year. Violent crimes are up by 9.4 per cent. and robberies increased by 11.7 per cent. in the same period.

Only last Friday I attended a meeting of my local action partnership in Chorlton, at which the local police sergeant reported further rises in burglaries and robberies in the Chorlton area in just the past six months. It is true to say, and the hon. Lady’s amendment points out, that the number of police community support officers should rise to 828 by 30 April 2007. More PCSOs are a useful additional—I say “additional”—resource for the police, but they are no substitute for police officers. However, even these PCSO increases are being axed following the Government’s decision to scrap plans to fund an increase in numbers to 1,238.

Nationwide, the 24,000 figure that was a commitment in Labour’s manifesto at the last general election has been dropped. That will save about £105 million, £70 million of which will be retained by the Home Office, while only £35 million will be distributed to local forces. Of that £35 million, only £1 million will come back to Manchester, while a whopping £20 million will go to the Met. The police authority is facing a significant deficit in the funding of PCSOs and the independent chairman has provided me with the figures of £6.5 million for 2007-08 and £8.4 million for 2008-09, rising to £9.2 million in
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2009-10. Although the GMP should welcome increased flexibility in deciding how the money is best spent, the fact that the overall resources will be significantly less than they anticipated will affect their flexibility to achieve the best mix of police, PCSOs and other police staff.

It is time for the Home Office to accept that Manchester is getting a raw deal. It is not acceptable for the Minister to hide behind increases since 1997 to justify cuts now. In the information pack put together by the Library, a Home Office spokesperson suggests that forces should be able to make efficiency savings. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) made the point that they have been making efficiency savings over a long period and there comes a time when they cannot do any more. I do not regard losing more than 200 police officers this year as efficiency savings. I see it as cuts and I am sure that a number of hon. Members will too.

The spokesman went on to say that if police forces feel that they need additional funding they should contact the Home Office. That is what we are doing: we are contacting the Home Office and asking the Minister to give Greater Manchester a fair deal. I hope that the Department will reconsider the funding given to Greater Manchester police to avoid further cuts in the future.

11.17 am

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) for quoting so extensively from my amendment to his early-day motion. I shall not repeat it because he has already put it on the record.

It is easy to look on the down side of things. Part of the hon. Gentleman’s responsibility as an Opposition Member is to point out all the things that go wrong and can go wrong in policy. I assure him that I am assiduous in contacting my constituents and listening to them.

Mr. Leech: I want to clarify that I was not suggesting for one second that the hon. Lady did not contact her constituents, but that she ought to go back and contact them again to see what they think about police cuts and increases in crime.

Ann Coffey: I thank the hon. Gentleman for clarifying his position, but he is still saying that I do not listen to my constituents and that I am not aware of what they feel about what goes on in their streets. I assure him that I contact them regularly and listen to what they say. That is partly why I want to put some of their comments about their experiences on the record. I shall leave the Minister to deal with the issues about funding.

One reason why I tabled the amendment was to make it clear that there had been a considerable increase in community support officers, police officers and background support in Greater Manchester police, so that anybody listening to the debate would know that although the increases were not as much as the hon. Gentleman wanted, there had certainly been
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increased funding which had delivered increased policing in the Greater Manchester area. I am sure that we would all want to support Greater Manchester police in the huge improvements that they have made in their performance and in their reorganisation to deliver the neighbourhood policing policy, which has been well received by my constituents and I am sure by his, too.

I travelled back to Stockport last Thursday. Stockport station is next to a complex known as Grand Central, which has caused considerable problems over the years with antisocial behaviour and has consumed much police time. When a taxi picked me up outside the station, I asked the driver what he thought about Grand Central. One complaint drivers have is that they do not like going there late at night to pick up people because of the state that they are in. He is not the first driver to say that. However, he also said that the situation at Grand Central had improved greatly and that the whole town centre was much quieter.

There are three contributory factors. The first is the visible officer presence in the centre of the town, which has helped, and I saw four community support officers that Thursday. Secondly, a drinking ban has been introduced, and I have no problem crediting it to the local council. It is not of my political persuasion, but the introduction of a drinking ban was a good idea and it has worked well. Thirdly, the change in licensing hours means that not everybody is out on the street at 11 o’clock at night, carrying on the arguments that they had in the pub and beating each other up on the pavements.

We cannot think of policing only in terms of the job of the police. There is effective policing in Stockport because of an effective local crime partnership involving the police and other agencies, including the council. I am sure that those hon. Members who represent the Stockport area would claim that locally the partnership has been successful and that we do not expect the police to police by themselves.

I have another example for the hon. Gentleman. I was fortunate to be elected to the House in 1992. During those years, we were in opposition and the Conservatives were in power. I lived in Heaton Moor, as I do now, and it was not unusual to find young people out on the streets, creating problems that sometimes got out of hand because of drink. In those days the only action I could take was to summon police to a meeting, which I did on occasion. They would explain that it was difficult because they were underfunded, that they did not have enough officers and that if only the Government would give them enough money, the situation would be fine. They none the less agreed to caution some of the young people concerned.

A few weeks ago a similar incident occurred. I asked the local antisocial behaviour area co-ordinator team to visit the people who made the complaint. It identified the young people who were causing the problem, gathered information with the local police to find out who they were, visited their homes, talked to them, put them on an acceptable behaviour contract, identified their problems, and asked other agencies to intervene, such as the school if they had a school problem, and the local drug addiction team if they had a drug problem, and it referred them to the proper
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agencies if they had the beginnings of a drink problem. That would have been impossible 10 or 15 years ago.

There has been a great change in the concept of policing. It is about handing the problem not simply to the police, but to a local partnership that can come up with preventive measures as well as control measures. It has been successful in Stockport, and I have no problem saying that. The council has also played an effective role in the partnership.

Communication between the police and the public is also improving. One of the great issues that constituents used to raise with me, often at public meetings, was that if the police were doing something, constituents did not feel that they knew about it. The neighbourhood policing model has been introduced in Stockport and in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The police are trying to achieve area-based policing, whereby people know who their police officers are and have their numbers to ring. More importantly, when people leave messages the police are getting much better at ringing them back to tell them what has and has not happened. That model, together with the closer relationship between the local police and council, has created a strong partnership.

Last week I received a letter which I am sure other hon. Members representing constituencies in the Stockport area received, too. It said that the council will establish a dedicated telephone number for people to report low-level antisocial behaviour. The hon. Gentleman referred to the 999 line, which receives some very inappropriate calls. That ordinary number for Greater Manchester gets jammed and people get frustrated. However, the council has put out the new number, which people can ring to have their problems dealt with. It will also help communication with the public.

The council did that as part of the crime partnership. We should bear that in mind when we argue about funding, because funding to set up those initiatives has also come to the council from the Government. We cannot consider police funding simply in terms of the grant to Greater Manchester police. I am sure that all Members of Parliament with constituencies in Greater Manchester will lobby on behalf of the police there, because that is what we want to do for our area. However, I ask for some acknowledgment of other good initiatives, particularly the very effective local crime and disorder partnerships.

11.26 am

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): I am delighted to congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) on securing the debate and am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey). I happily acknowledge that she is an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament; we are all doing our jobs and our best for Greater Manchester.

The hon. Lady rightly pointed out that the issue is a work in progress; the budget is not final and work is still going on. This is exactly the time to apply some pressure, and the hon. Gentleman was right to have secured the debate. Only when we have debates, raise the profile and get the case across about the things that need to be done for Greater Manchester police can we
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hope to be sure that we will get the right budget settlement. I am sure that the Minister has been listening and is keen to help.

Many of the problems and difficulties, such as the gap between the budget at the outset and the money that Greater Manchester police and the police authority think they need, have been predictable and created by new policies. I do not necessarily criticise those policies, a good example of which is the introduction of community support officers. As has been said, they can be a significant help in policing an area. However, as many of us pointed out when they were introduced, they will help only if the funding is provided not only when they are introduced, but on an ongoing basis.

Some of the problems coming home to roost arise from the fact that the new officers were funded for a fixed period, leaving Greater Manchester police and other forces to fund them on an ongoing basis from their future revenues. In part, that has resulted in the problems to which I referred in my intervention on the hon. Gentleman. For years there has been an ongoing need for efficiency savings, so there have been cutbacks in civilian staff in many parts of Greater Manchester police. That has resulted in the need for front-line officers to backfill the losses.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House always say that the public want front-line officers, preferably as visible as possible. The last thing they want is for police officers who should be policing the streets to return to offices to do jobs that could be done less expensively by less highly trained civilian staff. That is a significant problem.

It is also fair to point out that the Government have not necessarily honoured all their pledges on the numbers of community support officers. At the last election, the Labour party manifesto pledged 24,000 more police community support officers, and the share for Greater Manchester would have been 1,238. Now that the pledge has been cut back to an additional 16,000 PCSOs, the share for Greater Manchester will be 828. There is therefore a net loss of 410 CSOs from the number that we were promised. Obviously, it would be a significant advantage to Greater Manchester police to have those officers, as long as proper ongoing funding was provided to ensure that their jobs were sustainable.

I am sure that the pressures of recent years have resulted in cuts and difficulties in civilian staffing across Greater Manchester. In my area, Trafford borough had to reduce its civilian staff by five last autumn, which meant that five police officers were needed to backfill that loss. Trafford has particular policing needs that are not always recognised even within Greater Manchester. With the building of the Trafford Centre a few years ago, a whole new town was effectively built, but the additional policing burden that that introduced still has not been recognised. There has been no increase in resources or police numbers.

Any hon. Member who reflects on the possibility of a new town being built in their borough, local authority area or policing division without any additional resources being allocated will realise what a significant challenge that would present. Our local police have met that challenge well alongside the other, long-existing, differences and challenges to policing the
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borough that come as a result of the sporting venues at Old Trafford and the proximity of the airport, which funds its own policing but none the less gives rise to additional pressures.

The hon. Gentleman rightly raised the wider issue of the local government finance settlement and the application of the damping measures. I do not expect the Minister, either as a member of the Government or as a London MP, to agree with me openly, but many of us have concluded that the way in which that system was introduced had a certain amount to do with the importance that was accorded to the local elections in London last year, although it did not necessarily deliver the results that the Labour party wanted. Now that the elections are out of the way, we need to rebalance the settlement more fairly, in a way that properly recognises the needs of other areas. The disproportionate funding of PCSOs in the Metropolitan police area compared with those in other parts of the country is particularly ironic.

I emphasise that Greater Manchester’s particular policing needs and the pressures on police there are not sufficiently recognised by the Government. Some well-known, long-standing difficulties are coming to the fore, such as the pension burden that falls on a force that was created with the establishment of Greater Manchester about 30 years ago.

Other considerations accrue to what is really Britain’s second city—Manchester is increasingly taking on that role. We have particular problems with gun crime, which is difficult and expensive to tackle. When we consider the distribution of the threat of terrorism and the challenge of policing it, we find that all too frequently it is one or two of the major cities outside London that face the most significant challenge or threat. That is not always recognised, and I notice that the Minister is grumbling quietly.

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): It is a purely and utterly functional point. The hon. Gentleman’s point about pensions is totally erroneous. There are new systems in place, which mean that the net pension payments fall on central Government, not the force. Whatever else the force of his argument is—with no pun intended—that simply cannot be part of it because the system has changed.

Mr. Brady: I am glad that the Minister grumbled loudly instead of quietly. What he outlines does not affect the period during the past few years when efficiency savings or backfilling have been needed. I am sure he recognises that. I look forward to his response and very much look forward to a continuing process of budget negotiations, which I hope will result in the closure of the gap and a full recognition of the policing pressures in Greater Manchester.

11.36 am

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) on securing the debate. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) is absolutely right: it is surely the job of
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local Members to stick up for the provision of local services, and there is no service more vital to my constituents than the police service. I also want to thank the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), with whom I like to think I have a good relationship, for her acknowledgment of the joint work being done by the council and other agencies with the police on the anti-crime partnership in Stockport. She was right in many of the things that she said about the effectiveness of that process.

The metropolitan borough of Stockport is covered by J division of the Greater Manchester police, and it is commanded by Chief Superintendent Neil Wain. I would like to acknowledge his work, and within my constituency, the work put in by Inspector Morrisey and his team of officers and community support officers to maintain a police presence. However, I have told them that the police presence in my constituency is not sufficient, and the hon. Lady explained why that might be: they are all in her constituency at Grand Central, and my suburban outback is left denuded—[Interruption.] One person’s success is another’s disappointment.

Whatever benchmark might be set, the benchmark my constituents expect is a reasonably visible police presence in the area, and they would point out that there is a significant level of antisocial behaviour and low-level crime that no longer even gets reported because of that lack of a visible police presence.

The story of Greater Manchester police is that during the past year it has been gradually recovering from significant cutbacks that took place before 1997. I remind the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West that they happened during a period of Conservative Government, when police numbers in Greater Manchester went down. Things did not get better immediately after the 1997 general election, and for three years there was a financial freeze that meant practically no progress was made on many services. The fall in police numbers also continued.

Mr. Brady: I know that the hon. Gentleman is a fair-minded man, and am sure that he would want to admit that police numbers rose considerably in Greater Manchester and elsewhere during the period of Conservative Government from 1979 to 1997.

Andrew Stunell: We could trade graphs and numbers until we got to the end of the debate, but of course the hon. Gentleman is right: by their standards, the Conservative Government tried to do their best, but the reality was that there were nothing like enough police. Police numbers fell in Greater Manchester in the run-up to 1997. From 2000 onwards, once the Treasury could be persuaded to release some money, the number of police officers in Greater Manchester rose.

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