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Mr. McNulty: Like other Departments, we seek to address those issues, but I take my hon. Friend’s point about the rapidity of some changes and the population increases in many areas, and not just the east midlands. The formula, or formulae, and other elements are perhaps
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not sufficiently able to keep pace with those increases. I have had discussions about the “growth areas” with colleagues in other Departments, including the Department for Communities and Local Government—I think that it calls itself CLG now; I do not know what happened to the D—to ensure that the police and security dimensions are considered in the early stages of any planned growth in an area. I take my hon. Friend’s point, including on the wider issue that I thought he was addressing, which was basically that there were flaws in the floors.

Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend to move away from arguments on distribution. Ipswich witnessed exceptional events before Christmas, but the police grant will not meet the full costs, so will the Minister say anything about how he can help Suffolk police authority with the additional and exceptional costs that have arisen? I do not refer just to next year’s settlement, but to the costs that it will have to meet before the end of this financial year.

Mr. McNulty: I am glad that my hon. Friend has had the chance to intervene, because there are very specific circumstances relating to Suffolk, and particularly Ipswich, given the events that took place in the run-up to Christmas. Rather erroneously, one of the leading 24-hour news channels suggested yesterday—I do not know why—that we were somehow letting Suffolk down, and that it would carry a huge deficit because of those special circumstances, so it is useful to have a chance to explain the situation in more detail. The routine is that when exceptional events take place, whether they be the international events that took place in Surrey, or the murder inquiries in Suffolk before Christmas, constabularies apply to the Department for a special grant, outside of the settlement that we are talking about today. The claim is duly assessed by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in a routine fashion, and then passed to Ministers to make a decision. In the case of this financial year—

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. McNulty: I have a whole answer to get through, rather than just a paragraph or a sentence, before I give way. I understand that there are significant local dimensions to the debate, and I will seek to take all interventions. I will then get back to my 20-minute speech, but not deliver the whole 20 minutes of it, if hon. Members follow what I am saying.

Suffolk has applied for some £9 million in special grant to deal with all its activities thus far. HMIC has determined that much of that claim is entirely reasonable, but this is only the first half of an extended special grant process, because pre-trial preparation and further investigations will carry on well into subsequent financial years. HMIC recommends to me that it is more than appropriate that the authority itself should cover about £1 million of the £9 million. These are examples, because the issues involved go far above and beyond those that we need to address, but at least some of the cost can be taken on board by the Suffolk police authority. It is suggested that we should pay £8 million, and I am convinced that that is absolutely right. We will tell Suffolk that we will provide £8 million of that £9 million request for this year.

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As I said to colleagues from Ipswich and Suffolk when I met the murder inquiry teams and the chief constable—on, I think, 4 January—we will be very sympathetic, given the unusual circumstances faced by that relatively small force, and when the application is made for the second half of that special grant next year, we will treat the request in a similar, or better, way. I congratulate Suffolk constabulary on all it did over Christmas and beyond. It was an enormous task for such a small force. I thank all other forces for getting involved as readily as they did—it was a genuine exercise in working together. I assure the Suffolk force that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who was mentioned yesterday in this regard, and I have taken seriously and sympathetically its request for extra payment.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I recognise the risk of the debate becoming a surgery for individual complaints and problems, so I shall try to give my point a wider dimension. The Minister is aware that the Dyfed-Powys police authority argues that its police inflation costs exceed the inflation increases offered through the settlement. Is he willing to consider an environment where the Minister and the Department discuss at a macro level with the police forces how the funding settlements are reached? The police forces are not trying to rip anyone off. They just want their concerns to be taken on board in the formula. Perhaps that would resolve at a strategic level the kind of tactical issues that I would raise about Dyfed-Powys police and which many colleagues raise about their police forces.

Mr. McNulty: Again, that is an entirely fair point and should form part of the broader debate that we need to have on all aspects of police finance, in the context of the huge growth that there has been in resources, and recognising that police forces have been using those resources efficiently and productively and want to grow beyond that. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s broad point and do not apologise to any Member for raising specific points about policing in a police settlement debate.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that although we can celebrate the fact that Thames Valley police has a record number of officers—some 4,280, thanks to increased investment from the Government—the benefits are somewhat diminished by the attempts of neighbouring forces, including the Met, to poach fully trained officers from places like Reading and Slough? Is it not time that we considered transfer payments to compensate areas that are losing out for the costs of training and recruitment?

Mr. McNulty: As a Middlesex MP, a London MP and probably a beneficiary of such a perverse relationship, if indeed such a perverse relationship exists, I should say that that is a fair point, which should be considered in a wider debate about police finance in more general terms.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. McNulty: I am coming to Buckingham.

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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. His charm and courtesy leave my noble Friend Lord Tebbit in the shade. I identify with the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who is entirely right. Given that the Thames Valley police force has been able to balance its budget only by a £7 million cut in support costs, which is necessarily one-off and cannot be repeated next year, and that in 2008-09 the increase in revenue support grant still leaves a £15 million shortfall on required budget, how does the hon. Gentleman expect that Sara Thornton and her colleagues will cope in the face of a projected and substantial increase in the population of the region?

Mr. McNulty: I was about to be hugely insulted when the hon. Gentleman started, but I was quite complimented by the time he got to the end of his opening remarks. I pay tribute to Thames Valley police and chief constable Sara Thornton for all that they have done. I have been up there two or three times in the wake of Project Overt, not least to go wandering through the woods around Wycombe to speak to young coppers who were there all the way up to 22 December, long after August and Project Overt. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the growing level of resources which, as I said, forces are using productively and efficiently, and they are still making efficiency gains and still seeking to grow. Whatever difficulties forces have in reaching their target with this year’s settlement, next year will present a more significant challenge for them to match their ambitions with the resource envelope.

That means that, on the basis of cross-party consensus, the sooner we have a substantive and hopefully non-partisan debate on the wider aspects of police finance, the better. With 67 per cent. increases and forces wanting to do far more than they have done, not least the Thames Valley force, which is hugely creative and imaginative in all that it does, I do not want to restrain them by flat-lining resources, even after huge increases. The hon. Gentleman makes an entirely fair point.

I should put on record again my enormous gratitude to Thames Valley for all that it did in Project Overt, not just in Wycombe, but beyond. With the agreement of the local treasury, we have hopefully sorted out the contribution from the centre towards the force’s resources spent on Project Overt.

John Bercow: May I take the hon. Gentleman’s helpful and conciliatory answer to mean that if the hon. Member for Reading, West and I get together, formulate a powerful case, arrange a meeting with him and advance it in our usual mellifluous and responsible terms, his answer will be yes?

Mr. McNulty: I am happy for the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) to get together, as he calls it.

Chris Ruane: My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) mentioned the influence of population on funding. May I ask the Minister respectfully to consider coastal areas where
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there are caravan parks where people live—they should not, but they do—for 12 months of the year? In my county, Denbighshire, it is estimated that there are 700 people living in caravan parks. Across the whole of north Wales, there are many thousands. Will my hon. Friend look into the matter and ensure that people living in caravan parks are recognised for the purposes of the police funding formula, and that sufficient funding is put in place?

Mr. McNulty: My hon. Friend makes a fair point, which the formula seeks to address in the general sense of population. If we move to even greater complexity, rather like the local government report that we will discuss later, I am not sure how profitable that would be for policing, but the formula should be a mix that captures what is required in the national sense and is flexible enough to reflect local peculiarities of population, growth levels and other elements more readily than it does at present. It is a reasonable point, which I will consider.

Mr. Llwyd: I thank the Minister for the generous amount of time that he is giving to Back Benchers. May I ask him to look again at the settlement for north Wales? I know that we are all bidding for our own areas. He will recall in September, on an uncharacteristically wet day in St. Asaph, opening the new communications centre, which he said was cutting-edge technology, probably leading forces throughout England and Wales. In that spirit, is he prepared to meet a small delegation from the police authority and myself in order to discuss specific issues and, more broadly, rural policing and the financing thereof?

Mr. McNulty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of St. Asaph. It was extremely interesting. Naturally, to kick off events in the marquee in the car park, with chandeliers and all that sort of thing, those present sang the national anthem in Welsh. I made sure that I did not, having learned from the experience of previous English occupants of significant positions.

If there is, as I believe there is, within the broad discussion, a need to focus on the specifics of Wales or the specifics of rural policing in the Principality or more generally, I will have that discussion, with respect, with a wider group than the hon. Gentleman suggests. I have seen the four Welsh authorities together and separately a number of times since taking over my present post in July. I have had discussions with a range of colleagues, particularly Labour MPs from north Wales, and there is still to come an outstanding meeting—not an outstanding MP—with a Tory colleague from north Wales. I am happy to have those meetings, but to deal adequately with the finance base in Wales and elsewhere, and with rural policing and the other points that the hon. Gentleman makes, we need a much wider debate than a series of meetings with individual MPs. I am happy to have such meetings, in a wider context.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. McNulty: I will go to Essex.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): The Minister will know that the Essex police force provided support
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to the Suffolk constabulary during its recent major inquiry. Given that he is seeking to encourage voluntary working together between forces on issues such as the vital fight against terrorism, may I remind him that the Essex police force has considerable experience in those fields because of the special facilities at Stansted and the assistance that it gave to the Met on 7/7? Will he bear that in mind when the protocols are being negotiated?

Mr. McNulty: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I shall not, but I hope that Essex and the other police forces with which it draws up those agreements and protocols will do so. I would say generally to the House that whatever people’s perspective on the strategic forces merger debate in the summer, I am impressed and heartened by the significant progress made throughout the country in talking to each other in practical terms about shared operations on a local basis, between forces or more regionally. We have heard about the east midlands region, where a lot of work is going on across the five forces in that regard. That is almost the reverse of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West. The proximity of Essex, Kent and some of the other home counties forces to the Metropolitan police means that there is a lot of positive operational two-way traffic and subsequent experience in relation not only to terrorism but to other serious matters that are more common in London and the home counties than elsewhere. I will certainly bear that in mind.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I am sure that the Minister is aware that many people in west Yorkshire wonder why we have a needs-based funding formula if it is not actually going to be implemented. I understand that West Yorkshire police has been underfunded to the tune of £15 million against the needs-based funding formula. Can the Minister confirm the level of underfunding for this year?

Let me make a practical suggestion as to how police budgets can be improved. Forces should be allowed to recover the full cost of policing events. For example, people who pay for expensive tickets for football matches and concerts at Roundhay park in Leeds effectively get free policing outside the event which is paid for by local council taxpayers and residents, who are also missing out on policing. Can the Minister—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I think that that is sufficient for the time being.

Mr. McNulty: I take the hon. Gentleman’s second point, but not his point about underfunding. While we might still be in a transitional phase in terms of fully implementing the new funding and therefore still have floors and ceilings, I would say as sharply as I can that he should go and talk to his hon. Friends in North Yorkshire, which is not a million miles away from his area, and ask them when they want to lose the positive contribution that they get from floors and ceilings. Then he could pop over to Cumbria and speak to his colleagues there: he still has some, including an ex-Home Office Minister. As regards football, if I was being facetious—which as a West Ham supporter I am not really entitled to be—I should not think that there are many crowds around Elland road or in Bradford at the moment.

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Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The Minister has talked about population changes. In popular tourist resorts such as my constituency, the population doubles for three to eight months of the year, but that is not taken into account in the current formula, although the growth is year on year. The police have made that case to me, so will he seriously consider it?

Mr. McNulty: I take my hon. Friend’s point in the same spirit as I have taken those from other Members. This extends to a broader debate about finance. I am sure that he is very happy about the growth in tourism on Anglesey, but that tourism is not new. Of course it has grown, and perhaps grown increasingly, but it did not drop out of the sky all of a sudden. It is not something extraordinary, as in some other cases.

I forgot to say to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that there are still a few London MPs, whether in Middlesex or Essex, who sit for the Conservatives. London benefits to the tune of some 33 per cent. through ceilings and floors, so perhaps he might like to talk to his colleagues there when he talks to those in North Yorkshire and Cumbria.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Bournemouth police are very concerned about the fact that tourism is not included in the formula, as is made clear on page 13 of the police grant document. The number of bars is taken into consideration, but not their size. We have 30,000 visitors on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. Elements nightclub has 3,000 visitors, compared with the Holyhead pub in Moordown, which has 30. That means that half the police on duty in Bournemouth are looking after a quarter of a square mile and denying the rest of Bournemouth the proper policing that it needs. Bournemouth police are overstretched, and because of the formula they will lose out year after year. I ask the Minister to consider that.

Mr. McNulty: Bournemouth benefits from the floors and ceilings system rather than losing from it, so I do not know what the hon. Gentleman’s point is in that regard. I take the broader point that tourism and the night-time economy feature increasingly in the activities of many forces throughout the country. If they are not reflected sufficiently in the formula, then let us have a wider debate about police finance. These dimensions are increasingly reflected in the wider local government formula. Many of the comments that hon. Members are making about policing go to wider public service issues that are not specifically the domain of the police authority. We could have a significant debate, I hope on a non-partisan basis, about what we want from our police, what the resource base should be, what the mix between local and national contributions should be, what are—not only for London but elsewhere—discernibly national or regional issues that should be dealt with at that level rather than through local policing, and what the relationship should be between local neighbourhood policing, response policing and some of the wider strategic county-wide or region-wide issues, which is something that every force struggles with constantly.

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): The fact that I am the third MP from Derbyshire to intervene probably indicates the strength of feeling about the issue there.
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As regards the Minister’s comments about winners and losers under the floors and ceilings system, it is extraordinary that the losers should have to just bite their lips and get on with it. The Government introduced a new formula in 2006-07 precisely to address the fact that counties such as Derbyshire were historically underfunded over a long period. Under that new formula, the Government have said that Derbyshire should get another £5.7 million a year or so more, but with the next breath they are saying that we cannot have it. That is an extraordinary state of affairs. Derbyshire is currently funding the gap out of the reserves, but it cannot do that for much longer without having to slash policing in the county.

Mr. McNulty: I am grateful to most Members for having made non-emotive and grown-up contributions. Talking about slashing this and slashing that is not helpful, nor is it true. Neither Derbyshire nor anywhere else will be slashing its way back to pre-1997 levels, and the hon. Gentleman should be careful about what he says. I give him the same exhortation that I gave to the hon. Member for Shipley—he needs to go and talk to his hon. Friend over in Cumbria, who benefits significantly from this. We are not saying, “We’ve got a new formula and we’re putting floors and ceilings in, so if you lose from it, go hang.” We are saying that we need, in all equity, to get to a stage where we can fully implement the new formula, but not in one hit; otherwise, this would be a substantially different debate. Funnily enough, there are few Liberals down in Devon and Cornwall, which also benefits significantly from the floors and ceilings aspect of the formula. I think that there is also the odd one—I mean numerically rather than in terms of the individual—in Norfolk, a very odd one in Sussex, and one in West Mercia too.

There must be some degree of national equity and some recognition that we need to buttress the full impact of any new formula. The “Little Derbyshire” approach taken by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), which is not shared by my hon. Friends who are more substantial Derbyshire MPs, is not good enough. People need to make the strongest arguments in the strongest terms with that wider police backdrop instead of talking about silly little issues for “Focus”.

Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): The Minister mentioned Norfolk in response to a relevant point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham). The Minister said that he was open minded, but does he accept that Norfolk has one of the lowest ratios of police officers to population and that under current proposals we will have 90 fewer police community support officers than promised? That reduced number is totally intolerable to local people.

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