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Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Let me start with the good news. Police numbers in Nottinghamshire are at record levels, and the police are backed by valuable police community support officers funded by the Government. The crime statistics came out last week: vehicle crime in Nottinghamshire has decreased by 22 per cent. and overall crime has fallen by 4.6 per cent.—the fifth consecutive fall. There have been significant
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reductions in serious crime in the city of Nottingham—homicides and gun crime. Nottingham has an undeserved reputation in that respect in the press. Police and local authorities working together have made genuine improvements. Most importantly, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary has been looking at the Nottinghamshire police over a long period, and it has concluded that it is effective and efficient and that it is an improving police force. However, we should be cautious: in relative terms, Nottinghamshire is still a weak performer. Although much has been achieved, there is still much more to be done, and there is no room for complacency.

Let me now turn to the bad news. All across north Nottinghamshire—from Halam to Hucknall and from Rainworth to Ravenshead—nobody believes the figures. The fear of crime continues to increase, and people complain about lack of police presence. There is a strong view abroad that the Nottinghamshire police are underfunded. That has not been helped by the strong campaign run in recent years by the Nottinghamshire police authority, which has involved the chief constable, arguing for “more cops for Notts.” The reality is that grant to Nottinghamshire police has increased significantly—by £36.4 million since 1997 to £145.9 million in the current financial year, which is a 33 per cent. increase in cash terms and a 7.8 per cent. increase in real terms. The indications in respect of next year’s settlement are that Nottinghamshire will receive an additional £4.5 million.

However, there are anomalies, and there is room for complaint. The average spending on police per head of population in England in 2005-06 was £174. In the east midlands as a whole—the five police authorities—the figure was £143, and in Nottinghamshire it was £158, so in comparative terms per head of population the police in the east midlands and Nottinghamshire are being underfunded. It is interesting to note that the Nottinghamshire police authority has more crimes per officer than any other police force in the country, save one, and that the spending per offence in Nottinghamshire is the lowest in the country. Therefore, there are real concerns.

Faced with that financial situation, and with the view abroad that the funding formula is not fair to Nottinghamshire and the east midlands, there are real problems. There is a police authority meeting on 21 February and difficult decisions will have to be made. It has already been announced that the innovative Drug Abuse Resistance Education programme—known as DARE—looks set to be cut. Adam Cable, who is aged 12 and lives in Hucknall, wrote to me as follows:

He concludes:

There is also speculation about the future of the mounted section. Police horses provide high-profile policing and reassurance to people in the community. The speculation is that in 2008, the mounted police will be cut, thereby saving £200,000. That is an achievable saving, but in the long term the only way to balance the books, as has been acknowledged, is to look at manpower. The figures are fairly straightforward.
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Nottinghamshire police face a budget shortfall of £16.5 million, if nothing changes, by 2010-11. It would be sad if the record levels of police officers that have been achieved were to be reduced.

So what is to be done? There has been much discussion in this debate about floors and ceilings. The floors in the east midlands work against the five police authorities to the tune of £14.8 million, and, in the case of Nottinghamshire, the figure is £5.1 million. We cannot change the system immediately—it needs to be stable—but this is an allegedly fair funding formula, and over time, the Minister must give some assurances about how it can be tapered and wound down. He said the following in a letter of 22 January to Nottinghamshire police:

I would like him to move away from recognition and into action, and to show good faith by reducing the ceilings and tapering the formula.

Secondly, the Minister is well aware of the important work of the East Midlands Special Operations Unit, which brings together the five police authorities and focuses on serious crime. It is jointly funded by the police authorities themselves and by the Government. The grant from the Home Office runs out on 31 March 2008. Ministers are aware of the significance of what has been achieved, and I invite the Minister to look closely at maintaining that grant in future years.

Thirdly and most particularly, the Minister and his officials must look at the work that the five east midlands police authorities are doing in response to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s report “Closing the Gap”. There is a real recognition that protective services in the east midlands are very weak. In fairness to the five authorities, they are trying hard to work together, and the progress that they have made probably puts them ahead of any other region in the country. Let me talk about some of the plans that are going ahead. A small team of officers, backed by accountants KPMG, is looking at how regional collaboration could make money available for protective services. The police authorities are working up a scheme for a regional information technology network, not least to provide shared information to help tackle back-office costs and to help with business management systems. That costs money up front, but in the long term it could produce significant savings.

The police are also working hard to recover assets. There is £10 million-worth of unclaimed assets in the east midlands, which does not have an asset recovery body. However, part of the East Midlands Special Operations Unit is trying to recover those assets. There is also a very strong case for setting up a confidential unit in the east midlands, so that material received covertly and secretly can be shared across the region.

The five east midlands authorities will shortly be setting up a joint sub-committee, involving all five police authorities. That is a sign of their intent. The Minister will soon be writing to police authorities asking them to make bids for collaborative projects in order to bridge the gap. I invite him and his officials to look very carefully at the work going on in the east midlands. What those authorities are trying to achieve is what he wants. Progress is being made. There is more to be done, but when the Minister issues the invitations
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for bids, I hope that he will ask the officials, chief officers and representatives of the east midlands police authorities to meet him, so that their bid can meet the bidding criteria that he is about to set out.

2.15 pm

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): I would like to preface my contribution by congratulating our police officers and acknowledging the tremendous work that they and their support staff do throughout the country, sometimes under extremely difficult circumstances. I am sure that other Members will join me in doing so and agree that is our obligation, as Members of Parliament, to ensure that the support and funding that is so desperately needed is available to the police.

The funding given to police authorities must be realistic, in order to allow them to deliver the high level of local policing that the population expect and deserve. Last November, the police service expenditure forecasting group estimated that without additional funding, the gap in police funding nationally in 2007-08 would be £380 million, being optimistic, or £391 million, being realistic. It also forecast that in 2008-09, that gap will reach £582 million or £656 million respectively. As the Association of Police Authorities argues, that gap

This report does little to reduce that gap. The mere 3.6 per cent. announced does not address the funding crisis that many police authorities are facing.

In my constituency of Cheadle, the Greater Manchester police face a £39 million deficit over the next three years, according to the Labour-run authority’s own figures. Some estimates suggest that that could result in the loss of more than 600 police officers, in addition to the 216 already lost.

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): As my hon. Friend rightly says, such a loss would be on top of the 200-odd officers whom we have already lost this financial year. Michael Todd said that we required a minimum of 8,000 officers, but we now have fewer than that. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we lose up to a further 600 officers, as he has estimated, the total number of officers would be closer to 7,000, rather than 8,000?

Mark Hunter: I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution, and he is of course absolutely right. It is a matter of record that Michael Todd, the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, has already said that as long as the GMP continues to subsidise the funding of the Metropolitan police, the situation is unlikely to get any better. Frankly, given the obvious lack of financial support from central Government, the GMP will have no choice other than to cut local services.

Chris Ruane: In case the hon. Gentleman fails to mention it, will he remind the House how many officers there were in the GMP in 1997, and how many there are today?

Mark Hunter: I regret to say that I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was a Member of the House at that time. I was not, and I am sure he will understand if I do not have those statistics immediately at my fingertips. However, I am happy to correspond with him on this issue.

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Chris Ruane rose—

Mark Hunter: I want to make some progress, as I am at only the very early stages of my contribution.

Such a situation is unacceptable, but it is sadly not uncommon. The Hampshire force, as we have already heard from the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), will have to cut 10 per cent. of services in the next financial year and predicts that unless funding increases significantly, it will be looking at a 20 per cent. cut in the following year. The North Yorkshire police force predicts that even with a 5 per cent. increase in funding it will still have a £3 million deficit next year, and the Derbyshire police authority faces a £14.6 million funding deficit over the five-year period to 2010-11.

The Government need to do more to sustain the work that local police authorities are doing. A joint report by the APA and ACPO in November last year called for

By not meeting their responsibilities, the Government have left local council tax payers to foot the bill for the increase in police numbers that Labour promised. The amount of police expenditure financed through council tax has almost doubled, in real terms, between 2001-02 and 2006-07. Council tax now accounts for more than 21 per cent. of police force expenditure finance, compared to only 12 per cent. in 2001-02.

With high levels of council tax everywhere, and the Government threatening to take capping action to stop the average council tax increasing by more than 5 per cent., the police are entering a funding crisis that can be fixed only by significant increases in funding from central Government—3.6 per cent. is not enough.

To add insult to injury, residents paying council tax are actually being double charged to cover the cost of community support officers. Due to the cuts in Government grants, police authorities increasingly have to go back to local councils to ask for more funding to make up the deficit. That is over and above the police authority precepts that residents are already paying. That effectively means that some residents are paying for CSOs twice, once through their precept and once when police authorities are forced to return to local councils with a begging bowl. That situation places too much of the burden on local council tax payers.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that 3.6 per cent. is not enough. Can he give a round figure that he thinks would be enough and how would he raise the extra money?

Mark Hunter: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue. If he bears with me a little longer, I will come on to precisely how that funding gap might be met. I suspect that he will not be too surprised by what I have to say.

The Durham police authority is a case in point. The situation there is desperate. If funding does not improve it will have to reduce police constable numbers by up to 300, and with the current budget it is planning a reduction of 100 police constables in the coming year.
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Even with those cuts, the Durham police authority would need an 18 per cent. council tax rise to meet the bill.

Lack of central funding and a capping of council tax leaves nowhere for police authorities to turn, and cuts are inevitable if the Government refuse to provide a realistic level of funding for local police authorities. Members of Parliament from all parties agree that we need more police out on the streets. A stronger police presence is essential if we are to be serious about fighting crime and resolving the issues of antisocial behaviour which blight the lives of too many of our constituents.

However, under this grant report, the level of funding offered means that police numbers will again fall in a majority of police authorities. The cuts are already taking place. The Home Office’s announcement yesterday, admitting that police officer numbers nationally have fallen by 173 from the end of March last year to 141,873 at the end of September, comes as no surprise to those of us who have been involved with police funding issues in our constituencies.

In the last year, 2005-06, 24 forces reported reductions in officer numbers, while only 19 reported increased officer numbers. Police authorities cannot keep up police officer and CSO numbers if their funding is being cut. In Hampshire, which was mentioned earlier, budget cuts caused the number of CSOs to fall by approximately 40 per cent. The Government are putting the police authorities in a very difficult position. Plans that have been made based on higher levels of funding and high staffing numbers must be re-made, wasting precious time and resources.

Jan Berry, the chair of the Police Federation, spoke to The Observer earlier this month on this issue and said:

The Government have not done so.

Lack of funding has also caused a significant number of police station closures. Some 580 police stations have closed since Labour came to power in 1997, with the worst hit areas including Essex with 66 closures, South Wales with 43 closures, Gloucestershire with 40 closures and Greater Manchester with 39, including two in my constituency.

The Government are making it more difficult, not easier, for police to provide good local services. Local police stations are vital to ensure that the local community have confidence in their police, and are important for consolidating ties between police and community to allow them to work effectively together. By closing so many police stations the Government are creating a situation in which a permanent and personal local police service is a thing of the past for all too many people.

The Liberal Democrat “We can cut crime!” campaign, launched last week by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) posited a solution to the funding problem—namely that the £97,000 per day currently being spent on the identity card scheme be spent on local police. That money could go directly to police authorities, which could use it to create 10,000 more police officers and 20,000 community support officers to back them up. It could also be spent
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on greater use of the latest IT systems and communications technology. The APA has said that one of the key risks of funding shortages is that police authorities will be unable to invest

The fourth report of 2004-05 by the Home Affairs Committee noted that a Home Office commissioned study, “A Diary of a Police Officer”, found that officers were spending as much time in the police station as they were on the street. Of the 43 per cent. of time spent in the station, 41 per cent. was spent on preparing prosecution files and paperwork. We need to reduce that time by spending more money on employing civilian administrative staff to allow police officers to spend more time out on patrol where they are needed.

Chris Ruane: I agree about the need to take paperwork away from front-line police officers. In North Wales, in 1997, there were 533 civilian staff and there are now 977. Can he give me the figures for Greater Manchester?

Mark Hunter: I will be happy to confirm the precise figures after the debate, as I do not have them immediately to hand. I am pleased to hear that progress is being made in the hon. Gentleman’s area. I have not tried to suggest that every aspect of the situation is bleak everywhere. In fact, I made a point of mentioning the number of police authorities that have seen an increase in police officer numbers over the time. Unfortunately, they are in a minority.

If this debate has shown anything, it is that we need more and better funded police services, not an expensive and intrusive identity card system, to tackle the criminal problems facing Britain today.

Mr. Leech: Has my hon. Friend ever met a single constituent who has told him that they would prefer an identity card to more police on the street?

Mark Hunter: I have knocked on a fair few doors in my constituency and others over the years, but I have not met anybody who has said that they would prefer an identity card scheme to greater investment in our police forces and an improved police presence—so woefully inadequate at present in many constituencies—on our streets. Such people may exist somewhere. The introduction of some flexibility into police funding is welcome, but it does not go far enough. The crime fighting fund and the neighbourhood policing fund have been criticised by the APA and ACPO for placing unnecessary restrictions on police authorities. Both require a particular mix of staff that may not be optimal for the individual local communities concerned. Only the police authorities can know what mix of officers and other staff is needed to provide the best level of local policing. Placing ring-fenced restrictions on funds can lead to distorted budgets and cause highly trained officers to be moved into administrative roles. That causes inefficiency and the poor use of resources.

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