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The APA and ACPO have both gone on record with their requests for the freedom and flexibility needed to deliver the best possible local policing to our communities. We need to give them that freedom by stopping the
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ring-fenced funding and allowing police authorities to make staffing decisions that are tailored to the needs of their areas. The APA has stated that, to meet its financial needs fully, the police service needs a funding increase of more than 5 per cent. annually just to stand still. Without significant moves in that direction, the accumulated impact of the deficit facing so many police authorities will worsen, police staff and officer numbers will continue to fall and the much needed police presence in our communities will be even less substantial than at present. That will allow levels of crime and antisocial behaviour to soar to completely unacceptable levels.

The Government grant report does not do enough. Some police authorities will be happy with the funding that they have been allocated, but many will not. They will have to make difficult decisions in the coming year about whether to cut services or seek a rise in the council tax precept to an exceptionally high level. They should not have to make such a choice. The Government must support local policing and increase funding to a level that would allow police authorities to provide the sustainable and improved service that our local communities demand and deserve.

Finally, the Government’s approach to delivering local policing, like so many other policy areas, has been disfigured by their talking big but delivering small. It has dashed the expectations of many local communities. The stop-gap funding provided by the Government shows their inability to keep their promises, and reflects the political short-termism that permeates so much of their policy. Cutting police numbers while wasting money on big Government schemes such as ID cards shows a woeful lack of priorities and the extent to which the Government are out of touch with what the public want.

2.32 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I want to start by expressing my gratitude for the impact that the Government have had on policing in Slough. That has not been the approach exhibited by Opposition Members, but when I was first elected my regular surveys of constituents showed that their greatest concern was the fact that police officers were absent from the streets. Now, after a period when people complained that officers were seen only in the centre of Slough and not in their neighbourhoods, we are getting to the point that they complain that they do not see police officers in their roads. That is a reasonable point to have reached. We have got there thanks to the Government’s investment in policing. Initiatives such as the policing priority area in Britwell and the introduction of police community support officers have brought about a shift in people’s feelings about policing, but that is now under threat.

Mr. Breed: I agree that more police can be seen on the street, but the bigger problem arises when people telephone the police in an emergency. They want an officer to call, but that simply does not happen, and as a result they believe that there are too few police officers to respond to emergencies.

Fiona Mactaggart: In fact, I have noticed that my constituents make fewer complaints about how the police respond when telephoned. Moreover, officers less often say, “My hands are tied”—I think that that sentence
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should be banned, because it means that someone else should get the blame—when contacted by the public. I agree that we must make sure that the police should respond appropriately to people, although that might require us to educate citizens about how they should go about contacting the police.

Slough’s neighbourhood policing presence is under threat—not from the Home Office, but from the Metropolitan Police Service. Slough is in the CDRP family that includes Brent, Ealing, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Islington—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am a little apprehensive about the use of initials in the House. In case everyone does not know precisely what they mean, I wonder whether the hon. Lady will spell out what they mean at least once.

Fiona Mactaggart: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Home Office bunches crime and disorder reduction partnerships into crime families. I was giving the names of the crime family to which Slough belongs, and I think I got as far as Islington. The others are Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets. The House will see that Slough’s fellow family members all have something in common—they are all in the area served by the Metropolitan police. In addition, they all have more police officers per resident than Slough, and their officers are better paid.

I see that my hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety has returned to his place. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) intervened on him earlier on this point, and the Minister was rather gracious in acknowledging that his constituents benefited from the Met’s poaching of officers from Thames Valley. When he responds to the debate, I hope that he will say that he will take action to bring that poaching to an end.

Police officers in my area get a starting salary of £20,000. That compares with the £27,000 that Met officers get. After two years, those in my area get £24,000, which compares with £31,000 in the Met. A very vigorous campaign in Slough—run by me, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West and our local police officers—has led to the introduction of area allowances that reduce the gap, but other bribes are available. For example, Met officers enjoy free travel for a 72-mile radius around London, which of course includes the borough that I represent.

The Metropolitan police force is undertaking a sustained and predatory attempt to recruit experienced officers from Slough. I engaged in correspondence on this matter with Sir Ian Blair, before he received his knighthood and became the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. In November 2002, when he was the deputy commissioner, he wrote to me saying that the Met

but such advertisements are being used deliberately in my constituency. In addition, I was told that the Met wanted

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However, neither idea was supported by other forces around the county.

At present, the Metropolitan police force is recruiting in a predatory manner in the Thames Valley police area. It is offering bounties—I can think of no other word—of £200 or £250 to anyone who introduces an experienced officer into the Met. Next Monday, a coach load of 30 Thames Valley officers will go to a Met open day, and the substantial pay differentials mean that it is not unlikely that we will lose some of them.

I recall what it was like in Slough in the days after the Tory dearth of police officers. The investment made by the Labour Government led to the recruitment of more police officers, but they were very inexperienced. That was evident in the quality of our policing. Now, we have reasonably experienced officers, but they are being taken away by the Met’s recruitment drive.

My local police commander told me that between 25 and 30 cops had left the area since last autumn. In Slough, there are 12 cops out on patrol for each shift, but the commander told me that he had received two more resignation notes in the previous two days. That is the scale of the impact. As he said:

The situation for policing in my town is being made worse by the predatory recruiting of the Metropolitan police.

The Minister generously said that some local problems ought to be solved by broad discussion. He responded positively to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West who actively supports the campaign, so when he replies to the debate will he take on board proposals to deal with the waste of public money that occurs when one police force invests in stealing trained officers from another force?

I am of course aware that some officers will for life reasons want to leave Slough and move to the Metropolitan area. That is fine, but I do not approve of bounties and targeted recruiting. Will the Minister consider stopping the Metropolitan police and other forces spending public money on bounties and on ringing and texting serving officers in other forces? Obviously, they should provide information about posts, but aggressive marketing and recruitment is inappropriate.

Will my hon. Friend consider the imposition of a transfer fee if officers transfer to another force after training, whereby the receiving force would recompense the sending force for the cost of training the officer? Public money is used for that training, and transfer fees could make a huge difference. Perhaps future settlements could reflect the number of officers trained in a particular area but who transfer elsewhere. I take Sir Ian’s point that the Met has traditionally been an exporter of officers, so it might benefit from that proposal as much as areas such as mine.

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Finally, will my hon. Friend look at the cliff faces in police pay that still occur? I was grateful that the campaign that we ran after the 1997 election resulted in area allowances in places such as Slough, but there is still a substantial pay gap between Slough, which is similar to the Metropolitan police area, and the Met. The situation will be made substantially worse, because although terminal 5 will be policed by Metropolitan police officers it will be on the doorstep of my constituency. A number of officers will be attracted by the idea of completely indoor policing, as well as the extra money and firearms training that will accompany it.

There are real challenges, which are not the result of Government policy but have arisen from the way that we deal with the boundaries of our localised police forces. The Mayor of London keeps asking me why Slough does not join London, and there are moments when I think that that would be the right thing to do. One such moment is when I look at the pay of our local police—another is when I look at our local transport services—but if the Minister could respond to proposals for transfer fees for our police, the option of joining London would look less attractive.

2.44 pm

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): The Minister was benign and positive during his opening speech, and we were grateful for that, although he reverted to his more usual acerbic self during later interventions. It is perfectly reasonable to say that policing in general is of a high standard and that not everything has gone bad.

In my constituency, which is in the borough of Elmbridge and thus in the county of Surrey, the police have a good record. Surrey police work hard and effectively, often in difficult circumstances, and I pay tribute to them and to Inspector Yearwood, who is based at Staines but covers north Surrey and, therefore, my constituency. They do an effective job in often stretched conditions. Policing has other impacts locally, not least through co-operation with the volunteers who man two police stations in my constituency and with the neighbourhood watch.

I do not want to paint a bleak picture. Surrey is a safe county. The crime statistics have shown one or two worrying signs recently, but by and large, Surrey is one of the safest counties in the country and we want to keep it that way. Keeping Surrey safe means having an effective and well resourced police service, which is where some problems begin to emerge and where I pick up on some of the points made by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart).

Part of my constituency used to be in the Met. Under the Labour Government, co-termination of boundaries meant that Cobham, Claygate and related areas in that part of the constituency left the Met and came under Surrey police. For a while, there were transitional payments, which helped. There was also some assistance for Met officers who wanted to transfer to the Surrey force, which was welcome because we received extra resources. However, the Minister should not ignore the fact that now that the transitional arrangements have ceased there are considerable problems. I shall take advantage of the speech made by the hon. Member for Slough and
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refer everybody to her remarks. I know about the problems and tensions she described, because our area, too, borders on the Metropolitan police area.

Of course, some serving Met police officers live in my constituency. One of them recently drew attention to the fact that the Met police would have responded much more quickly to some of the local incidents in Surrey. I am not being critical of Surrey police, but we are beginning to worry about stretch and the ability to respond to emerging pressures.

We have an excellent chief constable, Bob Quick—I am not saying that just because he is giving me lunch on Friday, but because there are undoubtedly problems and he is trying to deal with them. He is attempting to adjust services to the problems we face, which is not easy because the public like to see police on their streets. They have adapted to, and now admire, police community support officers; indeed, they expected more PCSOs. However, unfortunately, because the Government have reconfigured some of the budget for the current year, we will receive not the £1.7 million for CSOs that we were expecting but only about £450,000, which means a net reduction of 107 officers. I do not know how many CSOs there will now be in my constituency, but obviously the reduction will mean rationing in Surrey. In places such as Cobham, we have become dependent on the work of CSOs and we were expecting another officer. I paid tribute earlier to the work of the neighbourhood watch and the volunteers at Cobham police station, but they depend on CSOs, so if there are to be fewer of them I want to know how the Minister will protect the county of Surrey.

The Minister is obviously a master of the funding formulae, but that does not mean that they are right—only that he understands what they are at the moment. The problem for Surrey is that the formulae are not right. Our county borders on the Metropolitan police area, but we have major road conurbations and supplementary policing responsibilities at Heathrow and, at the other end of the county, extra responsibilities for Gatwick. There are terrorist implications and the police have to respond to that situation and maintain awareness. There are extra pressures when there are special events.

In addition, we had the merger considerations with Sussex police. I advocated that the merger should be aborted very early on, but in fact it was aborted very late. The figures are rather interesting. I hope that the Minister will listen to this, because he gave me what Surrey police called an obfuscating answer in the recent oral questions session in the House. The total cost to Surrey of the aborted merger was about £811,000. That included manpower costs; it is higher than the figure that the Minister will have, which is about £560,000. The grant to Surrey police from the Government is about £100,000. There is a shortfall. These things are cumulative.

The Minister has already acknowledged to me that the police precept in the county council tax contribution in Surrey is just under 50 per cent. That will soon rise, but over the next three years the underfunding of Surrey police that is estimated by both the police and the police authority is about £18.2 million. There are no ways in which further efficiency gains can be found. Surrey police have already found efficiency gains that exceed
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the Government’s target. The Government wanted a £5 million efficiency gain; the police have achieved about £8 million.

The Minister has to understand that there are severe problems in Surrey that are not necessarily evident. It is inexplicable that Surrey does so badly in relation to the other shire counties. The per capita figure is about £89 and the average is about £107. I do not want him to come back to me with the fact that there are 14,000 more officers compared with 1997.

I am not saying that everything that the Government have done in relation to policing is bad. I am saying that we are dealing with some serious problems now. In my view, those problems derive from the fact that, given its geographical position, a county such as Surrey has stresses and strains that are not recognised by the formula. Surrey has problems in raising further money from local people to fund its police force, not least because council tax increases will be capped at 5 per cent. anyway, even if the people of Surrey wish, in a fit of generosity, to pay more council tax. There are issues in relation to the organisation of the police force, not least its proximity to the Met and that fact that policemen and women make a comparison with people who happen to work for the Met but live near them.

All those things cumulatively can be thrown out of gear by big problems that might emerge, such as the EU heads meeting at Sandown Park, which happens to be in my constituency. We also get big criminal trials. In one case, there is not a trial but a continuing inquiry into the tragic murder of Milly Dowler several years ago. The culprit is yet to be found. There is also the evident problem that a lot of the crime—particularly the more violent crime—in Surrey is carried out by criminals who come across the boundary from London and then go back again. I ask the Minister please to think of Surrey sympathetically and to be constructive in his responses.

2.53 pm

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I welcome the increase that we have seen this year. Clearly, we would like more. I am sure that every hon. Member wants more for their area. However, the £76.3 million in general grant that North Wales police will receive will be an increase of some 3.6 per cent. or £2.6 million over the previous year. I stress that that is an increase. It is not a cut, a reduction or a decrease. It is not less, but more. The inflation-plus increase this year builds on the extra investment of previous years—investment that has resulted in a dramatic increase in policing and in support staff. At the start of the financial year in 1997, there were a total of 1,367 police officers in North Wales police. By 2006, their numbers were about 1,600. That is an increase of about 18 per cent.—a higher increase than that experienced in many other parts of England and Wales. There has been an even greater increase of nearly 100 per cent. in support staff. Numbers are up from 533 in 1996 to 997 in October 2006, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) pointed out. There are now 58 community support officers. That will rise to more than 240.

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