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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 28 February 2007

[John Bercow in the Chair]

Police Funding (East Midlands)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Claire Ward.]

9.30 am

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I begin by thanking Mr. Speaker for selecting this subject for debate this morning.

The issue of police funding affects every constituency in the east midlands. As I understand it, it does not divide the Labour, Conservative or even the Liberal Democrat parties this morning. The issue seems to be of regional importance. This morning, the Chamber is full of hon. Members from across the region, in particular from my own county of Leicestershire; I see my hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) and for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) would have wished to be here. Unfortunately, other duties have kept them away. I see my friend, the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), in his place as well. Many Members are here. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), of the Front Bench, for his presence and to the Minister, both of whom will respond in due course.

Alongside continual improvement, the critical issue for us across the east midlands is funding. The financial situation facing the east midlands remains stark. All five east midlands police authorities face a significant budget shortfall for the financial year 2007-08. I see the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd); Derbyshire is £3.2 million short. Leicestershire is £3.4 million short. Lincolnshire, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) speaks, is £4.3 million short. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) is here; Northamptonshire is £4.9 million short. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) is also here; his county of Nottinghamshire is £4.5 million short. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) is also present, as is the hon. Member for Broxbourne—[Hon. Members: “Broxtowe!”] I meant the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer). The Mounties will get their man, do not worry.

Those figures make a total of £20.3 million. The east midlands also contains some of the most underfunded police forces in the country; all receive less funding per capita than the national average. As a whole, the region is on average in the bottom third of police authorities for expenditure per head of population, a situation that has existed for at least a decade and has been a problem under successive Governments. Medium-term financial projections put the shortfall in the region of £129 million.

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I should acknowledge my right hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), as well as the hon. Member for South Derbyshire. My right hon. Friend has also taken a keen interest in what we are discussing.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, my county colleague, for giving way. A week or two ago, I was present at the making of the police precept for Leicestershire at the police headquarters at St. John’s. It is clear that this year the gap has been bridged from reserves and resources, but they will have gone by April 2008. The key issue is that we must have an improved formula and settlement 12 months hence. Otherwise, the east midlands forces will have significant difficulties. Is that not true?

Mr. Garnier: It is. As the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), has said, Home Office spending needs to go back into the comprehensive spending review. Until that is done, many of the problems that hon. Members have mentioned, or will mention, will continue.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on securing this debate. He is right to point out that funding is the crucial issue. He alluded to the figures involved. In simple terms, an average £174 is spent per person in England on police forces; in the east midlands, the figure is £143, 18 per cent. below the national average. Spending in the east midlands ranges from £126 to £158 per person. Until the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety deals with that essential point, we shall simply make no progress on policing in our region.

Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend’s figures speak for themselves, and I hope that in due course the Minister will have some sort of answer to his points.

In 2005, the east midlands police authorities commissioned an independent study, which was carried out by Rita Hale, an expert in local government policy and finance. The study shows that, between 1995-96 and 2005-06, their combined income rose more slowly than inflation—by 23.8 per cent., compared with 28.3 per cent. When assessing gross police spending in 2005-06, the study found that the average for England was, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering said, £174 per person. When spending in the region is expressed as a percentage of the average, it is clear that all five police authorities suffer in comparison with the rest of the country. Derbyshire’s spending was 78 per cent. of the average. Leicestershire’s was 84 per cent., Lincolnshire’s was 72 per cent., Northamptonshire’s was 79 per cent. and Nottinghamshire’s was 90 per cent.—on average, they were 82 per cent. of the national average.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): My hon. and learned Friend should be congratulated, first, on securing this important debate and, secondly, on articulating the important issues in such an informed way. The statistics that he has just highlighted pinpoint the fact that Lincolnshire, even of the five police
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authorities in the east midlands, has the lowest per capita spend, at £126 per head, and the lowest spend as a percentage of the English average, at 72 per cent. That is causing particular tensions, given the increasing population, which has grown by 10.6 per cent. in the past decade. Per head of population in England and Wales, the difference between Lincolnshire and the next lowest spending force equates to £11 million. A disparity of that magnitude causes immense problems for the chief constable and police authority in delivering efficient policing in Lincolnshire. I hope that when the Minister comes—

John Bercow (in the Chair): Order. I should say to the hon. Gentleman that interventions must be brief. Will he bring his remarks to a close?

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Bercow.

Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out those stark figures. I believe that his county has the fourth fastest population growth of the 39 English police force areas. It also happens to have received the second or third lowest grant, per head of population, in the country.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con) rose—

Mr. Garnier: One moment. Lincolnshire is a large rural area. It suffers from all the problems of sparsity of rural areas in Leicestershire, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth and I represent, and in Derbyshire, which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire represents. However, that is not to say that we are happy to ignore the difficulties of inner-city Leicester, Nottingham or Derby. We understand that across the country, places such as Birmingham, Liverpool and London will have equal claim to central Government resources. However, we are after fairness. We do not wish to be better funded than anywhere else, but we do not see why we should be less well funded than anywhere else.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is being extremely generous in allowing interventions. I apologise for not being able to attend the entire debate.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Home Office assessment shows that our region needs higher spending, and that the presence of floors has so far made it difficult to adjust to that? There is no point in having assessments if one does not make progress towards them.

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman asks a complicated question in a complicated way. The Minister will be able to deal with it later without even a flicker of confusion. In so far as I understood the hon. Gentleman’s point, I probably agree with it.

I refer briefly to some other points made by the Hale report. It also found that police authorities whose populations were growing rapidly tend to receive lower per capita increases and central Government support
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than those with similar characteristics whose populations were growing more slowly. That is important for us in the east midlands because the region’s population grew much faster than that of England as a whole between mid-1993 to mid-2003—by 4.1 per cent. compared with the national average of 2.7 per cent.

That is palpable in my own area of Harborough. When I first became a Member of Parliament in 1992, the town of Market Harborough had a population of approximately 12,000 or 13,000. Now, it must be in the region of 20,000. I promised to give way to my hon. Friend.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): I am building on my hon. and learned Friend’s head of steam. Is it not a fact that the botched proposals to amalgamate police forces in the midlands vastly irritated the problem and made it much worse? Many of the current funding issues could be resolved if all that money had not gone down the drain. In my own area, we could have had extra police officers on the streets of Market Bosworth right now. What does he say about that?

Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend’s points about the amalgamation of our five police forces into one east midlands police force are well made. Unfortunately, it took the Government a little while to wake up to the reality of the situation.

Our region stretches from the outskirts of Manchester at the top end of Derbyshire; in the south, to the outskirts of Milton Keynes, at the bottom end of Northamptonshire; and from the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border in the west to the North sea in the east. The Government are obsessed with regionalism and central control, but if they want to carry out policies that are fuelled by such obsessions, they must learn what is happening on the ground in our communities. Having learned the lesson—I hope—of the failed experiment of the amalgamated police forces and, in the meantime, having wasted a great deal of management time, police officer time and, more to the point, public money, perhaps they will accept that the wasted money should not be an excuse for not funding properly our police forces across the region. As I said, we are after fair funding, not more funding than other people. We simply want to be treated on an equal basis.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Would my hon. and learned Friend further point out the differences between various counties? For example, Nottinghamshire gets £132 million in grant, which is equivalent to £127 per head on last year’s figures, as opposed to Derbyshire, which gets £105 million, or £106 per head. That means that the people of Derbyshire are paying more in their council tax for their police service. Derbyshire’s police service charge at band D last year was £135, as opposed to Nottinghamshire’s at £132.

Mr. Garnier: My right hon. Friend is entirely correct to point to those figures. As Conservatives, he and I of course wish to keep a tight rein on public expenditure—that is not in dispute.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

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Mr. Garnier: I shall just finish this point and then come back to the hon. Gentleman.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree about the figures, whatever the actual numbers in pounds, shillings and pence. Can he explain—I do not think that he can—why it is fair for his constituents in Derbyshire to receive police funding at 78 per cent. of the average national spend? Can the hon. Member for Bassetlaw explain why it is fair that Nottinghamshire receives only 90 per cent.? Can the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire explain why Leicestershire should receive only 84 per cent.? Can the Minister explain any of those figures? I hope that he can.

John Mann: By asking me a question, the hon. and learned Gentleman invites me to intervene, but I shall keep my comments to what they were going to be and attempt to catch your eye at a later stage, Mr. Bercow. In the light of the hon. and learned Gentleman’s remarks about keeping tax and expenditure within reason, it would be helpful if he were to outline the exact increases in expenditure on the police service in the east midlands, and, in terms of value for money, what the trends have been for burglary rates, for example, during the past 10 years.

Mr. Garnier: I am sure that that would be helpful, but I shall not detain myself by going into such detail. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be here until 11 o’clock in order to furnish us with that information. I want to move on to deal with some of the more practical consequences of the funding problems in our region.

There has been much discussion in recent years about police community support officers. The Government promised in their various manifestos and effusions that 24,000 PCSOs would be recruited by the end of next year. As a result of the funding arrangements in our region, the promise simply will not be kept. The Government do not seem to be too keen that we should know about the promise, and they certainly do not want us to know that they will not keep it.

My county of Leicestershire currently has 155 PCSOs. The recruitment target of 350 for the county, as set out in the Government’s manifesto, has been reduced to 229, so we will have a net loss—delivery as compared with promise—of 121. The net loss for other counties is 128 for Derbyshire, 84 for Lincolnshire, 75 for Northamptonshire and 149 for Nottinghamshire. The Minister needs to respond to those figures.

I understand from speaking to members of my police authority that not only Leicestershire but other police authorities in the region have fully taken on board the concept of PCSOs. Local communities have seen the benefit of those officers’ work in support of the police. I note in particular South Wigston in my constituency, where PCSOs assist the police in treading the streets, preventing antisocial behaviour and ensuring that unruly gangs of youngsters do not get into trouble.

However, the funding basis is not sustainable. It is predicated on efficiency savings, which are already inadequate to balance the books, and partnership funding, which is restricted by budget deficits in local government. Current funding levels provide for 16,000
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PCSOs across the region at 75 per cent. of their pay. That runs the risk of undermining the initiative and will lead to a debilitation of local policing as support is not provided at the anticipated levels.

What about medium-term financial projections? The five forces within the region have tried to wind the clock forward, to make some projections for budgets up to and including the financial year 2010-11. The projections were developed on the basis of a consistent set of resource assumptions: central grant support increase at 2 per cent., which many of us may think is somewhat optimistic; annual precept increase capped at 5 per cent.; general price inflation at 2 per cent.; pay inflation at 3 per cent.; and continuation of the PCSO grant at 75 per cent.

Even on those assumptions, we will be left with a funding gap that will be the equivalent of 800 officers across the region. If the Minister is prepared to stand up and say that by 2011 our region will be 800 police officers short, he is a braver man than I am. The consequence of that Government policy will hit hard in our region, and we ask the Government to take that on board.

David Taylor: The two main drivers for the plans for regionalisation of the police, which were aborted, were savings by the central authority on back-office functions, and the funding gap for protective services. However, has not the east midlands shown itself to be a beacon region? The east midlands special operations unit has achieved a great deal in recent months, but its central Government funding runs out on 31 August 2008. We can demonstrate to the country how co-operation and collaboration between forces can best be carried out, but that vital initiative needs funding security in the medium term. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree with that?

Mr. Garnier: I think I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and the Minister will have heard it as well. I hope that he will take it on board. Partly because I have been extremely generous in allowing others to intervene on me, I have taken up your time and patience, Mr. Bercow. I shall draw my remarks to an end.

Our region faces a stark choice, as does every region, when it comes to the expenditure of public money. If the Government wish to maintain their borrowed reputation for being effective on matters of law and order—if the reputation was ever deserved, it is extremely tarnished—they, too, must make stark choices. Those stark choices involve being fair to the police authorities and people of our region. We understand that there is no such thing as free taxpayers’ money and that resources have to be carefully marshalled and husbanded. We understand, too, no matter which party we come from and which part of the region we represent, that fairness is something that the British people expect and understand. At the moment, we are not getting it. I hope that my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen throughout the Chamber will support me in asking the Government to be fair to the east midlands and its police authority.

Several hon. Members rose—

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John Bercow (in the Chair): Order. It might be helpful for right hon. and hon. Members to know that I intend to call the winding-up speeches from the Front Benches at approximately 10.30 am. Several hon. Members have let me know either just now or in writing that they would like to catch my eye, so with moderate succinctness they should be able to contribute to the debate.

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