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13 Mar 2007 : Column 59WH—continued

Of course, I am happy to meet the BCU commander whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I am also happy
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to meet the police board, but I need to check that that is appropriate in terms of ministerial responsibility. As I say to my office, I will always meet people to discuss matters, even if the outcome is not what they want. Sometimes, the least that MPs want is to put to Ministers the case of their constituents or area, which is perfectly fair and proper. I am happy to meet them for that reason if I can.

The hon. Gentleman has properly spoken out for his police force, and I am grateful for this opportunity to put on record the Government’s perspective on the funding of Northamptonshire police. I shall give a few statistics to set the debate in context, and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if he has heard these figures before, but it is important to go through them.

The grant settlement that the House approved earlier this year, without a Division, provided all forces and police authorities, including Northamptonshire, with an increase in general grant for next year of 3.6 per cent., which is above the rate of inflation. Since 1997-98, Government funding for Northamptonshire police has increased by more than 55 per cent., which equates to 22 per cent. in real terms. That is an unprecedented investment in the police service of which we can all be proud. The results of that investment are clear to see. Northamptonshire now has 1,325 police officers, 148 more than in March 1997. In the same period, the number of support staff increased from 554 to 989—an increase of more than 78 per cent. Those support staff enable officers to be released for front-line duties, where the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and hon. Friends want them to be. Northamptonshire also has 62 police community support officers. As hon. Members know, they have been an innovation under this Government, and I shall say a bit more about that later.

We should consider outputs as well as inputs, because these results are also impressive. In the past year, overall recorded crime in Northamptonshire fell by 7.9 per cent. That is a big and impressive drop, notwithstanding the point made by the hon. Member for Kettering about people not recording crime. There was a particularly welcome fall in violent crime. I, like him, pay tribute to all in Northamptonshire who have contributed to achieving that impressive result—not only the police but others who have been involved in the various partnerships. I am sure that he is aware that crime fell by 11.5 per cent in the northern basic command unit area, which includes Kettering. We are talking about big reductions in crime as well as the issues that he has raised.

I shall say something about the distribution of Government funding to the police. Some police forces have suggested that they are relatively under-funded when compared with others, so it is worth setting out the principles. As the hon. Gentleman will know, funding for police forces is based on a formula that was drawn up in conjunction with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. It takes account of the demographic composition of the population, including wealth and employment status, together with factors such as population density. All those elements are factored into the relative needs formula, which forms the basis of the distribution of the available funds between the police authorities in England and Wales.

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Funding has never been based purely on population; indeed, a moment’s thought would demonstrate why that would be a very inaccurate way to determine the relative needs of different police authorities. The operation of the formula is subject to a damping mechanism to ensure that no forces suffer a dramatic change in funding from one year to the next.

The hon. Gentleman comes from the same region as I do, so he will know that some in the east midlands complain because, as a result of the damping mechanism, their forces receive less than they are strictly entitled to under the funding formula. That point was made by several hon. Members in a recent Westminster Hall debate on funding in the east midlands. I know that the hon. Gentleman attended that debate. Northamptonshire, in fact, gains from the operation of the damping system. In 2007-08, it will receive £600,000 more than it would if the funding formula were to be fully applied.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety has made it clear on a number of occasions, including during the debate to which I have just referred, that we are very willing to engage on a cross-party basis to see whether we can come up with a system of police funding that is equitable and ensures that we get the best possible services across England and Wales. That is notwithstanding the fact that there will always be a debate about the amount.

We are clearly prepared to have an ongoing discussion about this. We have held several very informative meetings with hon. Members, chief constables and representatives of police authorities. I am happy to reiterate the point that I made at the beginning of my remarks: Ministers’ doors remain open. There is a need for dialogue on these issues to accompany the party political point scoring in which we sometimes indulge.

I shall say something about the future. We have made it clear that following the successful introduction of a two-year settlement, we intend to move to a three-year settlement covering the years of the next comprehensive spending review—2008-09 to 2010-11. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Home Office will receive a flat-rate increase over the CSR years. No decision have been taken on how the overall pot of Home Office money will be distributed between the various services that the Home Office supports, and I am not making any announcements about that today.

What I can say is that there are real pressures across all areas of Home Office business, and the days of the police receiving above-inflation funding increases are probably over. The funding that we have provided in recent years, to which I have referred, has put police finances on a very sound footing, on which they can build. We will also be looking to the police to make substantial efficiency savings. They have made very impressive productivity gains and efficiency savings in recent years. That work must continue to ensure that the maximum possible resources are devoted to front-line policing.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that the recruitment of PCSOs has had the effect of reducing the number of police officers. May I again clarify that PCSOs are not a replacement for police constables? They are an additional resource for the police service in support of the implementation of neighbourhood policing. May I
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say to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) that they are certainly not policing on the cheap? They play a distinct and complementary role. To be fair to the hon. Member for Kettering, he paid tribute to the work that they do.

PCSOs are most effective when deployed as members of teams led by police officers, providing a highly visible and responsive presence. They are generally concerned with community engagement rather than enforcement, as that area of work remains, for the most part, the preserve of sworn police officers. This is the nub of the debate about how we use police officers and PCSOs.

I am sure that a debate will take place in Northamptonshire, as it will in the rest of the country, about the appropriate balance between police officers and PCSOs. The police service is actively recruiting PCSOs. That is rightly a matter for local decision making, which is why we have changed the funding arrangements for next year. Determining the best mix is far better done by the local chief constable, his local commanders, community representatives and the police authority. I am sure that that is what is happening in the hon. Gentleman’s area, as it is in areas across the country.

Mr. Hollobone: I appreciate the good intentions on PCSOs. Does the Minister recognise that although it is not the intention, the effect of the Government’s funding rules is that Northamptonshire has ended up with more PCSOs but fewer police officers? It was never the Government’s intention that that should happen.

Mr. Coaker: Again, this is the nub of the debate. We have had this debate before, but I should say something that is worth repeating. If there is local decision making, money is not ring-fenced and people are allowed to have greater flexibility over how they spend it, different decisions will inevitably be made about how it is spent and about the distribution between different areas of work. Across the country, some areas of work would be fully funded by the police and huge activity would be undertaken, but other specific areas of crime would not be as fully investigated or would not be as fully dealt with as possible. This is a matter for local decision making, because such things are best done at local level.

Mr. Bone: I am confused because my local police told me that PCSO money was ring-fenced and they did not have local decision making as to how they spent it.

Mr. Coaker: The commitment in respect of 24,000 PCSOs was going to be ring-fenced, but we moved away from that. Instead of telling forces next year that they would get an additional sum but would have to spend it to move towards the target of having 24,000 PCSOs across the country, we changed our approach so as to put the money into the general policing pot. That will give forces the flexibility next year to determine how to use it, and I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question. We could have kept that money ring-fenced, and the numbers of PCSOs
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would have continued to rise, but we decided not to, because we felt it more appropriate to allow local decision making to apply.

The result of that decision is that the Northamptonshire police have been allocated £2.8 million towards the cost of neighbourhood policing in 2007-08. That is an increase of 33 per cent. over funding in 2006-07. The force will have 138 PCSOs in 2007, which is an increase from 40 in 2006 and will contribute to the roll-out of neighbourhood policing across Northamptonshire. I cannot remember the exact number but we are not talking about the figure that the hon. Member for Kettering would have added on to the 138 to be Northamptonshire’s part of the 24,000.

There will not be an expectation to increase PCSO numbers further, although the force is free to do so if it wishes, depending on local needs and circumstances. We have therefore extended much more flexibility for local decisions to be taken, both to Northamptonshire police and across the service generally. That is important because community safety is a shared responsibility and local decision making, with the involvement of the community and local partners, is crucial to the success of neighbourhood policing.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kettering on securing this debate, the hon. Member for Wellingborough on his contribution and Northamptonshire police on the work that they have done. I look forward to having the meetings that the hon. Member for Kettering requested, so that we can continue the dialogue about how best to take things forward. May I also ask his constituents, as well as others in Northamptonshire and across the country, to report any and every crime to the police, because that way we can get a true picture of what is happening, and the police can divert the necessary resources accordingly?

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Maritime Sector (Liverpool)

1.30 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The maritime sector in Liverpool is recognised as being an important economic driver for the country, region and locality. That is acknowledged by the Department for Transport, the Northwest Development Agency, the North West regional assembly, “The Northern Way” and the Merseyside local authorities. In this short debate, I want to draw attention to some important issues, the recognition of which is essential if the sector is to develop its potential.

Mersey ports processed more than 42 million tonnes of cargo in 2005, making it the fourth largest port operation in the United Kingdom. A 350 per cent. increase over the past 20 years is part of the growing success story, and more than 87 per cent. of all north-west port cargo tonnage is handled on the River Mersey or the Manchester ship canal. The regional implications are clearly significant.

With more than 100 global destinations, the port is the key gateway for UK trade with north America and a global gateway for UK industry. It leads the way in deep-sea carrier-operated feeder services hubbing to Liverpool from European ports. In 2005, it handled containers from more than 100 non-EU countries, which led to three new deep-sea-direct container services calling at the port.

More than 5 million tonnes of cargo passes annually between Liverpool and Ireland, as well as an increasing number of passengers. Welcome investment by Norfolkline has increased Liverpool-Belfast and Liverpool-Dublin business. The port’s hinterland has the highest concentration of cargo-generating activity outside London, and more than 60 per cent. of the UK’s manufacturing capacity lies within a 200 km radius. The average distance covered by road vehicles operating from Liverpool is substantially less than from the south-east ports, which is important environmentally as well as economically.

The port of Liverpool is a strong economic driver, creating a maritime sector that is the largest outside London according to the recent economic impact survey carried out by Mersey Maritime. In 2004-05, the sector generated 20,500 full-time jobs in Merseyside, rising to more than 26,500 when indirect impact is taken into account. The sector’s output reached £2.5 billion, adding £698 million to household incomes and creating the highest gross value-added of any port in the UK. It is likely that the maritime sector accounts for at least 5 per cent. of gross value-added in Merseyside. Employment in the maritime sector is diverse, and includes ship repairs, logistics. engineering, transport, warehousing, professional services and training. Three major companies’ head offices and Maersk’s main regional office are in the city centre. The port of Liverpool currently shows increasing activity, increasing business and increasing numbers of diverse jobs with local and regional impact.

I want to draw attention to two important new developments that are bringing additional opportunities to Liverpool, and I want to ask whether current
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developments and decisions will allow those new opportunities to be grasped fully for the benefit of local people, for the region and for the country. First, the acquisition of the port by Peel Holdings creates a unique situation. It means that Liverpool port, the very successful John Lennon airport—the fastest-growing airport in the country—and the Manchester ship canal are under common ownership. That creates a unique, integrated port complex that has led to the concept of a super-port, and the possibility of transferring a substantial amount of container trade from road to water via the canal to port Salford with significant environmental benefits. The super-port concept has arisen from the new ownership, and includes the possibility of a new port complex.

Secondly, I want to draw attention to the setting up of Mersey Maritime in 2003 with Jim Teasdale as chief executive. That private sector-led initiative is working with the public sector and has brought new vigour and focus to the maritime cluster. It works with local businesses, companies, the maritime sector, shipping companies and transport. It is about showing the importance of a cluster of maritime excellence, and about developing the possibilities of that cluster for the economy, as well as promoting shipping. The initiative is innovative, full of enthusiasm and doing excellent work.

I have some key questions about whether the greatest possible opportunities presented by that situation are being taken up. Will the Department for Transport recognise the port of Liverpool’s importance in its national ports review, or will it, as many fear, concentrate on further development of south-east ports? That is not just a regional question; it is a national question about developing the potential of all regions in the United Kingdom. The issue is highlighted in the Transport Committee’s recent report on the ports review, which draws attention to the importance of supporting ports outside the greater south-east to enable both national and regional development to be maximised.

Recognising the port of Liverpool’s importance means investing in infrastructure to facilitate freight and passenger access by road, rail, and water. When will the Olive Mount Chord rail project be delivered? When will the issue of inadequate rail loading gauge be addressed? When will road access be improved?

I have raised those issues in written questions, and a reply on 15 January confirmed that the Highways Agency believes that the existing road network is inadequate to cater for the port’s expected growth. When will that inadequacy be dealt with, and when will changes be made?

The £10 million cruise liner facility currently under construction is vital and welcome, but further major investment is required. Will the Government back Mersey Maritime’s ports growth strategy?

Will the Government approve the post-Panamax terminal application, which is essential if we are to attract trade with the far east? The terminal would enable shipping services to call at Liverpool to service the north-west and the northern regions, thus increasing regional competitiveness, so it is an issue not
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only for Liverpool, but for the wider region. I raised the issue in a written parliamentary question, and I received a reply today, stating:

I should be pleased if my hon. Friend could indicate when that completion might be.

Will the Government, the regional development agency and local authorities back the super-port concept in order to maximise the benefits of the airport, port and ship canals being under single ownership, while working with regional distribution centres near Warrington? The super-port would require the post-Panamax facility, and in the long term, a world cargo centre at John Lennon airport.

Will there be continued support for the innovative and successful Mersey Maritime initiative, which focuses on developing maritime clusters as centres of excellence? That energetic body has achieved significant success, working with 820 local companies and 19,000 employees. It has succeeded in a great deal of its work, which included the initiation of much-needed skills training and the commencement of apprenticeships. It has promoted innovative ICT projects to make businesses more efficient, of which Liverpool university’s advanced internet methods and emergent systems—AIMES—project to improve the tracking of goods is just one example. I recognise that the Government are not solely responsible for the sector, and I recognise the support that they have already given to the port of Liverpool and the maritime sector. Locally, Mersey Docks and Harbour Company has to provide a replacement landing platform for Merseytravel’s successful cross-river ferries, because it has been absent for more than a year following an accident on the previous landing stage.

Other players include the Learning and Skills Council and the Department of Trade and Industry, and I hope that they will continue to work with Mersey Maritime and with others. The Northwest Development Agency has already played an important role, recognising the maritime sector in its regional economic strategy, and the North West regional assembly continues to work very hard on transport policy development.

At this time of change, I ask my hon. Friend to assure me that regional policy will not only continue, but strengthen. It means developing policies that reach beyond the city regions, and backing the Northwest Development Agency, the North West regional assembly and “The Northern Way”, which is inter-regional. Transport decisions must follow regional strategies; Network Rail and the Highways Agency should be required—as part of their remits—to invest in regional policies, and Government investment decisions must back regional policy.

Liverpool’s maritime sector has a proud history. Indeed, efforts are under way to restore HMS Whimbrel, the only surviving escort ship from Captain Walker’s second world war north Atlantic hunting group, transport it from its location in Egypt to Liverpool and use it as a tourist and educational facility. Similarly, plans are being assessed to bring SS Manxman, the last steamship operating between the
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Isle of Man and Liverpool, from its berth in Sunderland to Liverpool. I hope that the Government-backed agencies will support both projects.

Today’s debate focuses on the potential of the port of Liverpool as an increasingly important economic driver for the locality, region and country. The report by the Transport Committee, “The Ports Industry in England and Wales”, concluded:

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