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21 Nov 2007 : Column 182WH—continued

Let us not focus just on inputs. In 2006-7, total recorded crime was down, violent crime was down and burglary was down from the year before. Like the hon.
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Member for Ceredigion and the other hon. Members, I pay tribute to all those in Dyfed-Powys police whose efforts have contributed to that.

Dyfed-Powys police have been supported by the funding floor for many years to ensure that they have had year-on-year increases in grant. This year, Dyfed-Powys police are receiving £4.5 million more than their strict police funding formula allocation. Part of that additional money comes from grant that would otherwise go to South Wales police, but the vast bulk of the support for Dyfed-Powys—£3.6 million—comes from additional money provided by the Home Office from outside the general grant settlement.

I have set all that out to establish the context and to make clear the situation of Dyfed-Powys. However, I know that the hon. Member for Ceredigion is keen to look to the future. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire will know, normally I try to answer specifically the questions that are raised, so I apologise that I cannot be as specific today as I would normally be in such a debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Ceredigion will find in the future that when I answer questions as a Minister, I actually try to answer the question. However, I cannot do that at present, for which I apologise. He will appreciate that we will be announcing very shortly details of the police funding settlement for the next three years, so I cannot give details today, much as I would like to pre-empt that announcement. Obviously, he would like to know about all of that.

Mark Williams: I very much hope that the spirit of the debate is a continuing dialogue between Dyfed-Powys, the Home Office and hon. Members. Would the Minister be prepared to accept a delegation from Dyfed-Powys police authority and perhaps a cross-party gathering of the MPs for the area to express concerns and hear some of the straight-talking answers to which he has referred? We would very much appreciate such a dialogue with him.

Mr. Coaker: I am always happy to meet hon. Members and their constituents. I shall talk to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing about that, but certainly I would be prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman, his parliamentary colleagues and some of his constituents to discuss these matters.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the three-month consultation on formula grant distribution that took place over the summer and closed in mid-October. The consultation was preceded by several meetings of the police allocation formula working group, a Home Office-chaired group that includes representatives from the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, which considered possible changes to the funding formula. I will say, slightly defensively, that one member of the group was the director of finance and resources for Dyfed-Powys, so the hon. Gentleman can be sure that the interests of his local force were properly represented in that forum.

We received responses from most police forces or authorities, including from three of the Welsh forces, which I hope provides some reassurance that the consultation included consultation with and representations from Welsh forces. We have considered very carefully
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the representations from all police stakeholders received in response to the public consultation. That includes the representations from the Welsh forces, including those from the former chief constable of Dyfed-Powys. We have noted his concerns, particularly about sweeping rule 2 grants, which are specific to rural policing, into the general pot. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Dyfed-Powys police force has a particular interest in the rural policing fund. That is not surprising, because with 4,225 square miles, it covers the largest area of any force in England and Wales.

Let me be clear: the purpose of the consultation paper was not to disadvantage rural authorities. Our intention was to take the views of the police service on a range of options. One of those was to ensure that we were using the most up-to-date data in calculating the police funding formula. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues talked about ensuring that we use the correct data.

The other option concerned ways to convert funding from specific grants, which can be used for a specific purpose, to general grant, which can be spent at the discretion of police authorities. As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire said, there is a tension between grants for specific purposes, which in many respects people like because they say that the money goes to an earmarked pot—a specific thing—and the representations that we often receive from the APA and chief constables that that money should not be ring-fenced, and that it should all be put in a general pot so that it can be used in the way that they feel is appropriate in their local area. There is a balance to strike between those two positions.

Lembit Öpik: The Minister will understand that there is a particular concern in a rural area such as that covered by Dyfed-Powys police. We are worried that if we do not have that ring-fenced money we will lose out overall. We tend to feel a bit discriminated against for being rural. With huge areas being covered by a few police officers—from Welshpool to Machynlleth in my case—we think that we will continually have to cut back without that money. What assurances can the Minister give us that that will not be the case?

Mr. Coaker: The only reassurance that I can give the hon. Gentleman is that we have heard the point about the importance of the specific grant for rural policing for the huge areas of Dyfed-Powys and of some other forces in England and Wales. We have heard the representations, and we are considering them alongside others.

Hon. Members will have to wait until the police funding settlement announcement for the Government’s conclusions on the matters about which we consulted. However, in order to reassure the hon. Gentleman, we are not going to implement changes that would jeopardise the stability of the entire finance system for police authorities. As in previous years, the settlement announcement will be followed by a six-week consultation period, and that may be when we should have the meeting that was referred to earlier. We will, of course, take account of any further representations that he or his hon. Friends may wish to make; there will be a further opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to represent his constituents.

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I know that the hon. Member for Ceredigion is interested in the impact of local tourism, and that he recently tabled parliamentary questions about the use of a tourism indicator. There is little more I can add. The current formula was consulted on in the summer of 2005, and introduced in 2006-07 after a comprehensive review in which representatives from ACPO and the APA were involved. The review concluded that there was no accurate measure of tourism impacts, and it therefore did not include them in the new formula. Dyfed-Powys benefited from the revised formula changes, and its position was further protected by the application of a virtually flat-rate grant increase for all police authorities for both 2006-07 and 2007-08.

One of the real successes of recent years has been the roll-out of neighbourhood policing, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows. However, Dyfed-Powys was one of three forces that were inadvertently disadvantaged by the decision to alter the funding arrangements for community support officers and neighbourhood policing in 2007-08, which was announced in a written ministerial statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) when he was Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety. The three forces had not previously been able to commit to early acceleration in the roll-out of neighbourhood policing, so made representations that they needed further help to complete neighbourhood policing coverage in their areas. We were pleased to be able to find some money to help them get back on track. For Dyfed-Powys, it amounted to £186,000 towards the cost of an additional 12 PCSOs.

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Finally, I want to say something about force efficiency, to which the hon. Member for Ceredigion referred. Dyfed-Powys has a good record of delivering efficiency gains over and above the targets set since 1999-2000. However, over the coming years, increasing efficiency and productivity will become more important. Forces will have to work together and across communities, and take every opportunity to deliver services more effectively. I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman about good collaboration between the four police forces in Wales and the way in which they are trying to develop that relationship into an ever-closer partnership. Many forces have already gained from working in that way.

I conclude by saying that I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends in due course. The best time will probably be after the settlement has been announced, when they will be able to see the figures and what has happened. He can then make further representations if he wishes. I say again that Dyfed-Powys has received significant additional money. There will always be a debate about whether more resources are needed and about how they should be deployed.

I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Dyfed-Powys police on its excellent record in financial management and in fighting crime and making people feel safer. Today’s debate has been an important contribution to that, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on the measured and constructive way in which they put their case.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Five o'clock.

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