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10 Jan 2008 : Column 173WH—continued

Over the next period, for the first time, we want the customary 3 per cent. efficiency to be cashable, and that will be tight for authorities. If I have time, I will come back to that. I have made it clear that anything that forces save on recalibrating their internal processes, whether at operational or functional level, back office or front line, or in collaboration with other forces, I
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want them to reinvest in what they do, and to do it even more efficiently. There must be a function for me as a bulwark, if I can characterise it like that, between the police forces and the Treasury. If forces make savings because of innovation and collaboration with other forces, whether functionally or in back-office work, they need the time and the scope to be able to get on and invest them.

People have raised interesting points about the local versus national dimension. I think that there is a whole range of issues, not just funding or precepts, to consider. I welcome in part the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East about a wider investigation into policing. As he knows, the Home Secretary has already said that rather than just formally respond to Ronnie Flanagan’s report, we want to issue a Green Paper. The timing may, or may not, work out in that regard. Certainly, if I have anything to do with it, I want the Green Paper to feature a clear exposition, perhaps for the first time in a while, and not just since 1997, of what should be done nationally, regionally—I am thinking of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud about super-regional matters—and at force and local levels. The historical notion that whatever the number of forces—43 now, 110 not long ago and God knows how many before that—autonomy was absolute, and there was an aversion to a national police force of any description. That meant that there could be no national direction, but I do not think that that is right, given my limited experience over 18 months.

Keith Vaz: When does the Minister anticipate that Sir Ronnie Flanagan will produce his report, and what is the subsequent timetable for producing the Green Paper?

Mr. McNulty: With the emphasis strongly on the word “anticipate”, rather than anything more accurate, Ronnie is looking towards the end of this month, and the Green Paper should be out a couple of months after that—the end of March or something like that. However, my right hon. Friend will know the fluidity of such dates, given other events.

The Green Paper will provide an opportunity to say what should be done at national or regional level, for example, to pursue the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, regarding procurement. What I do not want to do, however, is to fall into the mistake that I think we fell into on mergers, and assume that nothing by way of collaboration and working together has happened before. In the rush to the debate over mergers, we assumed that it was year zero. We assumed that the forces did not even talk to each other, let alone collaborate. There was plenty of work on collaboration prior to the mergers debate, and I would say plenty—and probably more—has been done in the past year or so since the mergers denouement, which happened under my watch, not anyone else’s, I should tell my hon. Friend. The mergers denouement happened during the first three weeks of my taking this role. Huge fun.

Mr. Drew: So my right hon. Friend claims the credit.

Mr. McNulty: I do not know. Credit, mis-credit, whatever else, but there we are.

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I accept the view that there was a pall, or a sort of sclerosis in the entire policing family for some three to six months after that—it really did stick for a while before people got out from under it. None the less, one of the key things that I said to forces after in what is now called McNulty’s Valentine letter—some five or six pages that just happened to go out on 14 February last year—was that I wanted to see significant action and movement. I would say that there has been significant action and movement, all in the right direction. The east midlands special operations unit is a good example, which is why I have insisted that we carry on funding it, although we will eventually taper the funding so that the five forces can pay for it. The east midlands were in particular difficulty with protective services and level 2 services. There are demonstrator sites up and down the country involving pretty much all forces. Quite a lot happened on an all-Wales basis, but I said to people, “I am not terribly bothered, unless someone on high tells me otherwise, that things have to be within Government regions.”

Some excellent work is being done by forces across regions: Essex and Kent are doing a hell of a lot together; quite naturally, North Wales and Cheshire are working together in the north-west; and South Wales is working along with Avon and Somerset. I am more interested in what works than in tidy little boxes to put things in. As I said, given that the purpose behind the proposals is not efficiencies, I see my job as saying to forces that whatever they save from collaboration, they can spend wherever they want in pursuit of improving policing in their area, as long as we get the 3 per cent. cashable efficiencies overall—that will suffice.

Establishing in the broader sense what should be done and directed nationally under the Police Act 1996 is a starting point. As for the question of accountability, I would be strung up by the Association of Police Authorities if I came close to agreeing with the characterisation of police authorities given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, but there are issues about what they do and how they do it. Not least because of the roll-out of neighbourhood policing, there are concerns such as those expressed by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), among others, about what accountability looks like at that very local level.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh about local information. We will insist that forces produce local information, not least to satisfy the requirement for a customer-satisfaction, customer-focus type of approach at the local level. I do not want to introduce a whole new layer of paperwork—I will come on to bureaucracy in a moment—just to ensure that forces are doing something at a macro level that I dictate rather than at the most appropriate level for them. In London, such work will naturally focus on the wards, because that is a real organisational unit.

Chris Huhne: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty: I will, given the huge amount of time I have left after the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds made his Bury St. Edmunds declaration.

In other cases, the work will be done at the locality, basic command unit or neighbourhood level, or at the level of some other organising function, but the notion
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that local information should inform the debate about local priorities is one that we have taken on board and will move ahead with.

Chris Huhne: The BCU level even outside London is far too big, frankly, so what locality is the Minister thinking of in Hampshire or an equivalent authority?

Mr. McNulty: It depends. Many areas, including Hampshire, organise around neighbourhoods that are subsets of BCUs, which may be the appropriate level. At the other extremity, the county of Warwickshire is the BCU—the only one that organises the whole county as a BCU. The Government need to look at that, but the hon. Gentleman is right that we cannot have informed views on local policing beyond the purely aspirational unless we have information about local performance. Therein lies one of the bigger dilemmas.

The hon. Gentleman was wrong for a couple of reasons—I shall not dwell on them—about the difference between the performance and assessment framework and assessments of policing and community safety. APACS will look different from PPAF; the latter served its purpose in its time, but we are moving to the new system. There is a tension between wanting to know more about all aspects of every business process in which the police are involved and letting them get on with it. That begins to address my right hon. Friend’s questions about productivity and efficiency.

We are trying to establish something that is not a million miles away from the local government model, whereby if people deliver and perform, they will be afforded some degree of earned autonomy or whatever to get on with it, and the inspection and performance regimes will back off. That model works only if there is some kind of big stick, so that if a police authority underperforms or looks like it is failing, there would be proper intervention and matters would be taken in hand.

I am keen to ensure that we go for the good cholesterol—I lack the medicinal knowledge that I would need to understand further Ronnie’s analogy, so I do not know whether there is such a thing as too much good cholesterol if one gets rid of the bad stuff, but the analogy is useful. When both local people and me are satisfied with the measurements of the new performance framework, I want an appropriate focus on customers and local priorities and for the police to do what they should be doing. Let us be honest: that is not always the local priority, and there is a tension. When the police are doing what they should be doing, there should be a much more strategic or stand-offish approach from the centre. That is clear from the Home Office’s new crime strategy and any number of the new strategies that we are putting in place, including police service areas and the new performance frameworks. In such a situation, the tension is about how we afford our police, as it should be.

On over-bureaucracy and paperwork, I shall write to the hon. Member for Eastleigh to tell him why he is completely wrong about Suffolk and paperwork connected to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. That dilemma is about two years old and I thought, rightly, that I had resolved it. If a local force is not doing what it should be doing, it is to do with training. RIPA paperwork—

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Mr. Ruffley: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty: I shall not give way, because I have only about seven minutes left.

The tension between knowing what our police do and affording them discretion and flexibility is real, and the Government want to deal with it. I accept the point, as I have said before, that we need to debate how to strike an appropriate balance between local and national contributions to police resources. I do not know whether local contributions have gone up from 11 or 13 per cent., or whether they have gone up to 21 per cent.—the picture is patchy.

Those figures are not based on this year, or even last year—they run around in my head—but local contributions vary from 18 per cent., which was the figure two years ago in Northumbria, to more than 50 per cent. in Surrey, despite the fact that the money pays for a service that is universal, at least partly. Figures from before the last budgetary round vary from anything from £88 to well over £240. It is perfectly legitimate to debate the calibration of local and national contributions, and the difference between, for example, Cumbria and Cornwall. Of course, there will be peculiarities to local policing priorities in Hampshire, Leicestershire or Suffolk, but essentially, the service is universal

Mr. Graham Stuart: On a point of order, Lady Winterton. Perhaps I could help the Minister. Am I correct in thinking that the Minister has until 5.30 pm?

Ann Winterton (in the Chair): The debate is due to end at 5.30 pm.

Mr. McNulty: I knew that. It is not news to me, so I do not know at whom that point of order was aimed.

There are peculiarities, but we would do well by the public to have a proper debate about the financial base and the balance between local and national contributions. We should consider that dimension in our deliberations.

It is not right to say or assume that, given the resource base for the next three years and the fact that the police must do everything they do in the same fashion, there will be no new Government-funded initiative in that period. That is not an appropriate or fair description even of the current police resource base or of the ability of police to change. Policing, as I know from London, is different—fundamentally, in some ways—from 10 or even five years ago. That is not a political point; I am simply saying that eight or 10 years ago, in reality, the Metropolitan police force was a complete and utter mess as an organisation, rather than as a policing operation. People joke that the Metropolitan Police Service only discovered double-entry bookkeeping in 1999, 2000 or 2001 or that that was when it began to get some substantial organisation into what it does and how it is done.

Both as an organisation and as a police force, the Met is now a very different beast from 10 years ago, and I do not doubt that it will be different again in five or 10 year’s time. It is a model for how, if possible, neighbourhood policing should move forward, but I take the point made by the hon. Member for Putney about the difference between neighbourhood policing and safer neighbourhood teams within and between boroughs. Deprivation in the communities that the police serve certainly varies. I do
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not take the point—it may be the case in Wandsworth, but I do not know—that the poorer, more deprived or the harder the criminality the area, the less organised or structured the local public input is. If that was not the hon. Lady’s point, I should be happy for her to elucidate.

Justine Greening: The Minister has misunderstood me. I made no reference to income and crime. I said that, in areas where crime is higher, people are often less reluctant to come forward and to get involved visibly in neighbourhood panels, because they are worried that, by identifying themselves as people who help the police, they will become targets.

Mr. McNulty: I take the hon. Lady’s point, but I assume that she meant “more reluctant” rather than “less reluctant”.

Justine Greening indicated assent.

Mr. McNulty: I take the hon. Lady’s point, but involvement varies. We are about two years on from completing the roll-out. In time, the measure will develop in all areas. Of course, it is different from ward to ward, but in my experience, there is as much enthusiasm for such organisation in high crime areas as elsewhere.

I told my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud that the Government will do more on protective services. The south-west is taking tentative steps in that direction. In a very imaginative way, people there are trying to take forward much of what they do on a global, public sector basis in many instances. For some back-office functions, including IT, the police are trying to work alongside health services, local government and others. That is happening initially in Avon and Somerset, but it will broaden out. Such working is certainly worth further investigation and interest.

My hon. Friend’s local chief constable, Dr. Timothy Brain, was exceptional in his role in gold command in performing above and beyond the call of duty. As was implied, it is not strictly a policing matter at all. Dr. Brain’s work is to be commended. My hon. Friend will know that Gloucestershire is making an application under the Bellwin scheme. I have already said, I think, to Gloucestershire police that, as is the norm, if they think that there are more specific policing costs beyond what they receive through the Bellwin scheme, they can at least apply to the Home Office for special grant. Such an application will be assessed in the normal fashion.

Mr. Drew: I thank the Minister for that and I will pass on what he has said. Will he also make some nice comments about the tri-service station because the arrangement has been under some pressure? It is a complete myth that it is being shut, but obviously the loss of some of the fire personnel puts pressure on both police and ambulance personnel. That is a great shame because it would be an interesting model to pursue.

Mr. McNulty: I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend’s points about the tri-service model. I apologise for being so parochial and just concentrating on the police. Collectively, the emergency services and the broader society in Gloucestershire certainly did an excellent job.

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I want to return to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East said. He gave the impression, at least, that somehow the Government were responsible for awarding PCSOs the full pay award. We had no control over those awards; they are a matter for the local government bodies. There was no mechanism at all for the 2007 award to be referred up to us.

Keith Vaz: I am most grateful to the Minister for clarifying that, but is it his understanding that PCSOs have received their award of 2.5 per cent. in full from 1 September? Can he see the problem with two sets of people working together every day, some of whom have received their award in full and some of whom have not?

Mr. McNulty: And all of whom will have had the award from 1 December onwards. A Member said yesterday that it was terrible that the Scottish police were being paid differently. That point was erroneous, too, because that endured only for September, October and November. I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud. There is a way forward from the 2008 pay award onwards, which relates to the new index—accepted in full, by the way, by the arbitration tribunal. We are talking about an award that is multi-year, as has been suggested by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and fully funded, as has been suggested by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, if it is based on the PAT index, as it has become known. That name is utterly unimaginative and simply means the police arbitration tribunal index and no more. However, there is a way forward in that regard.

I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud says—I heard it about 18 months ago—about mergers. I know where his position was then and, probably, where it remains. If we can make progress with the collaboration among services across regions or otherwise, that will answer some of the questions that forces have about economies of scale and efficiencies. I do not wish to set any hares running, but I never said that mergers were entirely off the agenda. If forces come to us saying that they would like to merge on their terms, or at least consider that, we will think about that in full.

My hon. Friend made points about funding streams, and other hon. Members made the same points about ring-fencing. The Home Office has a very good record in that regard, in that pretty much the only thing now ring-fenced, at least in terms of policing, is the neighbourhood policing fund, which is the fund that pays for PCSOs from the centre. I will happily have a debate about whether that should be un-ring-fenced. Nominally, the crime fighting fund is still ring-fenced, but that is suspended, precisely to give local forces flexibility. The crime fighting fund was about top-up numbers and, in effect, a fines system if forces fell below particular numbers. For reasons of autonomy of forces, forces getting on with what they need to get on with, and local decision making, we decided to suspend that fund. That position is working okay so far. The only other element of police spend that is ring-fenced is the counter-terrorism budget, and I am not about to un-ring-fence that in a hurry, given that it involves national and regional frameworks and structures that cover the whole country. That is appropriate.

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