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The settlement must also address some issues that cause concern, particularly when we hear them from those on the front line—we are not talking about think-tanks or one-off examples from constituents. I should like to know how the Minister thinks that this year’s settlement will address the point made by the Police Federation, which last November issued a study on the number of detectives in this country and calculated that there were about 2,000 vacant detective posts. That is particularly important at a time when, as I said in my earlier remarks, violent crime has doubled in the past 10 years, knife crime has doubled in the past
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two years, gun crime has doubled in the past four years and there are unhappy data on robberies and murders. There are fewer detectives to deal with those crimes.

I wonder whether the Minister can give us an assessment of the recruitment and retention problems that force some officers to rely on trainees and unqualified officers in criminal intelligence departments. There are reports that inexperienced officers are investigating for the first time serious offences, such as stranger rapes, with little or no supervision and that the remaining detectives have to carry huge case loads and continue investigations, while still being expected to respond to the next major incident. Of course, target-driven detection is still occurring, with targets being met by reclassifying offences or encouraging the public to drop complaints—something that officers simply do not want to do, but that is what the Police Federation tells us.

In previous debates on this subject, the issue of police community support officers has been raised. The Minister and I agree that PCSOs are important to the proper implementation of neighbourhood policing, a policy that we support, but the number of PCSOs promised in 2005—24,000—has been reduced to 16,000 nationally. In 2005-06, £91 million was provided to help with the recruitment of PCSOs. It would be useful to know what he thinks the effect of the settlement will be on PCSO funding, and what he anticipates it will do to the number of PCSOs in the next year. We stress that PCSOs play an important role in making neighbourhood policing work, and it would be useful to know the resource implications for them.

In relation to the police precept, we know that in 1997, some 85 per cent. of police forces’ gross revenue was financed through central Government. In 2006-07, the latest year for which we have figures, the proportion was expected to fall to 60 per cent. The amount of police spending financed through the council tax precept has doubled in real terms between 2001 and 2006-07; in short, council tax now accounts through the precept for one fifth of police force expenditure, compared with one eighth in 2001. Ministers have claimed over the years to be almost personally responsible for the growth since 1996 in the number of additional officers, but as we face higher precepts next year, now is probably the time for the Government to give credit to council tax payers across this country, who have certainly done their part to fund extra recruitment.

I have a question about the police precept for the Minister; it bears on a policy on which I think he and I agree. In order to deliver efficiencies, which will be needed if the current settlement is to be implemented in a sensible fashion, some forces want to embark on voluntary merger, including two forces in East Anglia that I know have been in touch with him as well as with me. They say that they simply cannot go ahead with the voluntary merger that will deliver efficiencies without precept equalisation or reconsideration of the precept regime. Can he tell us anything about precept equalisation that might give encouragement for the next three years to those forces that want to merge voluntarily? That is at the heart of the efficiencies that he and I both seek.

This debate could not pass without some reference to police pay, not least because the police authorities, which are obviously the main customers concerned in
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today’s announcement, were somewhat foxed by the Home Secretary’s decision, in a departure from the arbitration ruling, not to give the 2.5 per cent. but to stage the award so that it will be 1.9 per cent. this year. It has an impact on how police authorities plan in-year for delivery of police services. The APA has pointed out on many occasions its extreme disappointment that the Home Secretary did not implement the 2.5 per cent. award. It says:

It would be useful if the Minister could remind us of the argument for not paying the 2.5 per cent. when the police authorities had already budgeted for it.

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): Will my hon. Friend join me in sympathising with many of the residents of Surrey, which he mentioned? We have policemen who are unpaid and unhappy and council tax payers who have to bail out the police because they are not getting fair funding from the Government, yet nearly half the crime in Surrey is committed by people who do not even live there.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): They can’t afford to live there.

Mr. Ruffley: May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Surrey faces challenges, just as anywhere else does, and the Minister drew attention to that, both in last year’s debate and since then? I reiterate that Surrey is an example of a force that works hard to find efficiency savings, and my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) will agree that we must get away from the notion of stereotypical leafy suburbs in the home counties that have fewer problems with drugs, violence and sexual offences than other parts of the country.

Anne Milton: I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way a second time. As he suggested, the notion that Surrey is a leafy suburb where nobody commits any crime is ignorant in the extreme. In fact, a huge amount of crime goes on behind closed doors—I do not have the figures to hand—including domestic violence and drugs crime in particular. The trafficking and movement of drugs is a major issue for Surrey police.

Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, underscoring the fact that it is not right that parts of the country that are considered leafy suburbs should be cheerfully told, “You must make do, and receive less money per capita.” That is not an acceptable argument. It is not acceptable to me, and it is certainly not acceptable to my hon. Friend and her colleagues in Surrey.

I should like to draw my remarks to a close by referring to something that we shall be discussing much more in the House from next Thursday—the need to reduce police bureaucracy, which is at the heart of any tight police settlement. I hope that the Minister would
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agree that when we talk about efficiency, we must consider how we can help the police—and I mean the whole police family, not just serving police officers—to do their jobs without so much interference. It is not just a question of spending a shed-load of money on IT. If it was simply a question of getting the police back on the beat by spending more money on IT, successive Governments might have done so, but there is no big bang approach on IT. It is worth making a salutary observation: the police service, in the six months in which I have been Opposition spokesman and done red-tape exercises in different police stations on different crimes up and down the country, say that politicians have been talking the rhetoric of cutting red tape for decades. I do not think that is just the past 10 years, although certainly in that period claims have been made about reducing police bureaucracy. If the Government had been successful in the past 10 years, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), the previous Home Secretary, would not have commissioned Sir Ronnie Flanagan, over a year ago, to conduct an independent review of the way in which the police operate. We look forward to publication of that review later this week.

At the heart of the review is the paperwork problem and the risk aversion that accompanies it, covering risk in paper. Before we get carried away with delivering more efficiencies, we must remember that the talk has not been delivered on in the past 10 years. In 2002, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), the then Home Secretary, promised a “bonfire of the paperwork”, alleging that 90,000 hours a year could be saved. The Home Office Policing Bureaucracy Taskforce published a report with 52 major change proposals, which I have read several times. Much of it is quite sensible, but the problem is that there has been no follow-up audit to work out how many recommendations have been implemented and to what effect.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is entirely right to challenge the overregulation of bureaucracy in the police service, but will he keep in mind the fact that power, once given to officers, is often abused? I have practised at the criminal Bar for 40 years, and I can remember police interviews in which police officers frequently verballed defendants. The requirement that all police interviews should be tape recorded is an enormously important safeguard, and we need to remember that there is a possibility of abuse.

Mr. Ruffley: I take my right hon. and learned Friend’s point, which I have debated with the Minister. We would be at one on something as major as the tape recording of suspects’ interviews; I hasten to add that that was introduced by a Conservative Administration in the 1980s. I do not think that any Member on either side suggests that safeguards of such importance and magnitude should be tinkered with. The only way in which the Minister would tinker would have my support. A few days ago, he announced a pilot in Lancashire to see whether the clumsiness involved in bagging up cassettes, labelling the bags and all the associated paraphernalia could be avoided and whether the service could be better delivered by digitised recordings. As the Minister knows, I support that pilot.
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I want to return to the fact that good intentions—and we have had 10 years of them—are not enough; I hasten to add that before 1997 there were good intentions about cutting paperwork. The 2002 promise from the then Home Secretary has not been delivered on. In 2004, a White Paper was produced.

Mr. McNulty rose—

Mr. Ruffley: If the Minister must intervene, I shall give way.

Mr. McNulty: I did not want to lose the hon. Gentleman’s point. He is perfectly right that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 has stood the test of time very well; that is emerging from the review that we are in the middle of. Apart from changes in respect of the pilot that he mentioned, we will be very cautious about making changes to the 1984 Act, not least because of the points that he made. I am sorry to have cut across him; I just wanted to put on the record the fact that PACE has stood the test of time.

Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful to the Minister.

The 2004 White Paper promised to free up the equivalent of 12,000 extra police officers for front-line policing by 2008 and claimed at the time that 7,700 forms had already been made obsolete across 43 forces. By last year, that claim had grown: it was said that nearly 9,000 forms had been cut. The problem is that Ministers will not list the forms; we have asked them to put such a list in the Library. My sense of the situation must logically be right—if Ministers know that 9,000 forms have been cut, they must know their names; if they know those, they can publish and release them. I urge the Minister to do that.

What I have asked for is not only demanded by politicians; the Police Federation pointed out that the Home Office has provided it no information about what the forms were or how frequently officers used them. We are not talking about any old form—we want the most frequently used forms to be cut, not only the forms that might be used once every two years. The Police Federation has not received any information on those allegedly abolished forms or on how long each form took to fill in and thus it does not know the average time saved as a result of the alleged cutting of the forms. We have asked for the information on a cross-party basis. If we know what the Government think they have cut from the police force case load, that will assist our work on red tape.

The Minister is keen to talk about a cross-party dialogue—not all the time, but quite a lot of it—and we are happy to enter into that, depending on the subject. What I have just mentioned should not really be a party political issue. The police are crying out for a reduction—but not in all paperwork. Sir Ronnie Flanagan famously said that police paperwork is a bit like cholesterol; there is good and bad cholesterol. In respect of the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), I should say that an example of good cholesterol would be the PACE codes and legislation
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requiring proper tape recordings of what witnesses say. However, there is a lot of bad cholesterol—useless paperwork—as well.

In conclusion, the time that all police officers spend on incident-related paperwork increased from 10.3 per cent. in 2004-05 to 11.4 per cent. in 2006-07. As a result, the percentage of time spent on patrol fell from 14.2 per cent. in 2003-04 to 13.6 per cent. in 2006-07. Those are the most recent trends, and they show that the police are spending more time on paperwork and less time on patrol. For too much of the time, our police officers are form-fillers rather than the crime-fighters that they wish to be.

We know that we have to cut our cloth as a result of this tight settlement, but these efficiencies must be driven forward at the level of the bureaucracy and in other arenas. Activity-based costings are very important, but I will not detain the House with the arcane parts of that aspect. If the Minister is so committed to cutting paperwork, why did he tell me last week in a written answer that the Home Office post of national bureaucracy adviser, which was set up to slash police red tape, has been vacant since April 2006? No one has been doing that job for 18 months. I know that the Minister and his Home Office officials try hard to improve the efficiency of the service, but we have to go back to basics. Unless we can get improvements not only in the amount of paperwork that the police are subject to but in the efficiency of the processes, this police settlement will not be delivered, and we will not have the policing that this country so desperately deserves.

5.25 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Some time ago, it was suggested that Cheshire and Liverpool should amalgamate their police forces. Oddly enough, that decision did not meet with the unalloyed admiration of the citizens of Cheshire. Indeed, their representations were so effective that the plan was abandoned. That area was then the responsibility of the then Home Office Minister who is now Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

This three-year settlement may turn out to make that not only a pyrrhic victory, but one of gigantic proportions, for the citizens of my constituency. It will penalise Cheshire in no uncertain terms, and I want to make it clear why that is a matter of concern to me. The general public do not understand the relationship between the finances of central Government and local government. They are more inclined to believe people who say, “We want to dilute our powers from central Government and give them back to the people who are nearest to their constituents. We want local government to take many of the decisions that will affect the policing of the streets and the general level of protection that people have in their town centres and homes.” Therefore, they do not always understand why decisions taken at central Government level seem in some manner not to chime with the decision to send those powers, and the finance needed to maintain those police forces, back to the areas in which they are so desperately needed.

Cheshire will suffer enormously under this settlement. I have in the past made it an important aspect of my debates with local government elected
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officials to ask them why Cheshire has not, for a very long time, had a much higher police precept. It is essential not to cut at local authority level the money available, but to demand further amounts and make it clear to the population why those sums of money are necessary.

Most people who live in certain areas of Crewe or in the centre of Nantwich, and who are there on a Friday or Saturday night, do not have difficulty in understanding the connection between money and police officers on the beat. Most people who find themselves, as the neighbours around my office building did after a recent weekend, surrounded by a sea of broken glass and having been submitted over a long period to real social disorder, have no problem understanding why we need police officers; indeed, they want to see many more. The burden of their complaint is frequently that no matter how much money is presented to them annually in the figures in their rates returns, those officers are not there on the beat. They are told clearly how much the police force costs them, but nevertheless, when they look for the neighbourhood policing about which they have heard so much, they find that it is somehow not there. Yet we are told that for the Cheshire police authority, the response to the Government’s provisional funding allocations for 2008-09 to 2010-11 will mean that the grant settlement of 2.5 per cent. will only just cover inflation, and unless there are other settlements, it will result in the loss of 80 police officers from the front line. That is a massive, and quite unacceptable, cut.

The police authority has not suddenly come across this state of affairs; it has made representations over a long period, saying that it would be facing a large funding gap of nearly £6 million even if it were just going to stand still—in other words, to overcome reliance on reducing reserves to support level 2 operational demands in the current year, to maintain its commitment to, and public support for, neighbourhood policing, and to support further efficiency. The authority is also aware that it is facing a double whammy. Not only does it not have a suitable settlement to enable it to improve and increase the amount of policing that my constituents can call upon, but it will be threatened with a cap if, for any reason, it succeeds in raising more money than Her Majesty’s Government find acceptable.

However, in the name of transparency, of which more anon, the Government have chosen to produce a grant formula that, frankly, is no clearer, and is in some ways more obfuscatory, than the ones we used to have. The method does not simplify the system, which was the reason behind its introduction, and it contains elements of notional levels of spend and tax-base calculations. For example, let us consider the formula issues raised with regard to Cheshire police authority. Why is the net relative needs/resource amount per head of population £3.53 in Cheshire and £10.26 in Avon and Somerset? We suffer equally badly when it comes to resource equalisation: 73.9 per cent. of the needs amount is deducted, on the assumption that Cheshire has a richer council tax base.

Let us be clear about this. The Home Office is demonstrating a Janus-like ability to say to Cheshire on the one hand, “You’re really just an adjunct of Liverpool and Manchester, so you must be reorganised
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so as to enable you to organise your affairs through a greater relationship with the city regions,” while on the other hand it is saying, “But you have a much higher tax base.” It is essential to look at the number of band D properties; we will then discover that council tax income is the third lowest in the country. Is it assumed that our council tax is higher, or is it simply assumed that Cheshire can be exempted from all the arrangements made in relation to other areas? In the past, Cheshire was given an area cost adjustment, along with London and the south-east counties, which recognised higher labour and living costs, but the average is now very low, and no longer of any benefit.

A completely essential, but somehow ignored, element of policing in Cheshire is the development of attacks by organised crime. The cities that we are told are the drivers of affairs in our area are very good at disgorging their criminal elements on to the motorway and into our county, not least because the more efficient the policing is in the centres of cities, the more the instinct will be to develop organised crime elsewhere, where policing is perceived not to be of the same standard. We therefore require a much more expensive and intensive policing system.

Cheshire has always taken a proactive stance against serious crime. We recently brought to justice in our area a criminal with repeated attempted murder and firearms offences after four other forces had failed to do so. That effort alone involved 90 witnesses and cost £200,000. However, no part of Her Majesty’s Government is prepared to accept the cost to Cheshire of those direct attacks from the Liverpool and Manchester areas.

Now we have a potential further constraint through capping. It is essential to understand that the missing £9.7 million needed to plug the funding gap will be obvious when we look to the provision of front-line services. The majority of ratepayers in Cheshire are more than prepared to pay a proper rate for policing services. They understand that their enjoyment of their homes and the calm in which they can use the services of their towns and cities depend on the provision of policemen on the beat. That is not an abstract theory, but a demonstration of practical understanding of the pressures on those areas. So far, however, we have been unprepared or unwilling to accept the absolute cost of the formulae to constituencies such as mine and counties such as Cheshire.

Many of the formulae were developed in the name of transparency. The Department is good at saying how much it cares and how much it wishes to respond to the interest of individual taxpayers and ratepayers. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made some engaging speeches about the need to respond. She says, for example, that wherever there is a petition containing more than 250 names, she will take note of the content of the petition. I do not know how she reconciles that with the fact that the 10 Downing street website now has a petition with more than 400 signatures that objects to the division of Cheshire into two bits—but I suppose we all have to have our little inconsistencies from time to time.

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