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20 Feb 2008 : Column 99WH—continued

The Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers have a police expenditure forecasting group, which has identified a substantial funding gap at this level of grant allocation, even allowing for council
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tax increases up to 5 per cent. It is as well to remember that, because of the historical restriction of the council tax precept and grant allocation, some police authorities, including in Cambridgeshire, are forced to consider higher tax rises, not least due to the gearing of the police precept against total Home Office funding. In other words, a big precept rise is necessary to deliver even a modest expenditure increase.

The police service is also affected by general inflationary pressures, to the extent that any increase in funding in this and subsequent years may well be absorbed by pay increases and other factors. In addition, as recognised by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary three years ago, funding for protective services—those in respect of serious criminal activity—is not specifically covered by generic grant funding and relies instead on collaboration between forces under the redeployment of existing limited resources. On top of that, police forces have been committed to significant efficiency savings over the past eight years. The 9.3 per cent. in savings over the comprehensive spending review period will inevitably mean cuts in front-line police numbers, which will certainly be the case in Cambridgeshire, as the one-off nature of some savings will diminish leeway for further savings over time.

That is the national context in which Cambridgeshire constabulary finds itself. It is appropriate to consider Cambridgeshire’s situation in detail. The first and most important issue is the changing demography of the county and the impact of that on policing. We are not a leafy rural idyll, and the cultural predisposition of the Home Office on that point must be faced down, because it is simply not the case. The forecasted increase in migration across the United Kingdom over the next 10 years will have a disproportionate effect on Cambridgeshire. The population of Cambridgeshire is set to grow by 12.5 per cent. by 2016, which is twice the UK average, compared with 12 per cent. by 2031 across the country as a whole. Cambridgeshire will have the highest forecast growth rates in the east of England. Among similar forces, only Warwickshire exceeds Cambridgeshire for projected population growth, according to the Office for National Statistics. Net migration is expected to account for 64 per cent. of Peterborough’s growth and 73 per cent. of Cambridgeshire’s growth by 2016.

The growth of residential housing developments, such as Hampton near Peterborough and Cambourne and Northstowe near Cambridge, and migration by eastern European migrants in particular, has had and will have a major impact on population growth. According to statistics prepared by Anglia Ruskin university for Cambridgeshire county council, by 2016 there will be 25,200 more people in Cambridgeshire just as a result of natural growth, including people moving in from other parts of the UK, in addition to the 69,000 people predicted to come from outside the UK, mainly from the European Union.

Before I move on to discuss migration and immigration, it is as well to touch on the sheer scale of residential developments in the county in future years, because I have time only briefly to illustrate the implications of demographic changes on Cambridgeshire constabulary. In short, the Northstowe development at Longstanton and Oakington in south Cambridgeshire will mean 10,000 extra homes and 13,000 extra people by 2016. In Teversham, 10,000 new homes will be constructed as
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part of Cambridgeshire’s east area plan, and 3,000 new homes will be built in north-west Cambridge. No fewer than 25,000 new properties will be built in Greater Peterborough by 2021. However, that is only a partial list of proposals for residential development.

The primary cause of concern, however, is migration. Since May 2004, population pressures have had a major effect on the delivery of policing as well as other public services. The eastern region hosts a high proportion of the country’s new migrant population—indeed, it is the second highest after Greater London—and approximately 50 per cent. of that cohort has settled in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. Research by the East of England Development Agency in its 2005 paper, "Migrant workers in the East of England”, indicates that the number of migrant workers resident in the region is somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 at the peak of seasonal periods. Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics last year in its paper, "Migrants from central and eastern Europe: local geographies”, indicates that out of 410 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, as at December 2006, three local authorities in the top 10 for A8 registered workers were in Cambridgeshire—Peterborough, with 7,110, Fenland, with 3,441 and East Cambridgeshire, with 3,072, which, of course, has major financial consequences.

The constabulary’s translation costs for dealing with incidents and crime are almost £1 million in this financial year, which is up from £805,000 in 2006-07, compared with just £224,000 in 2002-03. That increase would have been even greater had the constabulary not appointed 29 multilingual support officers, funded by the mainstream police authority budget.

Demographic changes have led to non-UK offenders becoming associated with certain types of crime, such as drink-driving and knife crime, necessitating the routing of resources into tactical work, particularly in the Peterborough area, to tackle those trends. Intelligence from the northern basic command unit suggests a link between immigration, illegal immigration and criminal activity and the development of an international dimension to crime in offences such as the establishment of cannabis factories, credit-card skimming and human trafficking. My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire, has taken a particular interest in human trafficking, and he may touch on that later.

The Times recently reported an authoritative assessment by Cambridgeshire constabulary that the number of brothels in Peterborough alone increased from three in May 2004 to more than 40 at the end of 2007. A practical example is that, between 2003 and 2006, the number of non-UK nationality detainees passing through the custody block in Peterborough increased from 894 to 2,435. The number of detainees arrested for drink-driving saw a 437 per cent. increase in the same period from 57 to 306 cases. For a small police force, that is a significant increase in work load. Overall, the number of non-UK nationals arrested in the northern basic command unit—the area covering the city of Peterborough—increased from 894 to 2,435. The figures are bound to be higher in 2007.

In 2005, the research consultancy IBIX Insight published “Policing Peterborough”, which identified the implications for policing large-scale migration in my constituency, particularly in respect of houses in multiple occupation. Issues identified were, inter alia, fire safety issues, petty
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robbery, disputes within households, violence and sexual assault towards women in mixed households, neighbourhood tension about lifestyle and noise issues and car usage and parking issues. In practical terms, that has massive resource implications.

An anecdotal example from a briefing note published last month by Cambridgeshire county council for the migration impacts forum stated:

Yet, astonishingly, the Minister for Borders and Immigration confirmed in a recent written answer that there is no formal system for assessing the impact of migration on public services, including policing.

Other hon. Members may wish to focus on alternative demographic issues that are pertinent to the county, such as the likelihood of an increase in the number of Gypsies and Travellers from an already high base—Cambridgeshire is now home to more of the community than any other county in England—the pressures exerted on policing as a result of the high student population in the county, which currently numbers more than 25,000 full-time students according to a paper written last year, or tourism, given that Cambridgeshire has the largest visitor numbers in the eastern region. I would like to say that the tourism is a result of Peterborough’s attractions, but it is in fact largely due to the city of Cambridge. Nevertheless, the point has ramifications for policing.

That is the environment in which the police service serves my constituents. The Government’s funding regime militates against Cambridgeshire on two levels. First, there is a lag between the population and population estimates, and Cambridgeshire will and has been short-changed. For 2008-09, the Home Office will use the 2005 population estimates by the Office for National Statistics, amounting to a difference of 24,493 people. Were Cambridgeshire to receive the correct funding in 2008-09, based on the more accurate and up-to-date statistics, it would be granted an additional £2,678,152 in its formula grant allocation.

Secondly, the floors-and-ceilings funding formula, which has been in place since 2002, has consistently and unfairly impacted on the grant allocation made available to the county, which has hit the ceiling every year since April 2002, to the extent that the police authority has said that the sum withheld cumulatively during that period is £14.769 million.

In her excellent letter dated 18 February—just last Monday—to the Minister, Mrs. Spence made this compelling point:

As a result of that iniquitous situation, not only are there many fewer police officers on the beat—I shall say more about that later—but a far greater burden of
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revenue funding consequently falls on council tax payers and the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge.

According to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, 34.1 per cent. of the police budget in Cambridgeshire was funded by council tax precept, against an average throughout England of 26.8 per cent. My constituents are forced to cope with the results of migration policies and development policies over which they have no control. They are short-changed by out-of-date statistics, and they are on the receiving end of a funding formula that is flawed and unfair. Consequently, to add insult to injury, they are grievously under-provisioned in respect of beat officers.

An independent report last year by KPMG concluded that, based on the current work load of the constabulary, the county requires an additional 100 police officers. The northern division, which covers my constituency, is currently served by 287 full-time police officers, as the Minister confirmed in a written answer on Monday. In comparison, the London borough of Lewisham, where I am proud to say my younger brother is a beat officer, boasts around 600 police officers to deal with a population and crime patterns that are comparable to those of Peterborough.

Indeed, in the Peterborough city council area, for the year ended March 2007 per capita crime rates for violence against the person, burglary from dwellings and theft from motor vehicles were substantially above the English average. Even allowing for the redeployment in 2004 of some resource to central functions, unbelievably, we have fewer officers now than in March 2003, when we had 360. The number fell to 356 in March 2004 and to 308 in March 2005. Police numbers have fallen in the Peterborough area.

According to the Library, between 2002 and 2007 the percentage change in full-time equivalent officers in Cambridgeshire was an anaemic 1.4 per cent. compared with, for example, an 18.9 per cent. rise in the Home Secretary’s police force area. In precise terms, that means that we have had 19 extra officers in five years. Only Surrey constabulary has fared worse.

Based on the number of full-time equivalent posts, Cambridgeshire has the lowest number of police officers per 100,000 head of population compared with not only the most similar force, but every other force. That fact was contained in a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) on 14 January at column 1059W. Given that the average number of full-time equivalent police in English shire counties in 2007 was 212 per 100,000 of the population, the authority needs an extra 230 extra officers just to catch up. Allowing for the cost of employing a police constable who has completed their initial training, that would have meant at least another £5.4 million on the grant allocation.

Instead, we have seen a cumulative reduction in funding of more than £16 million over the past six years. The current funding regime means that Cambridgeshire had to take £7 million out of its budget this year just to balance its books. The floor mechanism is costing £2.7 million this year, and there is no review mechanism—the gearing means that after council tax precept capping there will inevitably be a reduction in officer numbers
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for the period 2008-2012. While the police authority must stick to national efficiency savings targets and deliver a police service with fewer resources, central Government collect tax revenue across a growing county without recycling or ring-fencing fair, up-to-date and transparent funding. The situation is iniquitous and unsustainable. It is unfair to all those who work for the constabulary, and it is an affront to my constituents, who pay their taxes in good faith and are being short-changed.

On 14 January, the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing told me in the House that he was

I am sorry that he is not here today to continue that convivial mood. However, knowing the Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) will probably be more convivial.

I want the Minister to address all my issues. I do not want to hear a cherry-picked list of existing operational initiatives, such as e-cops, customer contact officers, core-handling services and the rest of the list that we get from Ministers. We do not want a polite peroration around the Flanagan review or the benefits of employing more police community support officers. I hope that I have shown with fact, and not merely anecdote, that Cambridgeshire constabulary is a special case. At the very least, it merits a proper review of its funding to 2012. The artificial cap needs to be lifted, and funding needs to be restored proportionately back to 2002. Accurate demographic data and forecasting needs to linked closely to methodology in the allocation of grant moneys, and a one-off payment needs to be considered to recruit at least 25 new officers for the county this year.

This has been a good opportunity to raise a local issue of grave concern that cuts across party political divides. I know that my hon. Friends will contribute well to the debate and will have a different perspective. We all represent constituents, who have been unjustly and unfairly treated. The gravity of the situation should not be underestimated, and I hope and expect the Minister to rise to the challenge.

2.53 pm

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) on securing this debate. The situation in Cambridgeshire is on the edge of intolerable. Cambridgeshire has 183 police officers, the third lowest number of police officers per 100,000 of population. It is the lowest of the comparable forces for similar areas. That situation will get worse as the population grows. At present trends, the figure will fall to as low as 170 officers per 100,000 of population by 2016. The funding crisis, however, is not in 2016, but now. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we are already seeing reductions in the number of officers. We are also seeing reductions in support staff. If one goes to police stations around Cambridgeshire, one will see that there
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are already unfilled vacancies on each shift because the commanders cannot fill the full quota of officers who are needed every day.

The average number of crimes per 1,000 of population per year across England and Wales is 61. At 57, Cambridgeshire is slightly below that average. However, it is not very far below the average. There are 20 forces that deal with lower crime rates than Cambridgeshire. Nearly all of them are better funded than Cambridgeshire.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the crime situation in Peterborough, so I had better mention the situation in Cambridge. As I said, the average figure is 61 crimes per 1,000 of population. In the county, the figure is 57. The relevant figure for Cambridge is 72. Therefore, there is above average crime in Cambridge. However, when it comes to violent crime, Cambridge is below the national average. The crimes that take Cambridge above the national average are shoplifting—because Cambridge is a retail and tourist centre—and bicycle theft, for which Cambridge holds the national record. That point illustrates why it is important to have local determination of police priorities.

There is nowhere else in the country where bicycle theft would be as important a matter. In Cambridge, one quarter of the population goes to work by bike. It is extremely annoying to have one’s method of going to work taken away by criminal action. Nevertheless, if we look at the crime pattern across the county, Cambridgeshire is not a high crime area, but it is not a low crime area either. That was the point that the hon. Gentleman was trying to make. He said that there was an image of Cambridgeshire as some sort of rural idyll in which nothing ever goes wrong. That is not true. The effect of years of underfunding on council tax payers in Cambridgeshire is clear. Council tax bills are higher than the national average for a lower level of service. That is what people complain about.

Last Monday, the police authority increased the council tax precept by 5 per cent, which was the maximum that it could do. That will not be enough to fund some of the Government’s new national requirements, including requirements on sexual offences, and on custody and detention. It would have cost another £1.4 million to fund the whole range of new Government requirements. That would be another 3.6 per cent. on the tax, which would blast through the capping limit.

I am not going to pretend that Cambridgeshire police are perfect or that it is the best force in the country. There have been problems, but those problems are being addressed by the chief constable and her commanders. For example, there was a problem in Cambridge about matching police resources and shift patterns to when people expected and needed police officers to be available. That did not quite work, but the problem was addressed and the situation is improving. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the key to the funding problem is the lag between funding and the increase in population. The population is expected to increase by 12.5 per cent. by 2016. Cambridgeshire is already one of the country’s fastest growing areas. That comes about through a combination of factors, but one factor is Government policy. The Government are telling Cambridgeshire that it needs to grow at that pace—that it needs population increases and housing to match. The question is: are the Government putting in the funding to match the growth that they are requiring of Cambridgeshire?

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