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20 Feb 2008 : Column 105WH—continued

20 Feb 2008 : Column 106WH

There is a long history to this. Economically, the Cambridge area grew immensely through high-tech industry throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, but very little of that was planned by any of the Governments of the time. It just happened, in a way that national Government sometimes seemed indifferent or even hostile to, and the needs of the area were never effectively matched by funding from national Government. That has been added to by changes in the labour market in the rural part of the county, in the north of the county, which are producing in-migration from other parts of Europe.

Those two factors combined have caused an extraordinary mismatch between the funding that is offered and the funding that is required. That problem does not affect only the police in Cambridgeshire. It also affects the district councils in terms of housing costs. There will be a debate tomorrow in Cambridge city council about the fact that the Housing Corporation will not pay the proper amount towards building houses in the Cambridge area. It affects the health service. We have had debates in this very place about the funding of mental health services in Cambridgeshire. Again, that is affected by this problem. It has even affected Cambridge regional college, and further education funding. It is the same point over and again: the Government are not fully prepared to back the economic success of Cambridgeshire. They ask for more from Cambridgeshire, but are not prepared to put in more to help that success to continue.

I shall finish by talking about migration. My perspective on that issue is somewhat different from that of the hon. Gentleman. I would not want to give the impression at all that immigration by itself is a cause of crime. There is no evidence that immigrants commit more or, admittedly, less crime than anyone else.

Mr. Jackson: For the avoidance of doubt, I should point out that I was not saying that migrants commit crime per se. I was merely quoting from an operational note whose provenance was the northern basic command unit. Far be it from me to make any sort of assertion that people who wish to come to this country and make a better life for their family are therefore de facto criminals. I have used data provided by my local police in Peterborough.

David Howarth: I am very glad to accept that clarification, but it should also be said, on behalf of the chief constable, that the chief constable was saying not that migrants cause more crime, but that there is an extra cost for the authorities in dealing with incidents involving them, both as accused people and as victims—it is important to stress that—and those costs in terms of interpretation and the translation of documents are important.

For me, the issue is more about the division of finance between national and local government. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that in passing, but for me it is a very important point. Overall, migration into this country has an economic benefit for this country. The question is where that benefit goes in terms of levels of government and who bears the costs associated with a rising population. On the whole, the tax revenues from income tax, national insurance, profits of companies and VAT come to national Government. Some, in the form of council tax, comes to local government, but not much, especially if not many new dwellings are built in the process and it is just that the use of existing dwellings is being intensified.

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The revenues, the benefits from migration and population growth, tend to go to national Government. Population growth or migration mainly involves young, active, employed people, who do not cost national Government very much. They do not use the health service much. They do not claim much in the way of benefits and they are not pensioners. What costs there are tend to fall on local services, including, in this case, the police. That is the core of the problem. It is not just about sorting out which bits of local government get which funding. It is about the balance of funding, the balance of cost and benefit, between national and local government. That is at the heart of the problem and that is what the Government have to sort out.

3.5 pm

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) on securing this important and timely debate on the funding for Cambridgeshire constabulary. I join him in recognising the skill and effectiveness of our local police force and I commend him on what he had to say, all of which I agree with.

My hon. Friend’s area is urban whereas mine is more rural, but the variety of our constituencies and the differing requirements of urban and rural crime fighting make the lack of resources, if anything, more acute. As hon. Members will appreciate, the police grant and local government finance reports for 2008-09 were debated in the House on 4 February. That has raised a number of problems in Cambridgeshire. Admittedly, the grant settlement for 2008 and 2009 provides for a 3 per cent. increase, which is an improvement on last year’s 2.5 per cent., although I understand from the police that above-inflation growth in policing costs has eroded any benefit in that regard.

In particular, the settlement does not take into account the fact that the police service is already a victim of cumulative significant underfunding in recent years. Indeed, Cambridgeshire is now the third most underfunded force per capita in the country, following the Government’s introduction of the new funding formula in 2002. That is because when applying the formula as of 2002, the Government used out-of-date population figures. Had the correct figures been applied to the formula, Cambridgeshire constabulary would have been some £15 million better off over the previous five years.

That situation is compounded by the requirement to achieve efficiency savings equivalent to 3 per cent. a year over the next three years. As other hon. Members have said, the staffing position is very lean—there is no more fat to be shed. I have written to the Home Secretary asking when there will be a full and fair application of the funding formula.

The settlement also fails to take into account the needs of a rural area such as Cambridgeshire. Indeed, it proceeds on the very basic assumption that a rural area does not need as many policemen as a city because there will be less crime in the countryside. Unfortunately, as other hon. Members have said, that analysis is all too superficial.

In the past 25 years, the county of Cambridgeshire has changed considerably. It is prosperous and in full economic growth. It is expected to continue growing
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significantly. Projections include increasing migration and huge housing programmes—that is, new county towns and thousands more homes in existing towns such as the market towns in my constituency. That will accelerate the transformation in both the density of the population and its cultural mix. Of course, most people in Huntingdon welcome migration if it is controlled and supported by infrastructure, and appreciate that it has contributed significantly to the economic development of the county. However, it has also had a significant impact on policing and law and order, and the Government simply do not seem to be aware of that or to appreciate it.

Cambridgeshire constabulary is already disadvantaged because it currently has only 187 police officers per 100,000 people when the national average is 266. As other hon. Members have said, that proportion will decrease further because Cambridgeshire’s communities are growing in size. Importantly, we need to appreciate that it is Government who are forcing huge house building, which will have consequences, not least the need for more police. That places an even greater strain on the police and other agencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough referred to the chief constable’s letter of 18 February, in which she stated:

It is important to note that Cambridgeshire’s changing demography is partly the result of international migration, and that has been touched on by previous speakers. Migration has increased particularly since EU expansion in 2004, with a large proportion of migrants coming from eastern Europe. Cambridgeshire has absorbed 50 per cent. of the migrants who have come to live in the eastern region, and that has contributed to the county’s economic growth, but it has also raised a number of issues that simply cannot be ignored. Incidentally, there has been significant EU migration not only into Peterborough and Cambridge, but into Huntingdonshire market towns.

To address the point made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), migration has changed the nature of the offences that are committed in Cambridgeshire, and that has put pressure on police resources. For instance, hostility towards EU migrants and towards asylum seekers in the cities has led to tensions in the communities where such people live and work. If such incidents are not managed carefully, they could escalate into violence and require more work by the police force. At the moment, community cohesion is being well managed, not least by the police, but the result is that people in Whitehall seem to be believe that it is not a problem, so resources are not directed towards it. However, resources are being sapped by the need to manage and control such issues.

Large families and large numbers of migrant workers sharing the same house have rapidly increased the number of people living in certain communities. That has raised several issues for local service providers, such as dangers in relation to fire safety, petty robbery, disputes in households, summary eviction and temporary homelessness, and all those issues require an efficient and available police force. There have also been increases in offences
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linked to different cultural values, particularly offences relating to knife crime and vehicle-related offences such as drink driving, which my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough mentioned. All of that will inevitably have an impact on resources.

However, the Government’s response is to reduce the proportion of funding for policing, and Government grant has fallen by more than £15 million since 2002. Worryingly, the independent report by analysts from KPMG, to which my hon. Friend referred, concluded that the county requires an additional 100 police officers, based on the constabulary’s current work load. So where are those officers going to come from?

Mrs. Spence, the chief constable, made another important, but slightly wider point when she said:

I do not see how the Government can answer that question, but it is surely the key issue for rapidly developing areas such as Huntingdon and Cambridgeshire.

Cambridgeshire is suffering from the results of an outdated funding scheme that fails to take into account the reality of the county’s position. That is a dangerous situation, which could hamper the growth of my constituency, in a part of the country that is leading the way on job creation and wealth creation—developments that benefit not only the local population, but the whole country. I therefore look forward to hearing from the Minister how the situation can be resolved as soon as possible.

3.13 pm

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): May I say what a pleasure it is to take part in a debate with you in the Chair, Mr. Gale? May I also say what a pleasure and privilege it is to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), who is my neighbour? I also thank the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson). I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough on securing this important debate on policing in Cambridgeshire. It has been an issue for a considerable time, and it is right that we have a Minister here to take our concerns on board.

I must tell the Minister that this issue will not go away. Cambridgeshire Members of Parliament, the local police and other vested interest groups will not remain silent until the imbalance in the funding of Cambridgeshire police is properly resolved. I hope that the Minister does not intend to sum up with warm, supportive words that will not lead in practice to additional funding, because if he does, we and others will continue to raise this important issue. While I am talking about others who are dealing with this issue, let me pay tribute to Cambridgeshire’s chief constable, Julie Spence, to Councillor Keith Walters, who is chairman of Cambridgeshire police authority, and to their entire teams, which do sterling work throughout the county, despite their limited resources and the difficulties that they face.

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The funding for Cambridgeshire police is flawed. Over the period 2002-03 to 2008-09, the shortfall will be £17.5 million, and it will continue to rise and to impact on the local community. The problem has arisen entirely because the funding system relies on out-of-date population statistics and uses ceilings that prevent Cambridgeshire from receiving the additional funds that it rightly deserves.

As other hon. Members have said, we must recognise that Cambridgeshire is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, and I hope that the Minister and the Home Office will recognise that. There are two reasons for that growth. First, additional housing is rapidly appearing throughout the county. My constituency contains the southern third of Peterborough and 80 villages on the way down to, but not including, Huntingdon. The Peterborough part of my constituency includes a massive development called the Hamptons—it is one of the largest developments in western Europe—which is having a massive impact on the entire infrastructure of the area. Pockets of new housing are also cropping up all over the rural parts of my constituency.

Secondly, my constituency contains additional people from the migrant community. For the sake of good order and the avoidance of doubt, let me make it absolutely clear that neither I nor anyone else in the debate is talking about a race issue; the issue is about people management and recognising that more people are coming to Cambridgeshire, which is why local people want additional funding, including, in the context of this debate, funding for the police. I emphasise that, because I do not want the media or individuals either here or outside this place to take a different stance. The issue must be addressed sensitively and carefully, but it must be addressed. We must recognise that the migrant community creates different pressures, which perhaps do not exist in other areas, and I will return to that later.

The northern part of my constituency experiences all the issues that one could attribute to urban areas, such as antisocial behaviour, theft and assault. In such urban confines, the police do not have a lot of distance to cover, but they nevertheless struggle to deal as effectively as they would like to with all that occurs in their areas. What is more, however, there is, as has been said, a presumption among some decision-makers in Whitehall that all is well and good in villages such as mine in rural Cambridgeshire and, indeed, anywhere rural—the view is that everything is peaceful and quiet.

If any civil service mandarin in the Home Office takes that view, I suggest that they be seconded for just half a day to any hon. Member who has a rural patch in their constituency. We would be more than happy to take them to a rural village, where we could easily identify instances of serious crime. It is impossible for the police to give attention to some villages in my constituency, because of the distances that must be covered. I shall not repeat the points about the acute difficulties that arise in a mixed county with acute urban pressures as well as rural areas.

I want to outline the types of crimes that lead to extra pressure on infrastructure and the police, because the migrant community brings an international aspect. I have been particularly involved in campaigning on human trafficking. The Minister’s approach to the issue is welcome, and I acknowledge all the hard work that he does and will, I am sure, continue to do to combat that evil, barbaric trade in human beings in the 21st century.

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Last year, Cambridgeshire police undertook Operation Radium, which identified a number of brothels and instances of trafficking throughout Cambridgeshire, and the template for that operation is now being used by other police forces throughout the country. Cambridgeshire did all the hard work and homework without additional resources, and so other police forces will take up a ready-made solution to the question how to deal with that difficult problem. I am not saying that that solution will deal with it as effectively as we would like, but it has gone further than has been done before.

When people are found in the course of that work, it adds to the need for translation. The sum of £1 million in costs for a year has already been mentioned. Every year, additional translation costs of £1 million are required to deal with the migrant community. It is imperative that everyone in this country should have proper justice, but with that goes additional time. An issue that might normally take 10 minutes to deal with, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough has said, can easily take an hour, because of the need to wait for translators and deal with the different language.

There is also a cultural aspect, which was also mentioned earlier. Among some east European communities, there is a different attitude towards, for example, carrying knives, drink-driving or fishing. In Britain, anglers go fishing and, if they have a successful catch, they put the fish back in the river. Some of the new communities here take the view that that fish will be their dinner for the evening. We must get used to that cultural change, and additional manpower, both in the police and generally, is needed to deal with those cultural aspects.

Some of the civil servants are smiling at what I am saying, but perhaps they should come to some of our rural areas, in which case we might not need a debate such as this. It is precisely those issues, which we see every day on the ground, that are not being fully understood by civil servants and the Home Office. I hope that the Home Office will not do what it has done in the past, when the Home Secretary promised a summit and we were promised a forum. Today, I hope that the Minister says that action will be taken to recognise that the people of Cambridgeshire are not getting a police service that is as effective as the one that they deserve, because of the unique circumstances articulated in this debate. We need action, and I hope that the Minister will go some way towards alleviating our concerns.

3.20 pm

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