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I was delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who is a distinguished and eloquent former police Minister, made a forensic analysis of the issues. He was absolutely right that the lack of flexibility in the funding formula is to blame for Lincolnshire police authoritys current problems. I will return to that point later.
I shall not say too much about the contribution of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who is a constituent of mine, except that it was disappointing. I found it slightly offensive that there was a direct implication that Conservative Members representing Lincolnshire constituencies do not represent their constituents to the best of their ability. We were concerned about the proposed rate of the police precept, and he is absolutely wrong to suggest that we acquiesced in it. I am pleased that the Minister has introduced the order.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, who has been courteous throughout the process. He has at least listened to the concerns of Lincolnshire MPs of all parties. I follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings in requesting that he examine some specific issues prior to future funding reviews.
The Minister for Local Government introduced the order in a typically calm and considered way, but I am afraid that he cannot get away with implicitly passing the blame on to the police authority. The reason for its problems is insufficient resources from central Government. The point has already been made, but it is worth re-emphasising that Lincolnshire police authority is the lowest-funded force per head of population in the whole country. The next lowest, Suffolk, gets £11 million more. It is recognised and acknowledged that the problem is with the funding formula. It is inflexible and unresponsive to Lincolnshires population, geography, rurality and sparsity. As I said in my intervention on my hon. Friend, the £3.4 million grant last year was made in recognition of the fact that the authority has funding problems. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham rightly pointed out the deficit.
Of course it is right that police funding is not awarded on a per capita basis, and there are complexities and differences between urban areas and rural ones such as Lincolnshire. However, the disparity in the numbers is stark. The West Midlands police authority gets £189.78 per head, Greater Manchester £189.54, Northumbria £188.62, and South Yorkshire, the Ministers own police authority, £162.74. Lincolnshire gets only £112.29 per head. I shall say more in a moment about the significant increase in population.
There has been underfunding for a number of years. I accept that it is not a new phenomenon. There are no more police officers in Lincolnshire than 10 years ago, and there are fewer officers per capita than in any other force in the country. Its limited resources have to be applied over the third largest police authority area in the whole country.
My right hon. and learned Friend made a pertinent point. Had the Minister not allowed a significant precept, 25 per cent. of the police officers in the Lincolnshire police authority might have had to be made redundant. As I said in an intervention, that confirms that the
funding formula is not working for Lincolnshire. Such redundancies are not legal, and the authoritys only alternative would have been to make 364 civilian staff redundant and withdraw police officers from the front line to do that civilian work at additional cost to the police authority.
If there is one consistent theme articulated by my constituents in Boston and Skegness, it is that they want a more visible police force, and I believe that that is true elsewhere in Lincolnshire. If the precept had not been allowed at 26 per cent., we would be moving in completely the wrong direction.
The argument that the Minister for Local Government seemed to makeand a small part of it may be truewas that Lincolnshire police authority must be more efficient. That has been looked into by PricewaterhouseCoopers and academics at Loughborough university. The Minister will be aware that the police authority has made year-on-year efficiency savings, rightly demanded by the Home Office, to the tune of £12.3 million over the past nine years. Because of the overall funding problems, the police authority has not been able to use those savings to improve the provision of services, as it has had to use them to bridge the deficit.
Mr. Hogg: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Lincolnshire force produced an economic recovery plan, which was submitted to the Home Office which, as far as I know, has not suggested that its proposals for efficiency savings were seriously defective?
Mark Simmonds: My right hon. and learned Friend makes a fundamental point, and he is right. The issue goes even further, because Loughborough university, which looked at Lincolnshire police authority in relation to other police authorities, said not only that it was a highly efficient authority, but that it might well be the most efficient police authority in England and Wales. The point that he made about the report that went to the Home Office confirms the view that, contrary to what the Minister said, Lincolnshire is already an efficient authority, and the increase in the precept has nothing to do with inefficiency, but much more to do with the chief constable and the police authority wanting to increase the provision of services for people who live in Lincolnshire.
May I say a few words about the significant increase in population in Lincolnshire, particularly in Boston in my constituency? The Minister will be aware of the contribution made by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government before the Communities and Local Government Committee, in which she confirmed that even Government figures, which tend to lag behind the reality on the ground, showed that one in four people in the borough of Boston were economic migrantsprimarily from eastern Europe, but there is also a significant population from Portugal. Indeed, in one primary school in the centre of Boston, nearly 40 per cent. of pupils speak English as a second language. The population of Boston has risen dramatically: according to the 2001 census, the borough then had a population of 55,000; in 2006, according to the Office for National Statistics, the population was nearly 59,000. Boston borough council, however, estimates that it could really be as high as 70,000nearly 25,000 more than the figure in the official 2001 census. That is not reflected in the funding formula at all.
The migrants working in the borough of Boston are welcome, as long as they are here legally and legitimately to participate in the essential functioning of the agricultural sector. However, Ministers will be aware that there have been tensions in Boston, which culminated in terrible riots in 2004. There are additional burdens, financial and otherwise, on the police authority. It is calculated that in that population of 60,000 to 70,000, some 65 languages are spoken, creating immense challenges for the police authority, which has had to produce documents in Portuguese, Russian, Polish and other languages to try to communicate with the new communities that have arrived. There is a strong case for giving population growth in Lincolnshire greater consideration in the allocation of funding. I know that the Home Office has been lobbied, but that does not seem to have had any material impact, so I very much hope that Ministers will take on board what I have said when they consider these matters in future.
Finally, I want to look at the impact on policing in Lincolnshire and what the police authority will not be able to deliver that it wants to deliver because of the lack of Government funding. There will be insufficient resources to address serious crime, a good example of which is the famous Stirland case, which involved a double murder between Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. There will continue to be serious failings in the management of sex offenders and rape. Only today, assistant commissioner John Yates called for every force to have its own rape protection unit; Lincolnshire will face serious challenges and problems in fulfilling that important task. There could be high-risk failures in Lincolnshire police authoritys approach to special branch and intelligence work. Lincolnshire will have 100 fewer police officers than other, similar authorities. It might well be unable to meet the criteria required for the management of dangerous offenders, including sex offenders and violent offenders.
The chief constable and the authority wanted to implement a whole series of additional services, but they will no longer be able to. I shall not give all the details, because I am sure that the Minister is aware of them, but they include plans to use 19 officers to establish a 24-hour rape investigation team, and 63 additional officers in neighbourhood policing. Those plans and those officers would have brought about exactly what the people of Lincolnshire want: higher visibility for the police force. The Government must respond to those serious and significant deficiencies. If left unaddressed, they could have a detrimental impact on safety, security and the quality of life for people in my constituency and elsewhere in Lincolnshire.
In conclusion, I should say that the issues have been accepted and acknowledged; the Minister acknowledged them in the House on 27 March. The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing acknowledged that there was an issue in an interview on BBC Radio Lincolnshire when he was in the county on 26 June. The fact that the Government have allowed a 26 per cent. increase in the precept is recognition in itself that there is a problem; even that extensive increase allows only a standstill service. Without change, Lincolnshire will have the lowest spending per head on policing, with the lowest number of officers per head covering the third largest geographical area in the country. The Government have made it clear that Lincolnshire police
authority is not allowed to raise additional funds through council tax, thereby determining that additional resources must come from central Government. Those resources must therefore flow from the Home Office.
I ask the Minister to consider two particular matters. In consultation with the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing and the Lincolnshire police authority, will he consider the necessity for a one-off payment yet again to assist Lincolnshire police authority for this financial year? Secondly, I reinforce the point made by other hon. Members. Will he undertake a fundamental review of the funding formula to ensure a permanent solution to this time-consuming annual exercise, in which the police authority has to lobby the Government for the requisite resources? That could be done simply in the short term through a consideration of the flaws that were going to stop the Lincolnshire police authority from getting up to £8.2 million in the next three years under the comprehensive spending review.
Mr. Hayes: Will my hon. Friend add a third request? He could echo my call for an urgent meeting between Ministers and representatives of the authority and the force. Urgent means that it should be before the summer recess, so that the issues can be explored in good time and we do not suffer the problems that we have had this year.
Mark Simmonds: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; if Ministers are willing, I will be more than happy to participate in such a meeting. We cannot have this annual event in which the chief constable, his senior officers, the police authority and Lincolnshire Members of Parliament of all political parties are involved in this time-consuming exercise of trying to make sure that the Lincolnshire police authority gets the requisite and appropriate resources. The issue needs to be sorted out once and for all, and that can be done only by reworking the funding formula.
The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) mentioned the funding settlement. I take him back to what the Association of Chief Police Officers said about the settlement for the police forces around the country:
The overall settlement is broadly in line with anticipated rises in core costs, and this will help preserve many of the key gains in police officer and police staff numbers made in recent years.
The hon. Gentleman also raised points about the funding formula for police, as did the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds). As he will know better than many, that was drawn up in conjunction with ACPO and the Association of Police Authorities. It was last reviewed in 2007 and fully consulted on after that to produce the basis on which we have made decisions for the next three years. One of the factors taken into account in arriving at the funding formula is population sparsity in the area concerned. In addition, Lincolnshire is benefiting from
the former rural policing fund, which is still distributed to police authorities on the same basis, but now with no strings attached. This year, the contribution from that fund is part of an extra £10.7 million going to Lincolnshire police on top of the general police grant and the revenue that it raises from its council tax precepts.
We have to base calculations for the funding formula on figures that are consistent across the country, and on the most recent figures produced by the independent Office for National Statistics. Those have weaknesses, particularly as populations across the country become larger, more mixed and more mobile, and it is clear that we have to improve our data and the evidence on which we base funding formulae. That work is ongoing. It is being led by the national statistician, has the strong involvement of the Local Government Association, and reports to and is supported by a group of Ministers jointly chaired by my right hon. Friend the policing Minister and myself. Let me say to the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness that ACPO indicated in a recent report that there has been no crime wave associated with migration into this country. The hon. Gentleman did not argue that point, nor to my knowledge has his police authority, although others have. Nevertheless, we have now created in Government a fund to assist local authorities, including police authorities, in meeting the transitional costs caused by migration pressures such as those that he mentioned.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who is not in his place, made a series of wider points. As always, my right hon. Friend the policing Minister listened carefully to those, as well as to his special early plea on behalf of his own Leicestershire police authority. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) asked whether my right hon. Friend the Minister will meet his police authority as a matter of urgency to discuss the way ahead. He will, and I am sure that that meeting can be fixed without delay.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) was right about the need for financial disciplines in all parts of government, particularly in relation to fall-back powers to be used in extreme cases, as in the situation that we face with Lincolnshire police authority. He has clearly followed closely the decisions that the police authority has taken on its precept and its budget, and he is right to be critical of those. He was sharp in his critique of the vague Conservative position in relation not only to this order but to the wider issue of local government funding, and to wider policy on local government as a whole.
In response to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), I must explain that there is a cost to rebilling, as the police authority knew when it took its decision to set a 29 per cent. increase in its budget for this year and a 79 per cent. increase in its council tax precept. He claimed that the action in the capping order was disproportionate. Given that it results in every band D council tax payer in Lincolnshire having their council tax bill cut by £69 this year, it is not a disproportionate move but a necessary one. People in Lincolnshire will be astonished that the hon. Gentleman intends to lead the Liberal Democrats into the Lobby tonight to vote, in effect, for a £70 increase on council tax bills for this year.
On the contraryand this is my final wordpeople in Lincolnshire will take the view of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who said that his constituents would be relieved that I am introducing this capping order. They will be relieved that we have debated the order, and I hope that the House will give it the go-ahead, so that we can put measures in place to protect council tax payers in Lincolnshire from an excessive council tax rise as a result of the police authoritys decision. We will do so having listened carefully to the case that it has made, and having set the cap at a level that allows it to live within its means and to avoid any reduction in police officer numbers. The police will be able to carry out their duties, as a good police service should.
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