Policing and Crime Bill

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The Chairman: Before the hon. Gentleman replies, let me say that although the hon. Lady was quite right to say that the clause is not about funding, she was quite correct to intervene because her county was mentioned. I trust that if the hon. Gentleman responds, he will be brief.
Mr. Ruffley: I will be brief. I bow to the hon. Lady’s greater knowledge of Northamptonshire, but she should understand that my facts come from the police authorities. They have written to me, and I merely cite what they say [Interruption.] I will not take a further intervention. I hear what the hon. Lady says but she should speak to the collaboration board in her region if she has—[Interruption.] She is talking from a sedentary position. In good faith, I did not seek to make a party political point—quite the reverse. I was saying to the Minister that this does not permit a party political argument. I was repeating a briefing from the collaboration board and if the hon. Lady does not like that, I suggest that she write to the board, and look at Hansard to see what I have said. [Interruption.] She continues to chunter away from a sedentary position, which is desperately unhelpful in what has, until now, been a mature debate. If she has a problem, she should write to the collaboration board.
I come now to the second example, which is the collaboration between Kent and Essex. This is something that is seen to be radical and innovative in the policing community, I have spoken to Ministers about it, and a lot of people are looking at it.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con) rose—
Mr. Ruffley: I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who represents the fair town of Chelmsford.
Mr. Burns: It is in the county of Essex, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I wish to reinforce what he has said. The work done between Essex and Kent is extremely innovative. It is going extremely well and is an example that others should study and contemplate following.
Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I have had occasion to visit his constituency; I have been to his road at least twice. From my discussions with him, I know that he keeps a weather eye on the policing in a town that he not only represents, but lives in. He is very much part of his community. He is right to point out that the chief constable of Essex, Roger Baker, is a proselytiser of great ability, who speaks to Members of all parties about how more efficiencies can be squeezed out of existing police budgets. That is very much what collaboration, if done well, is about.
9.30 am
In the Essex experience, collaboration is a means by which more officers can be returned to the front line. Collaboration is not some dry, dusty and dull subject—if done right, it can deliver what we all want. Whatever one’s political persuasion, however perverse and muddle-headed a politician might be, who on earth could conceivably object to more front-line policing, because that is clearly what the British public want? The man and woman on the street want to see more visible policing. They want attendance at crimes, if they are unfortunate enough to be a victim of crime. They want to see a police officer—they do not necessarily want just have a chat on the phone with someone when they ring 999, but to see an officer as a result.
The specifics of the collaboration agreement with Kent constabulary are as follows. I have had the benefit of discussing what that means in practice with the excellent chairman of the Essex police authority, as well Chief Constable Baker, on more than a couple of occasions. In April 2007, Essex and Kent police authorities and forces agreed to collaborate in what they described, rightly, as a ground-breaking initiative to enhance the service to the communities in both their counties. In order to oversee and manage the collaboration, the two police authorities established a statutory joint committee and delegated most of their functions to it to facilitate expeditious and effective decision making. In any collaboration agreement, decision making is always at issue. If there are lots of individuals and more than one force—by definition, a collaboration cannot take place in one force, but needs two, or five, as in my earlier example from the east midlands—one can imagine that there will be tensions or differences of emphasis about how decisions should be made, such as about serious organised crime, across forces. Each force would have its particular interests and its own patch to defend, which is understandable. However, in collaboration agreements, by definition, there has to be a bit of give and take. When decisions are taken, they have to be taken effectively. There has to be give and take because, at the end of the day, only one decision can be taken, so delegation is an important part of the process.
In the Kent and Essex collaboration, the purpose of the strategic mandate for the collaboration programme is
“to engage in full collaboration on Operational Functions and Support Services, whilst maintaining operational independence”.
Since January 2008, 14 reviews across those areas have been completed, identifying £2.7 million of savings, of which £1.8 million are recurring capital savings. The two forces have agreed to create a single procurement department, using a collaborative shared service agreement—the first such venture in UK policing on that particular scale, I am informed. What do we mean by “services” and “procurement”? I am advised that those words can relate to training, human resources and personnel development, administration, finance, major crime, firearms—a large number of operational activities.
The Audit Commission carried out a governance review of the Kent-Essex collaboration. The findings were extremely positive:
“Essex and Kent Police Authorities have established a vibrant and effective collaboration partnership which is providing considerable financial and performance benefits to both forces. Leadership and governance is strong, and programme management robust.”
I shall not detain the Committee with details of the other drives for efficiency that Essex constabulary and police authority have established, because the savings that they want to achieve over a three-year period far exceed the figures that I quoted, which were specific to the collaborations in hand. A wider programme in Essex is delivering bigger savings, but as I wish to remain in order I will confine my remarks to collaboration.
The two examples that I gave of collaboration are not the only ones, but they give the Committee a flavour of what is possible. Not all police authorities and areas are as proactive those two, so why is the Minister introducing the clause and why are Her Majesty’s Opposition supporting it? Sir Ronnie Flanagan discussed the need for new powers last year in his admirable review of policing. In recommendation 11, he said:
“The Home Office should include in its forthcoming Green Paper consultation”—
that refers to the consultation last summer—
“on the establishment of a service-wide consistency of the implementation of standard systems and processes. The Green Paper should also specifically consult on the issue of whether the Home Office should mandate regional collaboration on issues such as procuring IT systems, air support, fleet, uniform etc.”
The necessary levers and incentives to drive forward collaboration are important and the Government rightly said that they wanted a clearer legal framework that would underpin joint working and collaboration in future. In response to Sir Ronnie’s proposal, they sensibly said that they would bring forward legislation to deliver a new improved framework. In the Green Paper, the Government said:
“We will also continue to seek opportunities to reward and recognise collaboration.”
I particularly want to ask the Minister about that, so my first question in this clause stand part debate is will he give us a sense of what the rewards are? In my common-sense reading, that does not refer simply to the new legislative framework in the clause, but implies that they will reward and recognise collaboration. Is it a financial incentive? What kind of recognition are we talking about? It is important, because the police service says, “This collaboration is all very well, Mr. Ruffley, and we know that you support the Government in driving forward collaboration, but there are lots of problems with it”. I am sure that that point has been put to the Minister by members of the police service.
I shall not detain the Committee with a debate about precept equalisation, which reared its ugly head in the strategic merger debate. Among the many reasons for the forced strategic mergers failing is that, in many cases, police authorities with different precept levels could not agree about how precept equalisation should work if a constabulary was abolished and merged into a bigger strategic force. I am not making a party political point—it is a technical issue that does not permit an easy or simple solution. In that context, police authority members and members of the police service ask whether it is worth their while to join collaboration agreements when the business case might not be good.
Responses to the Green Paper from outside bodies were interesting. ACPO said that collaboration agreements should be determined by chief constables and police authorities with minimum input from Home Office Ministers. It suggested that mandated collaboration from the Home Secretary, which is permitted by the clause, should come about only after the trigger of serious inadequacies in level 2 provision are highlighted by an inspection by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary.
When the Minister and the Home Secretary consider whether to exercise the power of mandation, must they have regard to an inspection report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary or could they take the decision to mandate without that evidence? What evidence will Home Office Ministers turn to, if any, when deciding whether to mandate a collaboration agreement and set of arrangements in any part of the country? To ram this point home, we must tease out the basis on which mandation might occur. What are the parameters within which Ministers will exercise their powers under the clause?
The ACPO response to the Green Paper, published in 2008, states:
“Chief Constables and Police Authorities should be the determinant figures in the first instance for collaboration opportunities. The assessment of potential for further regional collaboration should rightly remain as part of the remit of HMIC, who have a clear role to challenge inadequate or disproportionate approaches based upon local challenges and circumstances. This view will need to be taken across regions not just police forces. It must be risk based and not formulaic.”
The Minister must answer that point from ACPO. I, too, say that it must not be formulaic. The response continues:
“For these reasons ACPO feels the use of powers available to the Home Secretary should be the exception and only implemented where HMIC identify clear gaps that are not being addressed.”
It is not just ACPO that wants the terms of the power in the clause to be teased out. The APA would prefer what could be described colloquially as a carrot approach:
“If partners are reluctant to collaborate this will usually be for good reason and may not be identifiable through a quantitative analysis, for example where organisational cultures were deemed to be incompatible. The preferred approach should remain to encourage voluntary collaboration through putting in place a package of levers and incentives”.
I do not agree with the position that voluntary collaboration should be tried again. It has been in force since the collapse of the strategic merger project. We need the power to mandate because, in the view of Ministers and shadow Ministers, voluntary collaboration has not been proceeded with rapidly enough.
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I conclude my remarks—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Stourbridge wants to contribute to the debate or intervene, I am happy for her to do so rather than have her muttering from a sedentary position.
When I asked about collaboration in the evidence session last week, Sir Norman Bettison pointed out that the first problem is that the current 43 forces have differential and variable costs, so collaborating on an issue is rarely a fair and equitable discussion. He said that the second problem is the variability in the vision of priorities. In other words, forces have different operation and policing priorities. The third problem that arises in relation to arrangements is what he refers to as the “net donor syndrome.” In that context, he said:
“Every individual force and authority imagines that they will contribute to a collaboration and that they will be a net donor. If I were chief or chair of a big force, I might consider that my current assets would be diluted. If I were chief or chair of a smaller force, I might consider that my contribution would be sucked into the bigger metropolitan forces.”——[Official Report, Policing and Crime Public Bill Committee, 27 January; c. 8, Q8.]
We have an important new power in the clause. Some concerns have been expressed by ACPO and the APA. They are not ones that I share, but they raise an important question: what financial levers or inducements might be available to accompany and supplement a mandation from the Home Office? Moreover, in exercising such a mandation, what do Ministers think that they will be considering, and will it be an adverse report across a sub-region by HMIC that informs their decision to mandate? It is on that note of questioning and probing that I conclude my remarks.
The Chairman: Before I call the next speaker, may I say that the Chairman of the Committee is a servant of the Committee? He or she has the responsibility to ensure that all matters are debated. I say to the Opposition spokesman that I have been advised—unofficially of course—that we hope to get to the end of part 1 this morning. We have had a speech that has lasted 48 minutes. We have about 35 minutes before we must adjourn. The Committee must appreciate that all hon. Members should have an opportunity to participate. If we continue at this rate, we will not make much progress with the Bill. That is a comment to all hon. Members and I hope that it is heeded.
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): I will be brief, Sir Nicholas. Everyone involved agrees that collaboration makes sense in a lot of circumstances, whether it is back-room procurement, payroll or the purchase of uniform. I am referring to all the things in which economies of scale can save money, whether it is on the joint provision of an expensive service such as the force helicopter in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, or on serious crime issues and terrorism. Everyone sees the sense of collaboration. Without going over Tuesday’s debate on this issue, I will say that I am still astonished that the Government feel that they need to give themselves the power to interfere quite so much in the process of collaboration—either to force it to happen or to limit it. The issue that we discussed on Tuesday was that, if more than six police authorities want to collaborate on a matter, the Secretary of State must give permission for them to do so. If seven, eight or nine police authorities and chief constables decide that they want to work together on something, why, when all those hurdles have been passed, do the Government feel that they must have the last say? That seems strange and I would appreciate some elaboration from the Minister. Do the Government fear that if 10, 15 or 20 forces collaborated, there would be a danger of a national police force? That would seem strange, given the Government’s efforts to force mergers and create larger police forces over the last couple of years.
I do not think that this phrase has passed my lips before, but it is worth listening to the wise words of the previous police Minister in the debate on the police grant last year. He said of the Government:
“We made quite a serious mistake throughout the debate on mergers—which we were halfway through when I took over this role—when we assumed that we were at ground zero and that there had not been any real degree of collaboration or significant cross-force work in the past. There had been, and that should have been recognised.”—[Official Report, 4 February 2008; Vol. 471, c. 677.]
As we have heard today and on Tuesday, there are good examples of collaboration. The Minister says that the east midlands forces in his area of Nottinghamshire and mine of Derbyshire are shining examples. Will he give specific examples of areas that are so far behind the curve that the Government think they need the power to force collaboration? Will he also give examples of the grounds on which they would want to stop collaboration?
Magistrates have raised the concern that if there is more police collaboration on certain issues across force borders, there may be more instances like the Redknapp case in which the City of London police issued a warrant to search properties in another force area. Will that happen more often if there are more collaboration agreements? Is that desirable? Should it be the magistrate or district judge in the force area where the search will take place who issues the warrant as a matter of course, or could it be done by the magistrate or district judge in the area of a collaborating force that wants to search out of force area?
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