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3 Feb 2010 : Column 327

Let me go to the heart of what I took to be the political thrust of the Minister's speech. We are in a severe economic situation and it has added huge strain to already tight police budgets. In written evidence provided to the Home Affairs Committee for its report on police service strength, the Association of Police Authorities

and the expected impact on police budgets. Similarly, a study undertaken by the Association of Chief Police Officers' finance and resources business area found that several forces in England and Wales-this is the crucial point that I would like the Minister to return to-were already using budget reserves to maintain front-line services.

There is increasing confusion about police officer numbers and police strength, with evidence from police forces contradicting what the Minister is asking us to believe. In research for its report into police strength, the Home Affairs Committee-I am sad that the excellent Chairman of that Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), is not here to confirm this-wrote to all police forces in England and Wales and asked them to provide information on their officer and staff numbers; crucially, likely changes to the work force during the remainder of 2009-10 and 2010-11; and the plans that the forces are putting in place in relation to staffing levels next year.

The responses were very interesting. They were clear. Just four forces anticipated maintaining staff and officer levels. Some forces had already begun to reduce officer numbers and many have plans to do so. To provide one or two examples, Humberside police force said that it was planning to cut 300 officer posts. Cumbria said that there are

Derbyshire said that "police staff cuts" will be likely, and Durham is planning a

Kent said that it had

Out of 43 forces, only four said that they anticipated maintaining staffing levels.

Mr. Stewart Jackson: Are we seeing a pattern of grand promises prior to a general election that are not delivered? Does my hon. Friend remember that before the 2005 general election the Government promised 24,000 new community support officers? In fact they delivered just 16,000-8,000 short-a clear broken promise in their manifesto.

Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend is exactly right.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ruffley: I will in a minute.

At this stage of the Parliament, words are quite cheap. Promises are quite cheap, but the evidence that the Home Affairs Committee has given and that we all hear about is there for the Minister to confront and explain.

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Mr. Hanson: Could we get down to specifics? The grant is before the House today. It increases funding by a minimum of 2.5 per cent. and overall by 2.7 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman were sitting on this Bench, what figure would he put on the grant increase over and above what we are proposing? Will he give a commitment today to do that? I do not think that he will, as his party is committed to cutting public spending.

Mr. Ruffley: The shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it quite clear that we will make a decision when we write our next Budget. We are still waiting for two things. We are waiting for a Budget from this Government. Also, no CSR was put in place, even though it was open to the Government to do that.

I want to get back to the promises that the Government are making about 2010-11. The Minister has given us all sorts of blandishments about how everything will be fine and everything will be maintained, but the evidence that I have been reading out completely undermines everything that he has been saying. To make promises about what will happen in 2010-11 is impossible; the evidence shows that it is not possible. I want to hear from the Minister why he believes that this settlement will maintain what he says it will maintain, because the evidence is quite to the contrary.

Mr. Hanson: I will try again. If the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to increase the 2010-11 settlement over and above the 2.5 per cent. to the 2.7 per cent. average, will he do that? If he were in my position now, or if he were in my position in eight or nine weeks, would he increase next year's money? We have already announced today the funding that the grant will provide.

Mr. Ruffley: I think that the shadow Chancellor has made the position entirely clear, and we will present a Budget should we be in a position to do so, but I still do not think that the Minister has explained why all these authorities that we have talked about-including Humberside, Cumbria, Derbyshire-are saying that there will be a cut in police strength. It flies in the face of what the Minister has been promising.

Ms Buck: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ruffley: In a minute.

I want to test further what the Government are saying will happen in 2010-11 on the basis of the grant settlement. I was troubled by what the Chancellor said in his statement on the pre-Budget report, because it does not make sense to a lot of those in the police service. He said:

The evidence from the Home Affairs Committee clearly shows that police forces around the country have, or are preparing to, cut the number of staff and officers. I am amazed that the Minister does not have an answer to that. Can he please tell us how this Government are planning on, as he claims, guaranteeing police officer numbers when we do not have any details on police
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budgets after 2011? Crucially, can he tell us how he defines front-line policing services, because those were the words that slipped into the Chancellor's pre-Budget report? If the Minister is defending that, what is the definition of front-line policing services? It cannot mean police strength because police authorities have already told the Home Affairs Committee that those numbers are being cut and will be cut. It is a total mystery to me what protecting front-line policing services means in that context.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Derbyshire police have far more police officers and PCSOs than when I was elected in 1997, but we have continually argued that we should move more quickly towards where Derbyshire police should be compared with other authorities. They cannot do it too quickly because other authorities' budgets would be cut-that is the floors and ceilings argument. Is the Conservative party able to give me an assurance now that, if it were in power, Derbyshire would immediately go to its right level, without cutting other police services?

Mr. Ruffley: I will come on to the point about floors later, so perhaps the hon. Lady will intervene again and I will answer her then, if she will forgive me.

Ms Buck: The hon. Gentleman did not mention in his list the largest police authority-that of London. What advice is he giving to his friend, the Mayor of London, whose draft budget includes a provision for a cut of 455 police officers? If we take into account the four budgets for which the Mayor will have been responsible, it works out at a net reduction in police officers by just over 100, I believe. This is taking place at a time when much is being made about the freezing of precept, so how does the hon. Gentleman advise the Mayor to proceed?

Mr. Ruffley: Let us first make it clear and put on the record what the Minister is saying about defending police officer numbers. As I say, he talks about protecting front-line policing services, so will the Minister give us a definition of that when he concludes the debate?

The plot thickens, because two newspapers today report that the Association of Chief Police Officers has drawn up proposals to cut 28,000 officers and replace them with civilian staff. Part of the leaked report, as reported this morning, says:

Will the Minister confirm that? Has he commissioned that work? Is he aware of it?

Mr. Hanson: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that that document has no locus for the Government and it has not been commissioned by Government Ministers or the Home Office, and it does not have the support of ACPO. It is an explanatory document presenting options that have not been endorsed and are not being endorsed either by ACPO or the Government.

Mr. Ruffley: May I take it that the Minister does not endorse that report, that he refutes it and that it will not be part of his policy?

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Mr. Hanson: Yes.

Mr. Ruffley: He may not have the chance for it to become part of his policy in a few weeks' time, so that might be why he is so confident in making that assertion. Unfortunately, the Government's decision not to hold a comprehensive spending review that would detail proposed expenditure over a three-year period underscores that fact that they have no confidence in their rather woolly guarantees made in the pre-Budget report and repeated by the Minister today.

Surely one of the key parts of policing-ensuring that we have their presence on the street-involves the amount of time officers spend on patrol. It would be fair to say that the figures on the amount of time police spend on the beat have fallen under this Administration. According to the Government's own latest figures, the amount of time a patrol officer spends on patrol has fallen from 19.1 per cent. in 2004-05 to an even lower 17.8 per cent. in 2007-08. Jan Berry, the Government's police bureaucracy tsar, when asked whether officers were spending more time on patrol now than two years ago said:

and she went on to point out, in what I take to be a real indictment, that only one of the 33 proposals to reduce bureaucracy in the final Flanagan review of February 2008, had been implemented.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I apologise for missing the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech and, of course, the Minister's. I was attending another engagement, as I shall explain later if I can catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye.

Good practice is an issue raised in a number of Select Committee reports. If there is good practice in one area, it is important to ensure that it is translated into other areas. Should we look to organisations such as the National Policing Improvement Agency to ensure that this kind of efficiency is delivered to the police service, as in the end, that will also save a great deal of taxpayers' money?

Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We had a discussion about one bit of good practice-the four pilots for lighter and more nimble recording practice. I remember that when we discussed it in July, I asked the right hon. Gentleman how many forces had adopted this pilot of slimline recording, which was happening in the West Midlands, Staffordshire, Surrey and Leicestershire, but he did not know. He said that I had asked a good question, but I thought it notable that he, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, was unaware of how far this practice had been rolled out and adopted. I am sure that the Minister would agree that there is a need for some direction from the centre on certain issues. This provides one tangible example of bureaucracy reduction that has not been driven forward and has not delivered the gains that it could have. As the shadow Home Secretary has said, we intend to make this one of our priorities.

Making better use of resources is at the heart of the grant settlement before us. All police authorities understand that they need to get more from less. Police authorities should be encouraged to find savings in back-office and
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procurement, and release them for use on the front line. We all agree on that. Why, however, has the Minister not used the powers in the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which gave the Home Secretary powers to mandate collaboration on areas of procurement-both information technology and non-IT procurement-that could yield efficiency savings? Powers to mandate have been available for a few months now, so can the Minister tell us whether he is contemplating use of any of these mandated powers to squeeze more efficiencies out of the system? If not, why not? The Minister has cheerfully spoken about the prospects of another Labour Government and how 2010-11 will be all sweetness and light, but if he is going to make promises about spending, will he tell us what he intends about mandation and squeezing more bang for the buck?

On the police grant formula, I have received many representations recently regarding the operation of police grant floors and I would like to raise one or two of them with the Minister. As written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee has highlighted, because of the operation of scaling and floors, forces such as Hampshire receive £1.5 million less than they should under the principal needs formula. Similarly, I have received extensive representations from Derbyshire police authority and constabulary, as due to the cost of providing floor protection within the funding formula, they lose out to the tune of £5 million a year. I could cite many other examples and I am sure that hon. Members from all parties could provide their own for me and the Minister.

We welcomed the removal of the ceiling that the then Minister with responsibility for crime and policing announced in 2008. In that debate, the Minister said that

Will the present Minister be more precise and give us an update from that statement of two years ago?

It is quite clear that we need to move towards applying the needs-based formula more purely. There is a need for that to happen, and I think that all Members will see the sense of that. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, in his final report into the future of policing-it was essentially about bureaucracy, but he understood how resourcing impacted on that-said of grant floors that

He went on to suggest:

well, the ceilings bit has been dealt with-

The Home Affairs Committee confirmed that by saying:

We did not get the next spending review, because the Government funked that rather significant policy and political challenge. Today I give the Minister an opportunity to atone for the Government's sins, and to say "All
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right, we did not carry out the CSR, but we will give some indication"-an update on the statement given two years ago by his right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty)-"of the stage that we have reached in regard to the future of floors and the full application of the police funding formula."

I look forward to the Minister's response. Given that he has been specific about some of what will allegedly happen to police strength in 2010-11, I think it important for him to be a bit more specific about the future of the floors that constitute the basis of the document before us.

Judy Mallaber: The hon. Gentleman invited me earlier to ask my question again when he reached this point in his speech. I am sure my constituents would be very interested to know how long it would take his party-if it unfortunately came to office-to restore the level of the grant funding formula that has been agreed, whether that could be done only at the expense of either other police services or some other budget elsewhere, and which budget might be affected.

Mr. Ruffley: I think the hon. Lady is putting her question to the wrong person. I put the same question to the Minister when I asked him whether certain factors would be taken into account, as Sir Ronnie Flanagan had suggested, to prevent there being significant losers. The Minister should also tell us what stage he has reached in the review of the regime that he says he is conducting. The last statement that said anything was given to us two years ago, and it would be useful to have some specificity. I hope that when he has answered that question, the hon. Lady will be able to ask her own question again.

The fire and rescue authorities' grant floors have been lowered for 2010-11. Has the Minister examined the impact that those significant future changes have had on the finances of different authorities, and does he think we can draw any lessons from them? He is the Minister in charge, and he is doing the technical work. We should like to hear about it.

This country is in dire financial straits. Let us not forget that this Government, not any other Government, are responsible for the mess that we are in. We know why, and the British people know why. Given the additional pressures from the economic collapse over which the Government have presided and which the country is experiencing, police authorities-as they have told the Home Affairs Committee-already face projected cuts, and are now planning for cuts in police strength. Can the Minister please tell us why that is, and why it conflicts so obviously with the rosy picture of the grant settlement that he has painted here today? The two simply cannot be squared.

There is also concern about funding formula changes. I think it incumbent on the Minister, in a debate on police grant, to tell us exactly what stage, in technical terms, the review of police funding arrangements has reached in the Home Office. I think that not only the House but the country deserves an answer to those two questions.

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