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"I can confidently predict cuts in police budgets of 10 to 20 per cent. over the next few years."
That is probably a much more realistic figure. Interestingly, two university vice-chancellors from my region said at a meeting in this place last night that they had been told by contacts in the Treasury to expect similar cuts in their university budgets. The pre-Budget report estimates a 0.8 per cent. cut in the next three years, whereas Sir Hugh Orde much more realistically estimates a cut of between 10 and 20 per cent.
Such a cut will occur at a time when the police numbers are starting to fall. Figures published this week showed that, in six out of 10 police forces, numbers, which had reached a record high, were starting to drift downwards; ACPO notes that many forces are already freezing posts in anticipation of what is to come next year and in subsequent years. Today's edition of The Independent contained a report on precisely this in which it said that it has
"learnt that about 2,000 would-be officers were recruited by the Metropolitan Police during...January 2009 and told that they would start their training in spring last year.
Now, despite passing exams and interviews, the successful candidates have received letters informing them that they will not be offered a start date until 2011 at the earliest-almost two years later than they were led to believe."
For example, in Gloucestershire nearly 100 candidates who were recruited have been told that it has been deferred until 2011, possibly later. Similarly, 240 candidates for the West Midlands police have gone through all the stages of the recruitment process only to be told recently that their recruitment has been deferred. Cleveland police had 102 successful recruits treated in exactly the same way, and Cumbria had 59 so treated. That same practice has also happened in Greater Manchester and Hampshire-it is happening across the country. Fears
about what cuts are to come are already having an effect, in that police forces are freezing and postponing recruitment. As I have said, numbers are already falling in six out of 10 forces.
"The provision of effective adequately resourced policing is one of the Government's primary responsibilities in a developed civil society."
In the past few years, such provision has been used to very good effect in the redevelopment of neighbourhood policing, or beat policing as it used to be called. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservatives in government slashed police numbers, and one of their defences was that beat police were old-fashioned and out of date, that they did not work, that they were ineffective, that they did not stop crime and that they did not catch criminals-so it did not matter that police numbers were being hit so drastically.
At the very first, when this new Labour Administration came in in 1997, they deployed the same argument for a brief period. They quickly came round to accept, however, that neighbourhood policing is one of the most effective forms of policing. Of course, we have the headline policing issues, such as terrorism, serious crime, bank robberies and so on, but, as the chief constable of Derbyshire-the one who has retired, not the one who is in office now-said some years ago, when he looked at the figures every year, of all the issues and complaints that people in Derbyshire raised, serious crime accounted for only a tiny percentage of them. In their day-to-day lives, people were complaining about, fearful and being bothered by the issues that are relatively low level-vandalism, antisocial behaviour, car theft, burglaries and local drug dealing-when compared with issues such as terrorism.
Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He will know that the settlement before the House gives an increase of £259 million to police forces for 2010-11 over that in 2009-10. To help frame the debate, will he tell me how much more than that £259 million the Liberal Democrats believe we should give to police forces next year?
Paul Holmes: The Liberal Democrats have clearly said that we would divert money by abandoning particular Government programmes-identity cards have been a long-standing option. At one time, based on the original grandiose costings for ID cards, that would have paid for up to 10,000 extra police. Now the figure is about 3,000. That answer has been given and published before.
After a short interim period back in 1997, the Government accepted that neighbourhood policing was effective and one of the No. 1 issues that the population of this country was concerned about-it still is to this day. The expansion of neighbourhood policing beat teams has been very effective. We should remember, however, that some of the glowing headlines that Ministers often tell us about are not the same all over the country. We have heard about the situation in London where, because of the combination of a London system that can raise the police precept without its being capped by the Government and that can put that money into the
police force along with the receipt of money from the Government-this is a situation that we often hear boasted about-every local authority ward will have a neighbourhood team of six, made up of a combination of officers and police community support officers. That is very effective-I see it, living in London as I do for three or three and a half days a week when Parliament is in Session. However, that is not true in the bulk of the country.
Many hon. Members would make that point. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) has long campaigned on the fact that his area, Stockport, and Greater Manchester in general cannot remotely approach the levels of neighbourhood policing that we see in the London wards. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) has long campaigned on the fact that Bristol, compared with other comparable cities, has one of the lowest ratios of police officers for neighbourhood policing and for all kinds of policing. There are huge disparities. Exactly the same is true of Chesterfield and Derbyshire-those aspirations of six officers dedicated to a team for each local government ward are a pipe dream in many parts of the country. If that is the situation that we have reached at the peak of success and investment, what is going to happen as things start to get worse?
Only two weeks ago, I was talking to the beat team in an area called Loundsley Green in my constituency. One of the police officers had been assigned to such things as the police response cars for 17 years and had now switched to beat policing and neighbourhood policing. He said that it was by far the most successful and rewarding part of police work in which he had ever taken part. Instead of rushing to one emergency and spending as little time as possible there before rushing off in the car to the next and then to the next, he was able to get to grips with local issues and to follow up local miscreants. He was able to get to know them, their parents and the people involved and to follow their cases up effectively over a period of time. He could really feel that he was making a huge difference to policing, community safety and community consciousness in that area. It would be a great shame to see that undermined in years to come, but that is the danger.
If police numbers are at a high and are just starting to fall from that high, is there a danger that they could start to plummet very quickly? The chief constable of Bedfordshire has pointed out that police numbers depend not so much on the core police grant, for which we get funding for the three-year rolling cycle that we are discussing today, but on special grant funded allocations. That is the case for PCSOs, in general, but it also applies to all sorts of policing.
The special grant funded allocations are just the sort of thing on which the plug could be pulled next year, the year after or the year after that. A Government could boast that they were maintaining core funding, with little change, but could pull the plug on the special grant funded allocations. We would then see a drastic reduction in police numbers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am not clear about this point. Have the Liberal Democrats said in terms whether they would commit to the neighbourhood police fund-the fund that supports
the 14,000 PCSOs-or whether they would un-ring-fence it? I meant to try to ask the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) that-I believe that the Conservative line is that they will un-ring-fence that money, with all that means for neighbourhood policing. Have the Liberal Democrats come to a settled view on that yet?
Paul Holmes: We would have to ask our gurus, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), about that specific point. In the long-term, following exactly the theme that the right hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) was talking about earlier, we would look to transfer most of the control and funding of and fundraising through local precepts for policing to local communities. It would be their decision, along with duly elected police authorities, what to do with that, how to do that and what the priorities were. As was correctly pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman earlier, the policing requirements in an area of inner London can be very different from those in a rural area, a shire area, a small town such as Chesterfield and so on.
If the special grant funded allocations were to be withdrawn in years to come, we would see a dramatic drop in police numbers, even though core funding was, on the face of it, being maintained. As the chief constable of Manchester has pointed out, one cannot rely, as people sometimes suggest, on special constables. They do a fantastic job-I have been out many times with special constables in Chesterfield-but, as the chief constable of Manchester pointed out, they are volunteers. Special constables cannot be ordered to be on duty on a certain day or evening at a certain time. They can be asked or persuaded and both they and their goodwill can be relied on, but they cannot be ordered. We cannot guarantee policing on that basis. They are a fantastic supplement to what the police do and what they provide, but they are no alternative and they are certainly not a free, cheap and easy alternative. We must consider how we will maintain numbers in the future.
One of the alarming factors underneath what looks like a relatively rosy picture is the fact that police numbers in forces around the country have been maintained through the use of dwindling reserves. That has certainly been true in Derbyshire. Derbyshire has features of its own that have been mentioned and to which I shall return, but over the past few years it has considerably run down its reserves in order to maintain and expand police numbers because of the lack of appropriate funding from central Government and because of the threat of council tax capping, which has stopped it using that option to fund police numbers. However, reserves can only be used for so long before they have gone. Quite a number of police forces tell us that they are approaching the point at which they will no longer be able to dip into reserves to plug those manning gaps. Again, we could be approaching the edge of a precipice if special grants disappear and reserves are running out. If we do not have the alternative that the right hon. Member for Harrow, East rightly discussed in considerable detail, and if we maintain the capping regime whereby the Government tell local authorities and, as in this case, police authorities, that they can increase their precept only by a specified amount, or not at all-there are suggestions that council tax might be entirely frozen for a while in the future, which means that there will be
cuts-where will the police and local communities turn to? Will police numbers and the services that the police provide simply drop dramatically?
As a few hon. Members have already pointed out, surveys by MORI and other organisations have all come up with the same message-local people would be willing to pay 10 to 30 per cent more on their police precept if they could see a direct link between that money and local policing. A lengthy, in-depth consultation by Derbyshire police authority over two or three years reached a similar conclusion. People do not want that money to go to someone in London who will then hand it back out in grants that may or may not come back to Derbyshire, for example. They want it to go to their police authority to spend on policing the streets in their towns and villages, but the Government say that they will not allow that to happen and they have capped authorities. We heard about capping earlier. In Derbyshire, last year, there was not an outright cap but what happened was effectively the same. The Government said, "We are not going to cap you and make you re-bill, but we will reduce your grant by the amount that you raised by increasing the precept by more than we thought that you should." So, this year that police authority is faced with an effective cap, even though it has been given a different name.
We are told that efficiency savings are the new solution. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservative Government used "efficiency savings" as a euphemism for the massive cuts that they imposed in most sectors, including policing and education, in which I worked. We must conclude that this Government's use of the same term will amount to much the same thing. Several points need to be made about that. First, if one says that there are large efficiency savings to be made in the way that our police authorities should be run in the next year or two, it implies that there is a lot of waste-a lot of fat or flab-in the system that could be removed, so that that money could be spent on proper policing. I cannot speak for other police forces, but I know that that is not true of the Derbyshire police, who have had to make as many efficiency savings as possible in the past few years because of Government underfunding. There are few efficiency gains left to be made in that force, so the idea that there is a lot of flab to be cut so that money can be recycled is a dangerous one, especially given that police authorities cumulatively have made £2 billion-worth of efficiency savings in the past 10 years. How much more can they do?
Mr. McNulty: I take those points in part, but does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the five east midlands police authorities and forces have collaborated significantly since the denouement of the merger debate? The efficiency savings that they are making are real, and that money is being transferred to the front line.
Yes, the authorities have made great steps forward in that regard. Some criticisms have been levelled about police forces not collaborating, but the Derbyshire police authority always says that that is not true of the east midlands forces, and points to what successful collaboration there has been. It is also looking at further collaboration, so there are things that can be done. However, if £2 billion-worth of cumulative efficiency savings have already been made across police authorities- percentage-wise, the saving in Derbyshire will have been
higher than in other areas because it has had to make savings as a result of being underfunded by £5 million a year-how much more flab can be cut? How many more resources can be redirected into front-line policing? Given that 88 per cent. of police budgets are staffing costs, a demand for more and more efficiency savings must mean much more civilianisation, which has already gone on apace. How much further can authorities go without taking real police off the streets? Alternatively, efficiency savings will mean a loss of uniformed officer numbers, so the phrase "efficiency savings" is a euphemism for cuts.
Mr. Binley: Will the hon. Gentleman take into account that it is estimated that in the east midlands we have lost £60 million in the past three years as a result of the damping arrangements and other such measures? That is the equivalent of 600 police officers.
Paul Holmes: Absolutely. In Derbyshire alone, the loss is equivalent to 160 police officers. If we add the losses across the east midlands, we arrive at the figure that the hon. Gentleman has just given. I will return to my slightly more parochial take on Derbyshire and the east midlands shortly.
I am interested in hearing the Minister's comments on a different issue that has partly been touched on today, which was also raised last year and the year before. Some police authorities are very badly hit by rapid population movements such as migration and changes due to migrant labour. For example, 1 million Poles-10 times the estimated number-came over, as did many people from other groups. Such movements can hit certain areas particularly badly in all sorts of ways, such as the requirement to fund the cost of using translators in courts and police stations. The Government have just had to admit, in the past few days, that those costs are much higher than they had previously stated in their answers to parliamentary questions. When this issue was raised in 2008, the then Minister with responsibility for policing, the hon. Member for Harrow, East-
Paul Holmes: Sorry. The right hon. Member for Harrow, East said that it was a very good point and that we should look into it. When the same issue was raised last year, the then Policing Minister-now the Minister for Schools and Learners, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker)-said exactly the same thing. I wonder whether the current Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), will now, three years on, not only say that that is a good point and that we should look at it, but exactly what concrete action is being taken to address the matter. Police authorities cannot wait for five or 10 years for Government statistics to catch up. Education and health authorities have the same problem when there are rapid influxes and sometimes egresses of population, particularly of migrant workers, as with the large number of Poles.
"those available to the Secretary of State on 1 October 2007".
It talks about calculating the projected population for 2010 by using figures from the Registrar General that were published on 27 September 2007, whereas for
Welsh authority areas, the projected total resident population has been estimated using Welsh figures. A big argument regarding local authorities and funding is the fact that projections are often based on figures from the previous census, the last of which was nine years ago in 2001. Is appendix A suggesting that the calculations for police grants are made using more up-to-date estimates, calculations or projections? How exactly are those figures arrived at, and are they more up to date than the projections used generally for local authority formulae calculations? If they are better and more up to date, that would be of great interest to old colleagues of mine who get involved in local government funding issues, which tend to be based on census figures.
Let me discuss what is a slightly more parochial issue for me as a Derbyshire MP. We have already had one example about the east midlands receiving, because of formula funding, caps, floors and ceilings, the fourth-lowest level of Government funding for policing out of nine English regions. That is happened because of relatively low Government grants and the below-average base of council tax in relation to income. For example, there is a greater proportion of properties in the lower council tax band in the east midlands, so any council tax precept increase brings in much less than a similar increase in more affluent areas.
In 2006, the Government said yes to the full implementation of the police grant formula in the east midlands. The figures were wrong and the F40 campaign was right after all those years. The formula was reworked, and the new formula, from 2006, said that the east midlands should have had an extra £19 million. Given that the east midlands police authorities collectively say that to meet the policing needs that they and the Government assess are required now, this year, they need an extra £22 million, that £19 million virtually closes the gap.
There is a huge gap between what the police authorities say is required to meet policing needs in relation to risk, what the Government say that they should have in funding and what the Government will give them. In that regard, the Derbyshire force is losing £5 million a year, so, for the Government to say, "Yes, you need this money, but, no, you can't have it," seems outrageous. We have heard some eloquent comments on that issue from a former Policing Minister, the right hon. Member for Harrow, East, but it is a shame that he could not implement those ideas two years ago, when he was in office. Derbyshire's underfunding of £5 million a year is equivalent to 160 officers and more than 200 PCSOs. Derbyshire has the lowest level of PCSO funding per head of population of all forces in the country.
Earlier, the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), who is not in her place any more, said that Derbyshire's police numbers had risen considerably in the time that she had been a Member of Parliament. However, in the five years between September 2004 and September 2009, in an area with one of the lowest numbers of police officers per head of population in the country, the rise in police numbers was exactly 29. That is not a great tribute to the Government's actions in redressing the unfair funding given to Derbyshire compared to similar police authorities.
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