|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
"We are disappointed that the final year of the three year grant settlement has not been used to move swiftly to full implementation of the new formula grant settlement, introduced five years ago."
"The grant floor continues to peg back the grant increase for Derbyshire Police Authority.
For Derbyshire, this means that the Authority has lost out on funding of...£26 million in the five years since the new formula was introduced. We appreciate that full implementation in one year would have been unduly harsh on authorities that stood to lose grant. Nevertheless, we believe that the three-year settlement provided an ideal opportunity to move to full implementation of the formula, in a phased way that would have enabled those authorities to plan for a reduction in their grant."
Derbyshire is in a bad position that has not really improved. The future for all police authorities is, of course, looking grimmer but I hope that whoever is making these decisions in a few weeks or months will consider regions such as the east midlands and police authorities such as Derbyshire. If cuts have to be made, I hope that they will redress the balance, with areas such as Derbyshire, which is already so far behind, suffering fewer cuts than better funded areas.
It is unacceptable for the Government to say, "Yes, you need £5 million a year more if you are to provide the policing that's needed and, yes, we're going to inspect and judge you as though you'd got that money-but no, you can't have it."
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I am happy to support a fellow east midlands Member of Parliament in asking for more. One of the features of debates like this is that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House press the Police Minister for more resources for their area. In the end, we will all be judged, when we face the electorate, by whether we take the issue of crime seriously and whether we have used the resources that we have been given to deal with the causes of crime, and crime itself, in the five years since the last election.
The Minister is probably fed up with my voice, as he was with the Select Committee on Home Affairs this morning as we concluded our inquiry into crime prevention. The former Prime Minister Tony Blair talked about the Government being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. The Minister came with the very good news that crime has fallen since he has been in his post, and that is obviously something to celebrate. The police budget has increased, as hon. Members on both sides of the House must accept. However, it is important to look at the causes of crime, and we hope to conclude our report on that subject before the general election is called.
I want to apologise to the House for missing the opening statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister, but the wonderful new technology of the BlackBerry, which we have suggested should be given to
every police officer, meant that I was kept informed of everything that he said. I was waiting to see the Prime Minister to discuss the important issue of Yemen, and the Prime Minister's diary and commitments on Northern Ireland meant that the meeting kept getting put back. That is why I missed the start of the debate, for which I am sorry, although I was present to hear the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), talk about the Conservative party's policy in this area.
I thought that we could reach a consensus on police numbers, certainly after the Select Committee decided to conclude its unanimous report on police service strength. I see that two other members of the Committee-my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter)-are in their places. We were being lobbied hard by police authorities and others: some said that they would have to cut numbers, while others said that they were happy with what they had been given. Some authorities said that they had not had enough funding over the past 12 years. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) reminded us that the east midlands had done worse than any other region, and asked us to look at that. We therefore decided to have a dispassionate look at numbers.
We published our report a couple of weeks ago, and the key facts are in it. We found that the Government were right to say that there had been a real-terms increase of 19 per cent. in central funding for the police since 1997-98, and that there had been an increase of 4.8 per cent. in the number of officers, and a rise of 15.5 per cent. in police support staff. However, we found that there was a decline in the number of visible police officers in 13 of the 43 police authorities. Although we can agree that the amount of money being made available has gone up, the worry on both sides of the House has to do with what is going to happen in the future.
I obviously hope that the Labour party will take office after the general election, but it could be the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives. Whichever party it is, though, it will face the difficulty that a declining amount of resources will be dedicated to the police service. One can wait for ages for a Police Minister to come along, but we have heard from two already today. It is possible that there are two future Police Ministers on the Opposition Benches. Because 88 per cent. of the police budget is to do with the work force, I and my Committee believe that every Police Minister will have to face the prospect of financial restraint.
I hope that all hon. Members will read our report, because it suggests alternatives to cutting the budget. We looked at the involvement of the private sector, and we talked about how the public sector could be more efficient. We also raised the issue of voluntary mergers: although we do not say that they should be compulsory, we in the east midlands have already seen collaboration between the forces of Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. That is an option and a scenario that could be pursued.
Mr. Truswell: My right hon. Friend is talking about other ways for police forces and authorities to raise revenue. Did his Committee look at the possibility of giving police authorities greater powers to raise the full cost of policing major events such as music festivals and large sporting fixtures?
Keith Vaz: Yes, we did. Although we did not specify music festivals in particular, that is one of the last recommendations in the report. We said that police authorities, with the assistance of local stakeholders, should be able to raise the money that they need if local people agree that that should happen.
Of course we were worried about the cap, as Leicestershire is one the authorities that is to be capped. I was one of the all-party group of the county's MPs that went to ask Ministers not to cap Leicestershire, on the grounds that the county's police need the resources to deal with the work that has been put before them. We accept that funding has increased, because that is a fact, but Ministers have also posed new challenges to local police forces. The amount of legislation that has emerged from this House and the challenges facing local police officers mean that they have to spend more time doing what the Government ask.
The current Police Minister was not in post when the Labour Government came to power. In fact, I cannot remember who the first one was, but the Government have been elected three times now and there will be things that the police were asked to do in 1997 that they are now being asked not to do any more. That is why we welcome the appointment of Jan Berry. We welcomed her report, but we want it to be implemented. What she says is not that much different from what Sir Ronnie Flanagan said in his report, or from what we said in our report "Policing in the 21st Century"-that is, that there should be less bureaucracy and more technology. We should cut red tape and make sure that police officers are on the front line and that they are visible.
I raised with the Minister the case of Staffordshire, as I always do. I saw very good practice in Staffordshire- 24 pieces of paper reduced to one. I asked the previous Home Secretary whether that could be done all over the country. She said that the Government would look into it. I asked the current Home Secretary and the Police Minister. They said that the Staffordshire experience is being rolled out all over the country. It is a while since I was in government, so I am not quite sure what "rolled out" means. Does it mean that rolling out will take several weeks, months and years, or does it mean a Home Secretary telling police forces, "You will do this. We think this is a good idea because it saves money in Staffordshire, so you will save money in Lincolnshire or in Northamptonshire"?
I know that the last time I raised the matter when the Minister was on the Front Bench he nodded and said that it was being rolled out in Staffordshire, so let us see when he replies how many police authorities have done what Staffordshire has done, rather than waiting for the great roll-out process, which I am sure is happening. It would be helpful for the House to have some facts.
What I say to the Minister is yes, we need to look at innovative ideas. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has, of course, had many debates and discussions with me and with the Committee on these matters, and the shadow Home Secretary gave evidence to the Committee this morning about what the Conservative party would do to try to cut crime in the future. What we say is that it is important that we do not get into a debate about the statistics, but that we look into the effect.
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds agrees that what people want, in the end, is the visibility of police officers. They will accept any
changes in backroom staff, so long as a police officer turns up when they ring and ask for an officer to be present. They will forgive us a great deal if we continue to provide that basic service. If we do, they will understand that there must be changes in the way that the police do their business.
I was as surprised as most when we read in the papers and heard on the radio that the overtime rates have shot up to such an extent that some police officers may be paid-I do not know whether this was mentioned before I came into the Chamber-£100 for answering one phone call on overtime. That is an enormous sum of public money. We do not know how many calls are answered. When I put that to the Minister this morning, he said that the Government needed to be robust in dealing with it. I said that we should have attached strings to the increase in police funding. We should have required police authorities to do more so that such stories did not emerge and so that we did not see a ballooning of overtime payments for the police.
The Government are responsible for making sure that that happens. We cannot wait for local forces to achieve efficiency. There must be some direction from central Government because it is central Government funding. I hope that that will happen in the long run, under whichever Administration take office after the next election. We should be much clearer about how public money should be spent.
We suggested in our last report that we should spend money on new technology. All officers should be given a hand-held device so that they can take statements at the time of an incident. That would save time. They could use that instrument to find out whether a car had been stolen. That would save the time of witnesses and of the police. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that scheme has been rolled out. It is a no-brainer to make sure that our police are provided with sufficient equipment to enable them to do their job as efficiently as possible.
My final point relates to accountability. The Select Committee has not considered the question of elected commissioners or police chiefs at a local level, as opposed to the current system. The Government wanted to ensure that members of the police committee were elected. They then withdrew that proposal. My concern is the way in which the current system is run. We may know, as elected representatives, but the public do not know, precisely who sits on police committees.
In addition to local police forces acquiring greater visibility, police committees need to ensure that they are more visible, so that if people had complaints about policing, they would not necessarily have to make a complaint against the police. They could go to their local police authority member and ask them to take up their complaint. Police authority meetings would not then be seen as private meetings that are held in police headquarters. More information would be provided to the public. Perhaps by means of modern technology, such meetings could be televised by the police and put online so that people had access to what was being decided on their behalf.
I am not sure that that would mean that we do not have elected police chiefs. That is a debate that we need to have. There are no conclusions from the Committee and I have no personal views on the matter, but the
public needs to be much more involved in the process than they can be by attending one or two local neighbourhood meetings. In any popularity contest, the local beat officer is infinitely more important and more popular than any other local official, apart from the local doctor. Of course, we are way down the list because we are elected officials and nobody likes Members of Parliament, do they? Local councillors are probably one rung ahead of us.
That local popularity must be translated into an understanding of how the local police force works. I hope very much that we will engage in a discussion that will allow more information to go to local people, so that they feel better informed and know that their money is well spent. We will never have the opportunity again, in my view, when people will not require value for money from local police forces.
It is a terrible state of affairs that special measures may be introduced for forces such as the Nottinghamshire force. We have had to wait so long for action to be taken. I know that the Minister told us today that these were matters for the inspectorate, but the inspectorate should have acted sooner. Why was it allowed to reach a stage where a police authority with a multimillion pound budget and chief officers who are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds are assisted to do their job? That cannot be right.
There must be a better system of monitoring our local police forces at a local and national level, through the inspectorate. Whether it is through the National Policing Improvement Agency or by Denis O'Connor, someone must do their work better so that council tax payers and citizens, like those of Nottinghamshire, do not have to see their local police force being taken over because it has not been properly run. We want to make sure that that is the only case of its kind, and that we act before we get to that stage.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I hope to say a few words about the county of Surrey, and I very much hope that the Policing Minister will at the end of the debate acknowledge not only that Surrey has a very good police force, but that our county has particular problems. I am quite certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), who will be the next Policing Minister, will take a similar line.
We have a very good police force in Surrey. It is well led by chief constable Mark Rowley, and the British crime survey assessed that it was the absolute top force in the country in terms of public confidence in the police and local councils' joint work to deal with antisocial behaviour. In Surrey, not least because of financial constraints, we are focusing very hard on local expectations rather than on national targets.
We perform well with a low level of funding. So far, so good, but funding has always been a problem for Surrey. I do not expect any Government Front Bencher to talk as positively as I shall about extra funding for Surrey police, but we are in a bad way. A lot of funding comes from a central Government grant, and some comes from the county council precept, but Surrey has historically received one of the lowest per capita levels of central Government funding of any police force in the country. For example, Government funding for
Surrey police in 1996 was £96 per head of population. By 2009-10, it had dropped to £93, which is £57 below the national level. That is not a happy state of affairs, and the formula that the Government use to allocate funding to forces does not reflect the real cost of policing our county.
Mr. Hanson: I am grateful for those figures from the hon. Gentleman, but they do not equate with my understanding, which is that Government grants to Surrey increased by £48.4 million, or 23 per cent. in real terms, between 1997 and 2009-10.
Mr. Malins: That drags us into the issue of the formula, which is mind-bogglingly complicated. I shall address that in a minute. If we work out our population and the application of the formula over those many years, we are left with the figure that I gave the House a moment ago.
Surrey has rather different problems from those of any other county. We are the best away-day county for criminals. I do not say that all criminals come from somewhere other than Surrey, but the M25 has certainly helped them. When my house in Surrey was burgled seven years ago, I was sure that an hour and a half later the burglars were somewhere north of London. I do not know why I think that all burglars come from north, as opposed to south, London. What a bias I show! I do not mean that at all; I withdraw it. However, the reality is that the motorway has helped considerably. Being serious, I think that 50 per cent. of crimes in our county are committed by cross-border criminals from neighbouring areas. That aspect of life in Surrey is not accounted for in the funding formula. We have extra, different problems and responsibilities in Surrey, and they are not reflected in the formula, although I hope that they might be in the future.
At this point, I address my remarks particularly to my hon. Friend on the Opposition Front Bench. The M25, for example, has extra policing requirements, and we also have to help with Gatwick and Heathrow, which are both massive airports. Then there is the odd, one-off case, of which Surrey seems to have rather too many. They are the one-off cases in which there is an extra bill for Surrey council tax payers, who fund the police precept. A typical example was the General Pinochet situation, when we had to look after him in Surrey for years and years but got no extra money for doing so.
There is another little issue, which I discussed with the chief constable not long ago: terrorism. One thinks of Surrey as a county with leafy lanes; one would not somehow associate it with terrorism. But in Surrey there are potential cells-put it that way-of people who do not mean well, and I know that the burden of expense on the police force has been increasing. Trying to explain that Surrey faced extra burdens in that connection, I raised that issue, and some time ago so did my noble Friend Lord Trefgarne. He did so in the other place with the noble Lord West, who answered on behalf of the Government. As I have said, Surrey does very well with a low grant.
It was sad when our policing grant was capped, however. It was a terrible business when the decision was announced. We had a big debate about it in Westminster Hall and I remember that all my Surrey colleagues were there. The decision was made to ask Surrey police to return £1.6 million to the Surrey tax payer at an actual
cost of £1.2 million. It is ludicrous to spend £1.2 million to send back £1.6 million, and it was an indefensible decision. When we set that against the chronic shortfall in central Government funding, in particular, we find that it was a sad state of affairs.
I come now to the funding formula. I am not aware of whether you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have a first-class degree in mathematics-that seems to me entirely possible-and the Minister may well have such a degree. However, I defy any Member of the House to explain, in comprehensible terms, what this formula is. For posterity, I shall quote from a magnificent document called "The Police Grant Report". Wait for it, Madam Deputy Speaker-it is incomprehensible. I have never, in-I was going to say my 64 years of life, but I will say my long life-come across anything that is such gobbledegook: I am flabbergasted by it. This part is one of about 15-it talks about something called top-ups, and is headed "Police Crime Top-Up 1". Here we go; I advise the Minister to make a note:
"2.6482 multiplied by DAYTIME NET INFLOW PER RESIDENT POPULATION; plus
0.2953 multiplied by LOG OF BARS PER 100 HECTARES; plus
16.2210 multiplied by INCOME SUPPORT/INCOME BASED JSA/GUARANTEE ELEMENT OF PENSION CREDIT CLAIMANTS; plus
34.1326 multiplied by SINGLE PARENT HOUSEHOLDS".
Well, it is impossible; I could look at that on an exam paper for a couple of hours and would not have the slightest clue. At the end of the document, under the heading "Scaling Factor"-I did not have a clue what a scaling factor is, and I am still none the wiser-it says:
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|