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It is magnificent.

Mr. Hanson: I can help the hon. Gentleman: the answer at the end is usually "not enough".

Mr. Malins: I am very grateful. The Minister is a very good man for whom I have had the greatest respect over the years, and that respect remains even now.

Surrey is battling on. Something rather innovative is happening in our county, and I wonder whether other police forces are aware of it; I suspect that the Minister will be. Whatever the financial constraints, we are trying to get 200 more visible police officers on the streets. How are we going to do that? Well, there are some very interesting new ideas as regards what is happening in Surrey. There are to be cuts in the number of senior officers, and cuts in bureaucracy. The chief constable, Mark Rowley, is exploring, with local councils, opportunities to locate local policing teams within borough and district council offices to provide a better service to the public in tackling local problems. That approach has been piloted in my own constituency of Woking. I wondered about it to start with, but then I thought after a while that it is not a bad idea. People can pop into the council offices, and the police are there. They sometimes want to have a chat about various issues, and they do not have to go miles from one place to another. Then I thought of one or two clapped-out police stations in Surrey, and realised that it is no bad thing if the police can move around a bit and, in the meantime, save a bit of money that they can use for front-line policing. That approach is working pretty well in Woking; Addlestone
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has also reaped its rewards. Having more accessible places for the public to meet the police is a great idea, and replacing some old and expensive police buildings can help as well.

In my retirement, I plan to spend day after day looking at the police formula and trying to comprehend it. There may come a time when I send a note to my colleagues saying what it really means, but I think that the Minister is absolutely right-it means "We need more money, please." One day, surely, the formula must be revisited a little bit; we should recognise that it can operate somewhat unfairly against an extremely good county such as Surrey.

3.38 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): It is a great pleasure and privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). The House will miss his witty interventions when he retires-ridiculously early, if I may say so-at the next general election.

In this short debate, we are considering the police support grant for 2010-11. However, the elephant in the room is what happens in April 2011 for 2011-12 and onwards.

It is good to see that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, has come back into the Chamber. I know that he is going to stay throughout the entirety of my speech, so he may wish to take his place. I agree with him that much of the evidence that we have heard over recent weeks and months suggests that from April 2011 onwards, there will certainly be a tightening of the position. Many chief constables and police authorities around the country are concerned about that.

It seems to me that whoever wins the election, from April 2011 there will be a tightening of budgets. The key challenge is protecting front-line policing when budgets will be under constant pressure, probably for three to five years. Obviously, that will partly depend on individual police officers being able to improve how they deliver services, through some of the ideas that have come forward this afternoon, and it will partly be about saving costs elsewhere in the system in a way that does not have an impact on front-line policing. I wish to suggest one possible way of doing that, using my own police authority-Devon and Cornwall-as an example.

First, I wish to say that Devon and Cornwall has a good police authority and a good police force, and I pay tribute to all the hard-working police officers in my constituency, whether they are inspectors, sergeants, constables or police community support officers. Day in, day out, they do an excellent job, and all credit to them. I obviously welcome the uplift in the amount of money that Devon and Cornwall will receive over the next 12 months-an additional £5.746 million, making a total grant from the Government of £117 million, which is very welcome. The police authority's total spend in the 12 months to March 2009 was £295 million, which shows that a lot of its income is received apart from Government, but we welcome any increases in Government funding.

As I said, from April 2011 we will struggle to safeguard front-line policing, whoever is in power. How can we do that? I was looking last night, sad person that I am,
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through the Devon and Cornwall police accounts for the year to 31 March 2009. I was interested to note that it cost £1.4 million to run the police authority-not the police force but the bureaucracy and administration necessary to support it. If we are successful in winning the next election-let us face it, it is by no means in the bag and it will be a very close contest-our innovative and radical plan of electing police commissioners will cut most of that cost at a stroke. As a country we are short of radical ideas for police forces, but that would mean that we would not need so much bureaucracy, so that £1.4 million could mainly be diverted towards police officers.

I know that the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall will not thank me for pointing this out, and he is a good chief constable doing a good job, but I was interested to note that he is paid a salary of more than £175,000.

Mr. Malins: Good Lord.

Mr. Streeter: Indeed, and that is much the same as the Prime Minister. I do not know what other Members think, but I find it hard to understand how people in the public sector doing lesser jobs than the Prime Minister can justify salaries of that magnitude. When the Prime Minister goes to bed at night he is concerned about Northern Ireland, the situation in the middle east, Afghanistan and all the pressures that he is under. It is not quite the same to grapple with crime on Union street in Plymouth, serious and important though that is. I am not saying that the chief constable's salary is too much, but I wonder whether many people in my constituency are aware of how much he earns. Perhaps they will be from tomorrow onwards.

There are five police officers in Devon and Cornwall who earn more than £100,000. I did not know that until last night, and I do not think many of my constituents do. In the great wider debate about public sector salaries at senior level, it is important that our constituents have the information on which to make their judgment. I certainly agree with those who say that no one in the public sector should earn more than the Prime Minister in the years ahead.

Devon and Cornwall police authority spends £500,000 a year on press and publicity. Maybe that is money well spent, and perhaps it is a reflection of the world in which we live, but it is still an awful lot of money. It could pay for five senior police officers, I suppose.

The main thrust of my argument-the Minister has heard it before, and I have bored the Home Affairs Committee with it quite a lot in recent weeks and months-is that we can do an awful lot more to ensure that there is co-operation between police forces, up to and including voluntary mergers. When that was being discussed five or six years ago by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), whose views we now agree with daily-he has some great insights into the workings of this Government-I completely opposed the suggestion that Devon and Cornwall police should merge with other authorities. However, as I have said in the Home Affairs Committee and to wider audiences, I was completely wrong on that. The Government were wrong to force such mergers from a top-down position, and we have probably arrived at a much more balanced situation today. Police forces up and down the country are being encouraged-and
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they are doing so voluntarily-to look at the savings that can be made by co-operating or merging with their next-door police force.

As part of the Committee's studies, we interviewed the very impressive Chief Constable Parker of Bedfordshire police. Answering a question from me about the possibility of her force merging with the Hertfordshire police force, she gave me this information:

My maths is not particularly strong, unlike yours, Madam Deputy Speaker, with your first-class degree in the subject, but £14 million savings for £20 million is a pretty good start-it is for only three years.

Chief Constable Parker went on to say:

Whoever wins the next election, that is the sort of challenge that police forces are going to be looking at-that was from the horse's mouth, the chief constable of Bedfordshire. One way we can fill that gap is to encourage police forces to consider voluntary merger.

What kind of savings could be made and on what functions? If Devon and Cornwall police merged with Dorset police, the new force would need only one chief constable-thereby saving a very significant salary-fewer senior officers and only one headquarters. I imagine that one force could get away with far fewer accountants in the police authority and, presumably, one force would need the same number of press and marketing people as two-they would just need to cover a slightly wider territory. Money would be saved on back-office costs, administration, and human resources and personnel. Such savings could add up to many millions of pounds. The Devon and Somerset fire services recently merged. There were quite a few wobbles and concerns about that to begin with, but things settled down extremely well, and it has been able to save significant sums in back-office functions. Police forces could do the same.

One may ask, "What about accountability?" but I would answer, clearly and boldly, that Devon and Cornwall police authority has no real accountability to the people of Devon and Cornwall. I must confess-this is a shocking admission-that I did not know the name of the chair of Devon and Cornwall police authority until I looked it up this morning on the internet. The chair recently changed, so that was not completely hopeless on my part, but I did not know the name and I am supposed to be an informed elected representative of that area. If I asked my constituents how many of them could name the chair of the Devon and Cornwall police authority, I suspect the answer would be three or four. That is the reality: there is no connection between the authority and the people of Devon and Cornwall.

Accountability and connectivity happens at basic command unit level. We have a tremendous relationship with the commander of the Plymouth BCU-local
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Members of Parliament and councillors have regular meetings with him and he is a very impressive officer-and a tremendous relationship at ward level, with inspectors, sergeants and constables on the beat. That is how most communities relate to their police. They relate to their beat constable, and they might go to meetings to which an inspector or sergeant might go. The relationship is not with the police authority or with the headquarters at Middlemoor in Exeter; it is much closer. Therefore, adding Dorset to Devon and Cornwall police, or even going a step further to incorporate Avon and Somerset within the same police area, would not diminish accountability on the ground, because accountability happens in a very different way. It is wrong, of course, to do things just for financial reasons, but I see little or no downside to a bottom-up rationalisation of police forces-not top-down pressure from the Government in which they would define the values of mergers-that could save millions of pounds. Such a rationalisation would help whoever wins the next election to bridge the gap and keep police officers on the front line. I encourage chief constables to speed up discussions with neighbouring authorities and consider voluntary mergers.

My experience in 17 years as a Member of Parliament has been that uniformed services-be they the armed forces, the ambulance service, the fire service or the police force-are slow to change and can be poor at embracing technology. It is not good enough to leave things to them. A little pressure from the Home Office is necessary to encourage police forces to seek the most efficient way to deliver their services.

The police force in Devon and Cornwall spends an awful lot of money every year on policing Travellers. We have an increasing number of intrusions into my constituency, and one reason why they are so expensive to police is the system for dealing with them. In almost every case, the local authority must serve a notice, which means consulting lawyers and putting legal papers in order, and that is expensive. Then the authority must wait for the notice to expire, during which time the police are in attendance in most cases-costing money-but they are not free to act. The legislation needs to be looked at again-

Mr. Binley: Does my hon. Friend agree that, once the process has been completed, the Travellers go on a little circuit, returning in nine months to a year, and the whole process has to be gone through again? In my patch, that has happened for five years in one particular area-it is crazy.

Mr. Streeter: I agree strongly with my hon. Friend, and the House needs to look at this issue again. We need to modernise and streamline the law, because it is an expensive problem that causes great irritation in the local community. At the very least, the police should have the power to move Travellers on without waiting for the local authority process to take place. I do not quite understand why that is not the law, although I am sure that it is for good reasons. The Minister may not want to touch on this when he winds up, as it is slightly outside the scope of this order, but it is a costly business and very frustrating for local councils and our constituents.

My main point is that whoever wins the next election will face tremendous challenges. One way to bridge the gap and ensure that we can support and protect front-line policing is to try to encourage all police forces to consider increased collaboration and voluntary mergers.

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3.53 pm

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): In the middle of the 19th century, Lord Palmerston said:

One could say almost the same thing about the police formula grant. Yesterday was Groundhog Day, and that is what it feels like today for me, because for the past three years I have come to put to Ministers, either in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall, the sui generis situation in Cambridgeshire of consistent underfunding of its constabulary.

I begin by paying warm tribute to all the staff, police officers and police community support officers in Cambridgeshire, especially to the leadership of the chief constable, Julie Spence, who has made a coherent, cogent and strong case for increased funding on the basis of a perfect storm of issues that have affected the Peterborough constituency in Cambridgeshire, alluded to earlier by the Minister and, generously, by the right hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), the former Minister. I speak as someone whose father served in the Metropolitan police for 25 years and whose younger brother is a serving Metropolitan police officer.

I thought that the Minister showed a strange mixture earlier of cocky complacency and rather pugilistic arrogance, which is unusual for him-he is normally pretty emollient and amenable to arguments. We do not see policing in Peterborough through his rose-tinted glasses, and it ill behoves him to lecture and challenge us on our fiscal policies given that his Government have presided over an appalling deterioration of public finances and have been unwilling, or unable, to come forward with a comprehensive spending review for the next period. All the Government's prognostications, pledges and promises are therefore worthless. They certainly care, but they cannot possibly know what situation will prevail beyond 2011.

That pertinent and apposite point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) from the Front Bench. As I made clear earlier, prior to the May 2005 election generous promises were made on the then vogue of having more police community support officers, and a promise was given to deliver 24,000 over the next period of the Labour Government. They were re-elected, but failed, by 8,000 officers, to deliver on that manifesto pledge. So hon. Members will understand if I consider that the Minister might have gilded the lily somewhat in his self-congratulatory speech.

I shall return to the situation in Cambridgeshire. The Minister will know that I secured a debate in Westminster Hall in February 2008 on funding in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, in which I was supported by hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth). We made the case that, in our opinion, Cambridgeshire was a special case. The floors and ceilings system must be looked at again, because although we received a slightly more than average increase this year, cumulatively under the damping mechanism we have lost £2.7 million. Since the mechanism was put in place in the 2004-05 fiscal year, we have cumulatively
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lost £16.5 million, which equates to about 80 additional police officers who could have been recruited to tackle crime in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.

The Minister will know that Cambridgeshire has one of the fastest-growing populations in England and faces specific issues with large-scale EU migration. Close on 20,000 EU migrants-mainly Lithuanians, but also Latvians and Poles-have come to Peterborough in the past six years, and inevitably that has demonstrably put a strain not only on primary education, primary care and housing, but on crime and policing. That is the reasonable and fair point that Mrs. Spence, the chief constable, has consistently put to Ministers over a significant period-but to no end, apparently.

If one takes the census figures as read, including the 2006 mid-year estimates, we remain the sixth lowest funded force per thousand head of population for police officers and the fourth lowest overall for all staff in the whole of England and Wales. Unfortunately, despite the lobbying and myself and others imploring the Government to consider our specific issues, we compare very unfavourably with comparator forces such as Essex, Gloucestershire, Avon and Somerset and Warwickshire.

I want to return to the stresses and strains caused by the ramifications of the free movement directive, which was enacted in May 2004 for EU migrants. I have never said that those people-many of them good, decent, hard-working people-are particularly responsible for any more or less crime than anyone else. That is not the point. The issue is the large numbers. The right hon. Member for Harrow, East made the point that things have moved so quickly that the Office for National Statistics, the Home Office and the Migration Impacts Forum have failed to keep track of the numbers and the pressures that have arisen so quickly, changing the character of whole neighbourhoods and making the challenges so significant for senior and beat police officers.

Paul Holmes: On the hon. Gentleman's point about whether migrant labourers are more likely to be involved in crime, I understand that some recent research has shown that they are more likely to be the victims of crime. That still causes extra costs for the police, because of translation services and all the rest of it, but migrant labourers are more likely to be the victims of crime than the cause.

Mr. Jackson: The hon. Gentleman makes an astute point. The research consultancy Ibex Insight undertook a study called "Policing Peterborough" in 2005, which made that exact point. To give a simple example, where single women who do not earn very much money are living with younger men in houses in multiple occupation, they are, whether we like it or not, likely to be the victims of offences as serious as sexual assault, theft, intimidation and so on. That was one of the findings of that report, which was commissioned, incidentally, by Cambridgeshire constabulary to support its argument on funding.

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