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The hon. Gentleman is quite right that we are not stigmatising the migrant work force, but saying that both ends of the spectrum-from those who perpetrate crime to those who are the victims-put significant extra pressure on police forces. Around half of all the cases processed through the custody block at Thorpe
Wood police station, in the west of Peterborough, involve people whose first language is not English. One can imagine the substantial revenue issues that that raises for Cambridgeshire constabulary. Indeed, the projected cost of translation and interpretation in this financial year is £865,000. The cost of using the interpretation service offered by Language Line Services Ltd runs at approximately £7,300 a month, while 22 per cent. of those using it are Lithuanian, 19 per cent. are Polish and 12 per cent. are Russian, with a significant number-two dozen-of various other languages used.
For that reason alone, Cambridgeshire is deserving of a specific review of its funding, and that is without taking into account the issues of tourism in Cambridge, the organic growth of residential housing in the county and, as touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), Gypsies and Travellers, who have crime-related issues that have had a big impact on the south of the county in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice).
We would not be so concerned about the issue if the crime figures were not so spectacularly out of kilter with the views of the Minister. In the city area of Peterborough, we are more than twice as likely to experience problems of acquisitive crime, as compared with the English average. The rates for robbery, burglary, sexual offences and theft from a vehicle are all twice as high as the average too, while our rate for violence against the person is one third higher. Indeed, some in my constituency have said that over the past year we have witnessed, on the latest figures, an epidemic of acquisitive crime. Burglaries are up by 20 per cent. and robberies are up by 37.5 per cent. since 2008, notwithstanding the excellent work of Cambridgeshire constabulary, in particular through Operation Alert. It might be as well to mention the great work of Chief Superintendent Andy Hebb and his deputy, Superintendent Paul Fullwood, who are trying their best to deal with having very few officers and an increase in crime.
Policing is only part of the issue. We need to look again at sentencing policies, the role of the judiciary and the message that they send out to victims and criminals and those who would be tempted to commit crime. I mentioned in passing last week one of many examples, I am afraid, from Peterborough Crown court: the case of Lee and Carl Edwards, two brothers in my constituency, who were convicted on 135 counts of burglary between them. The judge at the trial, deputy circuit judge John Farnworth, considered it appropriate to jail them for 30 months and 51 weeks. The message that sends to my constituents-decent, hard-working people who get up in the morning, take their children to school, look smart, take pride in themselves, go to work and earn a decent wage-is that the judicial system does not care about them; it looks after people with so-called chaotic lives, at the so-called fringes of society, and it is more interested in them than hard-working people. That has to be a factor not just in the number of police, but in the way in which the judicial system works. The feeling that some people have is that the system works to the advantage of the criminals, not the victims.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con):
To bring my hon. Friend back to the financing debate that we are having
today, does he agree that the problem is that, even when the police catch criminals, they are back out on the street because of the Government's early release scheme? That alone costs forces more money than they have-
May I finish on some of the points made by my hon. Friends? I totally agree with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon. The problem with the mooted 2006 mergers was that they were top-down and forced; there was little public consultation and little opportunity to debate properly the issues surrounding the specific challenges and problems of each force. The then Home Secretary understood that. There is ample evidence that, on payroll, human resources, procurement and premises, local police forces can and will work together. My hon. Friend is right about Devon and Somerset fire service, which is accruing significant savings as a result of that.
There is a huge deficit in accountability because many senior police officers are accountable to no one but the Home Secretary in practice. They must be accountable within strict parameters and a framework that we all buy into and understand and that has legitimacy in the House and beyond to local people, with their local priorities. We should never be in a situation where the operational decisions of the police are in the hands of politicians, who may use them for electoral advantage. I do not agree with that, and that is not the case in most places in the world. However, we need that golden thread between ordinary people on the street and their experience of crime and policing, and the people who make the decisions in central Government and at local level in the constabulary. For that reason, I heartily support the call by hon. Members and hon. Friends for elected police commissioners. That will restore people's faith and trust in the criminal justice system. It will mean that people have a real input into the decisions that are made about their local communities and tackling crime. Most people are law-abiding and decent, but they want fairness, accountability and transparency.
With that, I hope that the Minister specifically addresses the issues that I have raised about the Cambridgeshire constabulary. I pay tribute to all the people who work in the police service in Cambridgeshire, and I hope that we get a better settlement when we have a Conservative Government in the next few weeks.
Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I wish I could tell the Minister that my remarks will be sizeably different in any way from many of those who have spoken before, but they will be similar-except that I shall talk about the needs of Northamptonshire whereas other Members spoke of the needs of their counties.
What strikes me, however, is the degree of cross-party unanimity on the need to reform the formula. We heard a wonderful display of proper contribution to debate
from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who is no longer in his place, about the total lack of ability to understand formula funding and its detail. I hope that the Minister will be able to promise us a total review of funding to ensure that when the new funding formula is introduced, it will be understandable at least to those who have to read these documents and try to make sense of them, but who, as my hon. Friend said, so far fail to do so on every occasion. I do not want to test the Minister on his knowledge of understanding of the formula. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] It would be cruel to do so. There is a real need, however, to create a greater understanding for all of us.
There is also a real need to create fairer formulae. I know that my own county constabulary-as I shall explain in a little more detail later, it has missed out badly as a result of formula funding and experienced considerable difficulties with financing-has worked tremendously hard and wants to communicate that fact to the people it serves. A police survey is currently under way, which simply asks, "I would be prepared to pay more council tax for a higher level of service. Yes or No?" I do not know what the result will be, but it shows that there is real concern about police funding. I know that my county constabulary is most concerned about formula funding.
I welcomed the remarks of the former Policing Minister, the right hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who is no longer in his place. He spoke thoughtfully on the basis of his long experience, but he made the same point that I am making to the Minister at this very moment: the formulae used for funding are so open to total incomprehension that they must be reformed. That from an ex-Minister. I know that the present Minister has a number of very clever civil servants supporting him-they are sitting in this Chamber at this moment-and I hope that they will understand the depth of feeling among us on this issue, because we need everybody to get behind this. If we manage to make the changes we want, it is they who will have to do the work, and I wish them very well.
I have had a number of discussions with my own constabulary, the last this morning, about the particular issues affecting it. The damping arrangements are a particular problem. Damping is supposed to subsidise forces with the least relative need by taking grants from those forces with the greatest relative need in order to ensure that they receive a minimum year-on-year increase rather than a cut. That is my basic understanding of damping as a formula.
Tragically, damping is not working-certainly not in Northamptonshire. My police authority and county constabulary believe that they suffer from a particularly unfair example of formula funding. Northamptonshire police estimate that they will lose £853,000 of formula grant next year as a result of damping. Indeed, they tell me that they have lost £1.844 million of formula grant over the last three years because of this particular process. As the Minister will know, that is a great deal of money to Northamptonshire police. In fact, it equates to 20 extra officers in the county each year.
I have already observed that the east midlands region seems to be particularly damaged by this element of formula funding. It is estimated that over the last three years the region has lost £60 million of formula grant
that it believes should have come its way. As I pointed out in an intervention, that equates to an additional 600 officers each year. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) make the same point earlier.
Northamptonshire county constabulary is particularly bewildered by the results of damping as it affects Northumbria police, who are the biggest gainers in this respect. They receive £36 million of subsidy per annum, which allows the local authority to freeze the council tax. How my own police authority would like to be in the same position, but it is not. It is especially unfair that, owing to the cumulative effect of damping over a number of years, Northamptonshire police are consistently being denied the level of grant that they require according to the needs formula itself. That seems to me like Alice in Wonderland.
If there was ever a need for change, this is it. I should like someone to look in the mirror, decide that change is needed, and tell us that it is going to happen. I hope that the Minister, who has been fair and courteous throughout the debate, will be able to promise to review the formula funding process.
Mr. Binley: Well, he is here now, so he can make the promise now. I would expect a similar promise to be made from my own Front Bench. If the Minister makes that promise today, I shall be able to go back to Northamptonshire and tell the county constabulary, which will be immensely happy. The Minister can see how easy it is to make our policemen happy, and I hope he will try to do that.
There are other reasons why I believe that the funding formula should be changed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking pointed out in his amusing speech, we need only look at the book to see how complicated it is, but no formula is any good if the basic input figures are wrong. This formula uses national statistics, and, unbelievably, the Office for National Statistics concluded that Northampton would experience no population growth between 2000 and 2008.
I am sorry, but Northampton represents part of the Government's major expansion plan. I am sure that the Minister has been to my town and has seen the thousands upon thousands of new houses. I do not know who lives in them. I know some of my constituents but not the whole lot, and many are relative newcomers. Unless people in Northamptonshire are dying at an incredible rate there must have been an increase in population, but those are the figures that were used for the funding formula. No wonder we consider them to be totally discredited.
My good and hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) mentioned immigration. As in Peterborough, so in Northampton. We have seen a massive influx of mostly very good people-mainly from eastern Europe-but some of them are not so good, and they place put a sizeable additional strain on our police force. The formula is not nimble and quick-footed enough to be able to take that increase into account. Therefore, Northamptonshire misses out again, especially bearing in mind that the county town accounts for about a third of our population.
All specific grants, excluding the neighbourhood policing fund, have been frozen for six years. That means there will be a real-terms cut for Northamptonshire police. Indeed, Northamptonshire's capital grant from Government is frozen at £1.379 million. Specific grants are used to fund activities such as rural policing, and rural policing is especially expensive. I know from all my correspondence and conversations with people from the rural area that I myself live in, which is just outside Northampton, how strongly the local rural population feels that it is not getting a good deal from the police service. The people there rarely see a policeman. It is true that Northamptonshire police have tried very hard to lift the profile of policing in rural areas, but the fact of the matter is that the local population still feels it is being hard done by, and I would put money on that also being the case in constituencies across the land with rural areas.
I ask the Minister to look at this issue as a matter of urgency. He has heard that plea from Members on both sides of the House during this debate. I simply ask that when he rises to his feet, he looks at me and smiles sweetly, and says how much he agrees with the hon. Member for Northampton, South and that he will ensure that the change to the formula funding is undertaken and that that will create an easier to understand and fairer situation for constituencies such as mine and counties such as Northamptonshire-and I hope my Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) does the same thing.
Mr. Hanson: With the leave of the House, I would like to respond to the debate. It has been very interesting, and there have been some common themes-and there has also been occasion to smile, just for the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley). The main common theme is a point I mentioned at the beginning of the debate: every Member who has spoken represents an area whose police force has more officers now than 12 years ago. The local force of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) in Cambridgeshire, for instance, has 109 more officers than 13 years ago. The police forces covering the constituencies of every Member who has spoken today also have more resources than in 1997 in real terms, including, dare I say it, my own force in north Wales, which has £45 million more than in 1997 in real terms. Every force of every Member who has spoken today has lower crime rates than in 1997, too. Overall, the rate is 36 per cent. lower than in 1997. Therefore, whatever points Members have made in this debate, the background to it is that we are still working from a very strong base in terms of the resources, crime figures and police numbers in their constituencies.
Under the police settlement for 2010-11, next year there will be about £259 million more for policing across England and Wales than this year. That means that every force of every Member who has spoken in the debate will get a minimum increase of 2.5 per cent. The average increase across the board will be 2.7 per cent., with a high of 3.5 per cent. in the case of Avon and Somerset. That is extra resources at a time of recession with a commitment from Government to meet those resources, and along with that there is falling crime, higher police numbers and more resources in general.
I accept that there are some issues, however. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), my right
hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) and for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), and the hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Malins), for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) and for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) all said that they have concerns about the funding formula. I can also, at last, smile sweetly at the hon. Member for Northampton, South, because he has raised that issue in a way that can only charm me into responding to him in a positive way. I must tell all those Members that we keep the funding formula under review. I recognise that, as the hon. Members for Woking and for Peterborough said, there are pressures from population factors, tourism and a range of other issues; in Wales-in my part of the world-Cardiff city council and the South Wales police force are raising issues relating to sporting events.
We are undertaking a review of the funding formula. It was started in September 2008 and is due to conclude shortly. I would like to announce a public consultation period over the summer of 2010, after-I hope-I have been re-elected to this office in the general election. The points that colleagues have made should be passed on to me and my officials, because we need to examine the issues as part of the public consultation. We have given a commitment to examine the funding formula for the next comprehensive spending review. We did not want to carry out that examination in the middle of the current three-year cycle, because there will be winners and losers in any potential change.
There is a genuine wish-the hon. Member for Northampton, South can take this back to his constituency this weekend-to say that there will be a review and a consultation, that an assessment of the factors mentioned in this debate will be made and that there will be a revised funding formula, in one shape or another, for the next comprehensive spending review. As hon. Members will know, we have removed the ceilings-floors still exist and we intend to remove those. The time frame has not yet been determined, but we will seek to remove them when we can. We need to ensure financial stability.
Mr. Binley: I welcome the Minister's remarks very much, and I believe people in Northamptonshire will too. Will he ensure that when that review is undertaken a relatively extensive consultation on the issue takes place? We need input from as wide an area as possible.
Mr. Hanson: There will be a public consultation, and I hope that it will take place in the summer of 2010. It will be up to whoever forms the Government and whoever the Policing Minister is to take that forward, but there will be a need to examine the funding formula. We anticipate that that will happen and it will involve widespread discussion. We certainly want to look at that positively.
The hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Peterborough made points about population estimates. They are based on the census, but they are projected forward by the Office for National Statistics. The formula does still use the most up-to-date population data possible as part of our assessment for the future. When I see the evidence before me, I can do no other than accept that there are disparities in the funding agreements because of the formula; the range is from 36 per cent. in Northumbria to minus 4 per cent. in Essex, and we are examining those wide variations. But I still contend that the formula
is good for the current cycle in its form, it has delivered more resources and the £259 million that we have put in has been important.
The hon. Members for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and for Bury St. Edmunds raised the valid point about funding post-April 2011. They will both know that I cannot commit on the broadest Home Office funding issues at the moment, because we do not have a CSR. In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I should say that the Chancellor has made a commitment to ensure that forces can maintain their officers numbers, be they police community support officers or full warranted officers. The forces will receive sufficient funding to maintain whatever officer numbers they wish to maintain, based on the current levels for April 2011. The priorities for this Government have been education, health and police numbers. All Departments will face challenges as a result of the funding settlement, but those commitments have been given to date.
It is important-these are my final two points in response to those that were raised-that we get better efficiency from the system. We talked about that this morning in the Home Affairs Select Committee and we have mentioned it in the debate today-it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Chesterfield and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. I refer hon. Members to the high-level working group report that we published yesterday, which aims to get £540 million of efficiencies out of the system within the next three years-I have made a commitment that the police can keep those efficiency savings to put into front-line services. Those efficiencies are being sought through better procurement, for example. I think that it is madness that we have 43 individual forces buying body armour. It is madness that we have 43 forces buying vehicles, having air support, looking at forensics or getting IT. It is not a cut to combine those elements into one contract to get the best value out of the buying power-it is an efficiency that releases money that we can put into other services.
Similarly, the hon. Member for South-West Devon mentioned back-office services. There are co-operations and collaborations that we can do and we have considered mandating some of them to get value out of the system. We can, particularly in smaller forces, get better use of personnel, HR and a range of other matters by having that back-office support without having formal mergers.
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