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22 Jun 2010 : Column 64WH—continued

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I would like to say something about my recent announcement on the reductions in police funding for 2010-11 before turning to the specifics of Greater Manchester. My announcement on 27 May that we intend to reduce funding for the police service of England and Wales by £135 million may have been expected. Announcing reductions of any sort is not pleasant or easy, particularly when they relate to an important service such as the police service. However, given the size of the overall budget deficit, the police will need to make a fair share of the savings required.

As I said in my written ministerial statement, the Government's priority is to cut the budget deficit and get our economy moving in the right direction. The proposed reductions to police funding are, in fact, spread equally across all forces and no one force will have its funding reduced by more than another-the hon. Gentleman needs to understand that point. That will mean that police forces have less money than they were expecting this year, but forces have already identified savings of £100 million for this year on areas such as better procurement and IT spending. I am quite confident that additional savings can be achieved by driving out wasteful spending, reducing bureaucracy and increasing efficiency in key functions, while leaving the front line of policing strong and secure.

In total, the Home Office has been asked to cut £367 million this year as a contribution towards the £6 billion of savings required. To minimise the impact on the police service, the Home Office has decided to cut a greater-than-proportionate share of its own central budget. In short, the Government intend to reduce police funding by a total of £135 million this year, which will be achieved by a proposed £115 million reduction in rule 2 grant, a £10 million reduction in capital grant and a £10 million reduction in counter-terrorism-specific grants. I should point out that even after those reductions, Government funding to the police service will remain at £9.6 billion in 2010-11, which is still £124 million more than last year.

Assuming that, following the consultation process, the House approves the proposed reductions laid before it on 10 June-there will be further opportunity for debate for hon. Members-Greater Manchester will receive £465.5 million in general grants and around a further £49.4 million in specific grants and capital provision. Again, that will still mean an increase of more than £6.6 million since 2009-10. In fact, between 2005-06 and 2009-10, central Government funding to Greater Manchester increased by £77.5 million, or 15% in real terms.

As I said, the Government have made it clear that tackling the deficit is the most urgent issue facing the country today, and the police need to contribute towards the overall reduction. That applies to every force. The package was the first step but, as I said, the reduction was shared across the service, so that each force will face a cut of 1.46% of its core funding. I think the hon. Gentleman suggested that the cut was 2%, but I should point out that that is incorrect. In fact, the reduction is 1% of the total estimated revenue spending by the force in 2009-10. The reduction itself is £7 million, and we have to see that in the context of total estimated revenue spending by the force of £681 million, £473.8 million of which comes from central Government. In fact, there will be an increase in the amount of central Government grant of 1.4% compared with last year.

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The hon. Gentleman suggested that Greater Manchester was being hit harder than most areas, but in fact every force will see proportionately the same reduction, so it is not true to say that. Of course, if he uses a cash figure, it will be different; the Greater Manchester police force is a big force, and it will experience a bigger reduction in cash terms. But proportionately, it has been hit no harder than any other police force.

Andrew Gwynne: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I suppose that I should also be grateful for the increase that he has managed to magic out of his speech. Of course, that increase is less than the Labour Government gave to Greater Manchester police when they set their budget earlier this year; we are not grateful for a few crumbs. Will he accept that Greater Manchester police have regional responsibilities, and that their resources are often used by other police forces, particularly those in the north-west of England? Sometimes we help out across the Pennines and across the whole of the north of England, too. The impact on forces such as Greater Manchester, which take the lead on issues such as counter-terrorism, is therefore greater than on other forces.

Nick Herbert: Of course, separate funding is made available for counter-terrorism responsibilities in the region, and all those responsibilities on forces are taken into account. I also accept that we are talking about an in-year reduction. The Government are not making any secret of the fact that, in order to pay down the deficit, we needed to find £6 billion-worth of savings. It is necessary for the Home Office and, in turn, the police, who account for well over half of Home Office spending-indeed, they account for half of all law and order spending-to find their fair share of savings.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that we have a sense of proportion on the issue; he used quite strong language when talking about the implications of the cuts. Actually, I do not believe that his view of the implications of the cuts is shared by policing professionals, or those who are responsible for administering the budgets. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I convened a meeting of chief constables; we invited them to come and talk to us about the challenge that they face. They are absolutely realistic about that challenge. The chief constable of Greater Manchester police was at that meeting, and I note that he has said, on the reduction in grant, that the force hopes to get officers on the streets by working more efficiently. I have also met the chairman of the Greater Manchester police authority on a number of occasions over the past few days to discuss wider issues relating to policing and, according to reports, he has insisted that the public would not see the effect of the cuts. He has said:

I believe that the chairman of the Greater Manchester police authority, who I understand is in the same party as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, is adopting a responsible attitude towards the savings that he has to make, and indeed a realistic attitude to the fiscal position that the last Government bequeathed to this Government.

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It is, of course, for chief constables to use their expertise to decide what makes most sense for their force, but I am clear that the saving that we are discussing can be achieved by driving out wasteful spending on support functions, reducing bureaucracy and increasing efficiency in key functions, leaving the front line of policing strong and secure. I expect forces to be held to that, both by police authorities and by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): If police authorities find that their initial assessment is wrong and that they cannot make the required savings, will the Minister look sympathetically if they came forward with their proposals to ensure that officers remain on the beat? Visibility of officers on the beat is the bottom line, is it not?

Nick Herbert: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is very important that police officers remain on the beat; that is what the public wants to see. It is the responsibility of chief constables, as the managers of their forces, to do everything possible to drive out costs, reduce bureaucracy, find the savings within their forces, and find ways to work more efficiently and share services so that they can protect the front line. That was very much the discussion that I had yesterday with chief constables. It is the collective ambition both of the Government and of the police leadership in this country that we should do that. There is also a great realism about the situation in which we find ourselves; to coin a phrase, there is no money. We were faced with having to make savings, and they are, I believe, of a relatively manageable size in the overall scheme of things.

The service is already working towards realising more than £500 million of savings by 2013 and 2014-that work was already in train-of which £100 million will be realised this year. Collaboration, including in the procurement of goods and services and with regard to information technology, will be important in improving both service delivery and value for money. It is vital that we drive down the costs of policing while maintaining the quality of the front-line policing services that the public receive.

Andrew Gwynne: Will the Minister move on to the issues that I raised about specific grants, separate from the police settlement, that impact on police posts, and to the knock-on impact of the tightening of local authority budgets, particularly given the council tax freeze?

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Nick Herbert: On the council tax freeze, I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that that is something that local authorities, including police authorities, can choose to do if they want to participate in the scheme. That is the important thing to understand about it. We hope that council tax payers will be protected in that manner. If the authorities agree to participate, the funding will be available to them to freeze council tax. That is important for local taxpayers who have had to find a great deal more money for council tax over the past few years. As for the specific matters relating to the grant, the easiest thing would be for me to write to him about those.

I do not deny that tough choices have had to be made in trying to reduce the deficit, which is unprecedented in this country's history. The Home Office is playing its part by putting together a total package of cuts that reflects a considered view of where efficiencies can be made. We have sought first to trim as much as possible from the costs of running the Department and its non-departmental public bodies. I walked to the House today to contribute, in a modest manner, towards the share of savings that we as a Department have to make. None the less, we are confident that forces can make this relatively modest level of saving without a reduction in the world-class service that they provide to the public.

Jonathan Reynolds: Will the Minister tell us whether any of the efficiency savings he just mentioned will involve offering early redundancy to some of our most experienced policemen who perform a role on the beat?

Nick Herbert: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election to the House. His contributions are already proving effective. As for the choice of how savings are made, I should say that that is very much a matter for the operational responsibility of chief constables. The Government will not seek to interfere in that. We will seek to support, where we can, the decisions that have to be made, but there will be a fundamental difference between this Government's approach and that of the previous one, in that we will not seek to direct chief constables so extensively. Chiefs must find the savings. It is for them to decide how to manage their work force and to provide the high-quality service that we and the public expect from them. I am confident that we can maintain front-line policing services, visibility and availability to the public.

5 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).

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