Police Grant Report

House of Commons Debate

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Nick Herbert): I beg to move,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2010-11: Amending Report 2010-11 (House of Commons Paper No. 47), which was laid before this House on 10 June, be approved.

The Government's top priority is to reduce the unprecedented budget deficit that this country faces. As a first step towards achieving that aim, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 24 May a £6 billion package of savings across the public sector. The Home Office share of this spending reduction is £367 million. In order to minimise the impact on the police service, the Home Office has cut a greater than proportionate share of its central budget by bearing down significantly on overheads and reducing waste, including cuts to consultancy services, marketing costs and travel. National policing organisations have been required to make significant savings too. For example, the National Policing Improvement Agency will make a saving of £40 million this year, on top of a £73 million saving already planned for this year. That is a greater proportionate cut than we are asking police forces to make.

However, the police account for well over half of Home Office spending, so we cannot make the necessary savings at the centre alone. We need the police to contribute to the drive to efficiency. On 27 May, I announced my intention to reduce this year's core Government funding to the police by a total of £135 million. I propose that this will mostly be achieved by a £115 million reduction in rule 2 grant, for which the Government today seek the House's approval. Those proposed reductions to police funding are fair and reasonable. Every force is treated equally, with a cut equivalent to 1.46% of their core funding from central Government.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab) rose -

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con) rose -

Nick Herbert: I give way first to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.

Keith Vaz: Obviously the Minister regards those reductions as fair and reasonable; others might not regard them in that light. At the end of the day, he must have received some advice from his officials, so will we have fewer police officers on the front line as a result of what the Government propose to do?

Nick Herbert: We do not believe that there need be fewer police officers as a consequence of the savings that we are asking the House to approve today, for the simple reason that, as I said, the savings amount to less than 1.5% of the core funding that forces receive from central Government. Police forces can make those savings and the front line can be protected.

Mr Binley: My right hon. Friend clearly makes the point that there will be equal cuts throughout the country, yet the previous situation meant a massive imbalance thanks to corrupt formula funding and the damping effect, which affects my county of Northamptonshire immensely unfavourably. Will he consider the matter and tell the people of Northamptonshire that he will review formula funding and remove the damping process?

Nick Herbert: I understand my hon. Friend's concern and hear the passion with which he intervenes on me. The purpose of damping was to ensure that no force received less than a minimum increase in funding each year and therefore to provide financial stability, but I appreciate the concerns about the process, not least from forces such as my hon. Friend's in Northamptonshire, which feel that they have lost out by subsidising others. It has been the intention for some time-it was the intention of the previous Government-to remove the damping mechanism, and I shall look again at those issues and the position of individual forces once we know the situation in the spending review, to which I shall come. I shall try to ensure fairness, but I should say to my hon. Friend and to right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House that there is no pot of gold or easy solution to the situation that all forces currently face and will face. Whatever the funding formula and the adjustments, we and every force will all have to make significant savings, and I should not pretend otherwise to my hon. Friend.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in constituencies such as mine, where the police are already having to make efficiencies, these further efficiencies-of £6 million throughout Wales, I think-will inevitably lead to cuts in front-line policing, and that, alongside cuts in education, which will lead to more drug abuse, and cuts in the number of public service workers, which will lead to unemployment, there will be greater pressure on the police and fewer police to sort out that pressure? Will we not see an increase in crime, as we did under the previous Conservative Government?

Nick Herbert: No. I accept no part of what the hon. Gentleman says. We are talking about in-year cuts in relation to police forces of less than 1.5% of their Government funding, and we do not believe that that will mean that police forces have to cut front-line services. We believe that forces can make efficiencies, albeit in in-year services, so we do not believe that it will impact on crime levels. Indeed, I should say that the reason we have to make these savings is this Government's inheritance from the previous Government, which left us with a budget deficit. It is our responsibility to tackle it, and if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have concerns about future police funding levels, they should address them to their right hon. Friends who were in charge of the country's Exchequer and finances, and who supported the misjudgments that have left us all in this position.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Obviously we want an honest debate that is essentially focused on the evidence. Is it therefore noteworthy that on 20 April the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), specifically ruled out guaranteeing that police numbers would stay the same or increase? That is important for Opposition Members to take into account.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend is exactly right. On 20 April, in a "Daily Politics" general election debate, the right hon. Gentleman, now the shadow Home Secretary, was asked in terms whether he could guarantee that police numbers would not fall if Labour formed the next Government. He replied, "No." He could not offer any such guarantee. But more than that, we know that the Labour Government were planning-indeed, we inherited spending plans-to cut departmental budgets by £44 billion a year by 2014-15. That would have been £44 billion of unallocated spending cuts. Where did they think they were going to get that money from? What services were they going to cut? They would not tell us, but the figure implied an average real reduction for unprotected Departments of 20%. Let us be clear: where cuts have to be made to police forces, they are Labour's cuts; they are the cuts that Labour bequeathed to us because of its financial mismanagement.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): What assessment has the right hon. Gentleman made of the increase in costs to the police of having elected police commissioners?

Nick Herbert: We will shortly say more about the policy of directly elected individuals. It was a manifesto commitment that we made, and that reform will be valuable in protecting front-line policing and neighbourhood policing. I shall come on to that shortly, if the right hon. Lady will forgive me.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does the Minister accept that 50% of a police officer's time is actually spent at the police station doing paperwork, and that if we get rid of such paperwork and targets we will get more police out on the street and therefore save the taxpayer money?

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree. There would be little point in recruiting additional police officers-if we had the budget to do so, and we do not-if they did not spend their time out on the beat, delivering the visible and available policing that the public want. One paradox of the past 10 years is that, in spite of a substantial increase in police officer recruitment, the public still feel that the police are not sufficiently visible or available.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): What discussions has the Minister had with Boris Johnson about the impact of these cuts in London? I ask in the context of the Mayor having already decided to cut 455 police officers, and refusing to guarantee the long-term future of safer neighbourhood teams in each London borough.

Nick Herbert: I have discussed these matters with the deputy Mayor who has responsibility for policing. I shall discuss them with the Mayor, and I have had a number of discussions, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. They do not believe that the budget cuts, which the House will vote on today, amounting to-I repeat-less than 1.5% of what the Government provide to forces, require them to reduce the number of officers in the force. However, we will take no lessons about cutting police numbers from Opposition Members, as they clearly would not guarantee force levels and left this Government with the responsibility of managing the public finances properly.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): When my local police make an arrest, it takes them seven hours to complete the paperwork. There are great savings to be made in police time, and some of that work can surely be passed to civilians. There are savings to be made, but we can still keep front-line police on the beat.

Nick Herbert: I agree. Of course there are savings to be made through more efficient working practices. We are determined to try to drive down bureaucracy in order to free up more police time, and there will be better management of police officers' time. For instance, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner pointed out this week that he had increased the availability and visibility of the police by requiring officers to patrol individually rather than in pairs.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman talked about manifesto pledges. What does he say about the manifesto pledge of his coalition partners, who promised us 3,000 extra police?

Nick Herbert: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have a coalition agreement that has superseded manifesto pledges. The truth is that no Government would now be in a position to increase police numbers because of the fiscal inheritance bequeathed to us by Labour.

Several hon. Members rose -

Nick Herbert: I am going to make some more progress, if my hon. Friends and others will forgive me.

I made this announcement at the earliest opportunity to enable forces to plan ways of managing reductions that will not impact on the front line of policing. I am aware that forces will have slightly less money this year than they expected, but this is still £124 million more grant funding than was received last year. Let me repeat: even after this reduction in grant, police forces will still have more cash this year than they did last year, and Government funding for the police in this financial year will be £9.6 billion. To put the grant reduction further in context, it represents, for every force, less than 1% of their expected spend this year.

It is for chief constables to use their expertise to decide what savings make most sense for their force, but I am quite clear that these 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. We expect forces to be held to this by their police authorities and by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, ensuring that they are delivering the most effective service possible.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con) rose -

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con) rose -

Nick Herbert: I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).

Claire Perry: It will not be comfortable to stand up and defend the reduction of almost £1 million in the police grant for Wiltshire. However, we can see that this process offers enormous opportunities to improve efficiency. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees, for example, that police forces waste about £400 million a year by not procuring together. We have 43 police forces which all buy their own uniforms, all in the same shade of blue, thanks to the fact that Labour Members taught them that money was a free commodity. Police forces waste about £17,000 a day on renting cars because they procure them separately. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are enormous efficiency opportunities, the value of which could be about £10 million for each police force in the country?

Nick Herbert rose-

Mr Speaker: Order. Before the Minister responds, may I say, first, that I hope the hon. Lady will now have an opportunity to breathe, which would be a very healthy thing; and secondly, that I encourage Members who intervene to bear in mind that the total duration of the debate is three hours?

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Of course there are greater opportunities for the 43 forces to share services and to procure collectively. I will say more about that later, if she will forgive me.

I promised, perhaps unwisely, to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley.

Philip Davies: I agree with everything that the Minister has said so far: nothing that he is announcing today will in itself cause a problem to the police. My concern is not what he is saying but things said by other Ministers that will drive up pressures on the police. For example, the Secretary of State for Justice has decided not to send persistent offenders to prison but to let them out into the community, and to stop the police using CCTV and DNA to their full capacity. Does my right hon. Friend accept that these things are putting upward pressures on the police that are not consistent with what he is announcing?

Nick Herbert: I knew that it was a mistake to give way to my hon. Friend. He must not inadvertently misrepresent what my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary said about the use of imprisonment. We have said that we must do more to reduce reoffending. Reoffending rates, particularly in relation to short-term prison sentences, are far too high. We must break the cycle of crime. That means doing far more, innovatively, to ensure that offenders can be supervised and supported using "payment by results" models. I am sure that when my hon. Friend investigates that more closely, he will welcome the radicalism in what we are saying.

The Government will play their part in helping to protect the front line by reducing the burden of bureaucracy on forces, which several of my hon. Friends have mentioned. The Home Secretary has already announced that we will scrap the central targets, overt and back-door, that have bedevilled policing, and we are reviewing the nature of force inspection with the same aim. Labour's 10-point policing pledge will go. The previous Government spent £6 million of taxpayers' money on promoting that pledge, including on totally misleading advertisements that claimed that 80% of police time would be spent on the beat-adverts that were censured by the Advertising Standards Authority. We know what that pledge was about-propaganda and spin. That discredited Government have gone, and so has their approach.

In place of the centralised, bureaucratic accountability of the past decade, which undermined professionalism and added cost, we will introduce local democratic accountability. The introduction of directly elected individuals in 2012, together with a new focus on outcomes rather than processes, will not only strengthen the links between the police and public but unshackle police forces from Whitehall's tick-box tyranny. We want the police to be crime fighters, not form writers. We want forces to work for local people, not for Whitehall officials or Westminster politicians.

Geraint Davies: As regards the democratic election of these police officers, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a danger, first, that they will no longer engage with the wider democracy of MPs, Assembly Members, councillors and so on; and secondly, that they will be hijacked by a small group about a niche issue and ignore some of the important things that the police do, such as counter-terrorism?

Nick Herbert: No, I do not believe that either of those two things is a risk. In relation to London, for instance, we now have policing arrangements that Members of Parliament in London find it perfectly possible to engage with, and we have a system whereby those who are responsible for supervising policing still attend to the functions of policing that reach beyond the local. It is perfectly possible to institute a more democratic arrangement that addresses that requirement. The important point is that there is an exchange in this regard. If we want to reduce the amount of central direction on policing and free the police to take more decisions for themselves and to have the ability to manage their forces and address local issues, then the police must answer to someone, and that is why we propose to enhance local accountability.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Unlike the deficit deniers, the Minister has pointed out that there is no golden pot of money. Can he confirm that the previous Government wasted £500 million on the idea of forced police mergers, and that there is a far more efficient way of providing the democratic accountability that our police service needs and directing the money to the front-line policing that we need?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend, who had experience of the problem of force mergers as leader of West Sussex county council, where such a merger was strongly resisted. Huge sums of money were wasted by the previous Government on attempting, and failing, to drive that policy through. That is not a course that this Government will pursue.

Mark Tami rose -

Mr Thomas rose -

Nick Herbert: I am going to make a little more progress.

Of course, the challenge of tackling the deficit does not end this year; as we go forward, it will be vital for the police to deliver better value for money. The Government's spending review will report in October, and we will not know until then what future police funding will look like. However, the Chancellor made it clear that unprotected Departments, including the Home Office, will face spending reductions, implying an average real cut of around 25% over the next four years. Whatever the outcome of the spending review, value for money considerations will become a new imperative for police authorities and forces.

We have been working constructively with the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss how forces can meet the considerable challenge of reducing spending on this scale. Our joint ambition is to do everything possible to protect front-line services. We appreciate the importance of police functions that the public do not always see. Those can still be front-line services, but as I have repeated to chief constables, the people's priority is to maintain visible and available policing, and that is what we must all strive to protect.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): The Northumbria police force is expected to make in-year cuts in the region of £3.5 million this year, which causes great concern to people in my constituency. We all experienced the massive manhunt in Northumberland only last week, which ended on Saturday morning. It has cost Northumbria police something in the region of £3 million, making a double whammy of about £6.5 million. Does the Minister agree that that is unsustainable, and will he review the initial £3.5 million cut?

Nick Herbert: I do not think it would be appropriate to review the spending reduction that we are asking every force to make on an equitable basis, which we announced some weeks ago subject to the approval of the House. However, there are special arrangements that can apply in relation to unforeseen expenditure by police forces. Northumbria police and its authority are well aware of that, and we will happily discuss the matter with them.

The Government's view is that more can be done to achieve greater value for money in policing through national procurement, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes suggested, and through sharing services, outsourcing and working more efficiently. If 43 forces can buy equipment more cheaply together, we can no longer allow anything to stand in the way of that. If tasks can be performed just as well or better by civilian staff, and so reduce costs and release sworn officers for other duties, ideology should not stand in the way. If some forces can use modern systems to improve business processes, so can others, and if some forces can show that collaborating with each other or with other local agencies delivers savings, others can take the same path. We need to see new solutions, innovation and strong local leadership. The first resort must be to drive out cost and the last resort must be reductions in police numbers.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Has the right hon. Gentleman read the White Paper that we produced last December, which appears to be basically what he is reading out to the House today?

Nick Herbert: Yes, I have had the misfortune to read all the previous Government's documents. The problem is that despite the suggestion that greater savings could be achieved, for instance through collaboration, it has not always happened. Today we find ourselves in a different environment in which forces and authorities face a new imperative to find those savings. The Government are willing to ensure that those savings will be made, in return for greater local accountability.

The quid pro quo for returning power and enabling far greater local decision making is that we will be tougher about driving savings through central procurement, and about collaboration between forces where it is clear that there is a policing need-for instance in relation to serious crime that crosses force borders-or that by working together, forces can achieve better value for money. We do not support the compulsory merger of forces, as I reaffirmed to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), but a great deal more can and must be done through enhanced collaboration.

The Government have also already announced a full review of remuneration and conditions of service for police officers and staff. We want to ensure that pay and conditions support the delivery of an excellent service and provide value for money, so that they are right for both those who work in the service and the public. Spending on the work force accounts for about 80% of police expenditure. It is therefore right to examine carefully arrangements such as the use of overtime. We will provide more information about the review, including its timing, shortly, but we will expect it to report by January next year.

Mr Thomas: Will the Minister give way?

Nick Herbert: No, I am going to draw to a conclusion now, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I know that many Members wish to speak.

This Government inherited a £155 million budget deficit, one of the worst in Europe and the largest in our peacetime history. This country cannot sustain a situation in which, without action, in five years' time we will be spending over three times more on debt interest alone than on the entire criminal justice system. Achieving savings will mean driving value for money and delivering more for less. The criminal justice system, including policing, is no more immune from those imperatives than any other public service.

It is our responsibility to tackle the deficit, restore the health of the public finances and ensure that we are able to fund high-quality public services in the years ahead. We have not ducked that responsibility. It means taking tough decisions but the right decisions, and it means showing leadership. Chief constables and police authorities must show leadership, too, in demanding the savings that we can all make. For those reasons, I commend the proposal to the House.


 Nick Herbert: We have had a good debate and a number of points have been made by right hon. and hon. Members, to which I will try to respond as quickly as I can. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) asked for an assessment of police numbers now, and it is true that some forces were freezing recruitment before the general election. He also asked about our stance in relation to the comprehensive spending review, a point that was also made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who suggested that the police budget should have been protected. We will not know the amounts that will be available for policing until the outcome of that spending review, and those are precisely the discussions that we are having within Government at the moment. Again, decisions will be made about the special grants, including those for neighbourhood policing and so on, which we will announce in good time.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), who I am sorry to see is no longer in his place, was concerned about the Pope's visit. I understand that a bid is expected from Warwickshire police, whose region the Pope will visit, and from other forces, such as the West Midlands, and they will be considered under the special grant. The hon. Gentleman complained about policing costs in relation to the Conservative party conference that is due to be held in Birmingham. Considerable economic benefits accrue to places where party conferences are held, in terms of the number of people attending and so on. I understand that West Midlands police have bid for £4.5 million of special grant for the costs incurred in policing the Conservative party conference this year. By comparison, Greater Manchester police have bid for £4.2 million for the cost of policing the Labour party conference in Manchester this year. That is more than the amount awarded to Greater Manchester police in special grant for the costs incurred in policing the Conservative party conference in October the previous year. Labour Members might like to reflect on why in opposition their conference should be more expensive to police than the Conservative party conference was when it was in opposition.

The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) made a forceful speech in which I understood her to propose that there should be compulsory amalgamations of police forces. I know that that is a policy that has long since been abandoned by the official Opposition, having failed to deliver it. I did talk about the importance of serious crime and ensuring collaboration to deal with it.

Caroline Flint rose -

Nick Herbert: If the right hon. Lady will forgive me, I have no time.

Caroline Flint rose -

Nick Herbert: I have very little time, if hon. Members will forgive me. I want to respond to the thoughtful contribution to the Select Committee Chair.

Caroline Flint: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is plenty of time, and as the hon. Gentleman has accused me of suggesting a policy that I did not suggest, I should have the right to intervene.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): That is not a point of order. The debate can continue until 3.47 pm, but it is up to the Minister to decide whether to accept an intervention.

Nick Herbert: I will allow the right hon. Lady to intervene.

Caroline Flint: I thank the Minister. I did not suggest that there should be compulsory amalgamation of police forces. I was pointing out the problems in the current force structure that must be attended to to ensure that we have the best possible capacity to deal with serious and organised crime. That is a debate that we should be having, both in terms of value for money and efficiency.

Nick Herbert: I think that many of us heard the right hon. Lady suggest that there should be forced amalgamations. We will be able to read the record and check. I am happy to have her assurance that she DID not, in which case her position would appear not to differ from that of the Government. I remind her that I talked about being tougher and about achieving savings and collaboration where there was a policing need, for instance, in relation to serious crime. I do not believe she was making points that had not been understood by the Government in relation to the importance of ensuring that policing serious crime is protected.

I listened with interest to the contribution of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. He drew attention to the importance of assessing the effectiveness and performance of the national policing bodies, including the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency, which is under review. We do have concerns about value for money and ensuring that those organisations deliver the necessary outcomes, given the large sums of taxpayers' money that are awarded to them. He was right to draw attention to that.

On the right hon. Gentleman's warnings about relations with the police in the future, I should point out that we are asking police officers, in common with other public sector employees, to make sacrifices. We expect the police service to be subject to the same pay freeze-dependent on proper negotiations with the Police Negotiating Board-as other members of the public sector, and we want to ensure that the police are treated both fairly and equally.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) talked about the importance of special constables, and I could not agree more. In the 1950s, partly as a hangover from the war, there were 67,000 specials; now there are 14,000. Some progress has been made in recent years to recruit more, but there is a huge untapped potential to recruit more policing volunteers, and we should take that seriously, rather than dismissing it, as I thought one Opposition Member intended to do.

In an effective speech about the importance of local policing, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) talked about the faux anger and synthetic outrage that we have seen from Opposition Members. We have seen not only that but exaggerated claims about the impact of the spending cuts that we are now asking the House to approve. I repeat that, for each police force, these cuts represents less than 1.5% of the amount of money that they will receive from central Government, and less than 1% of their total budget this year. I repeat also, whose fault is it? It is the fault of the Opposition, given the economic legacy that they have bequeathed to this country, and it is the responsibility of this Government and our Members to deal with it. We will face up to that responsibility, and I hope that hon. Members will support the motion.

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14 July 2010

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