Police Funding

Nick closes a debate on police funding

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I welcome the opportunity to join in this debate, and I welcome the introduction to it by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), and the report that his Committee has just published. I am sorry that he is not here to listen to these final contributions, but I understand why he has had to leave. The Committee's report was very helpful, and we look forward to its further reports.

There have been a number of important and useful contributions to the debate, and I hope to address them during the course of my remarks. I am afraid I did not think that the shadow Minister's response did justice to a number of the serious points that were raised by Labour Members as well as by coalition Members about the importance of police deployment, how savings are to be driven in the police and the value of leadership. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) particularly mentioned the important role that police authorities will have in the next few months in driving value for money and helping police forces deliver leadership.

Let us begin by discussing what we agree about. We all agree about the importance of the police and of valuing them. The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) was absolutely right to take the opportunity, as I always try to do, to thank the police for what they do. I am sure that they are in action once again just outside the House in relation to the protest that is being run again today. Every day, police officers act to keep us safe and many of them take risks in doing so, and we should thank them for their work. They are an immensely important public service.

I apologise to Members of all parties, because I am afraid I will not be able to indicate the provisional grants for individual forces today. We will announce them before Christmas, and there will be the usual parliamentary debate on them next year. As all Members will understand, I cannot therefore comment on individual forces' specific grant issues. I can say that I am paying the closest attention to hon. Members' representations, including those from the west midlands force area. I will continue to do so after the provisional allocations are announced.

The backdrop to the debate is the spending review. Given the contributions of most right hon. and hon. Members, I do not think it appropriate to rehearse at great length why the Government have to take the action we are taking. I would just point out that we believe it necessary to deal with the largest deficit in our peacetime history, and that debt interest payments alone this year, at more than £40 billion, are far greater than the combined spend of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

We announced a reduction in police spending in the review because we believe that dealing with the deficit is essential, and that the police can and must pay their share-

Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): Share?

Nick Herbert: The police must pay their share in reducing the deficit. Contrary to what the Opposition suggest-that a poor deal was secured for the police-the deal was rather better than expected in relation to non-protected Departments.

It is important to point out that the reduction in central Government spending on the police is 20% over four years-that is clear from the settlement-does not mean a 20% reduction in the amount of money that forces will have over the period. That is an immensely important point, but I am not sure that the Opposition have fully grasped it. There is a straightforward reason: forces do not raise all their money from central Government-on average, they raise getting on for a third of their money from central Government, or nearly £1 in every £3-and the money that they raise locally is not being cut.

As has been pointed out, that means that if we assume both the OBR forecast of reasonable rises in the precept based on- [ Interruption. ] The OBR forecast is based on the historic trend and the precept freeze, which the Government are funding next year. That reduces the cut in police force funding over the four-year period to 14% in real terms. The Opposition must explain why they believe that the 12% cut that they concede they would have made to policing, based on HMIC advice, would leave forces strong and secure-I assume that they would not otherwise have proposed that-but that a 14% cut is Armageddon, with all the consequences that the hon. Member for Gedling says will flow?

The difference between a 12% cut in real terms and a 14% cut at the end of the four-year period is £200 million, and the Government are making specific additional proposals, to which my hon. Friends referred, including the review of pay and conditions, which is being set up by Tom Windsor. We also expect the police to take part in the two-year pay freeze, subject to the agreement of the police negotiating board, which will close that £200 million gap. Labour Members simply have not answered the question. Why do they feel able to go around campaigning on, and scaremongering about, the impact of the spending reductions that forces are being asked to make? They are clearly and simply seeking to make political capital out of the situation, yet they would have cut the police budget themselves, in precisely the same order and magnitude as that which the Government have announced-the availability of resources to the police would have been precisely the same. They are perpetrating on the public a great fraud about their position.

Steve McCabe: I do not think that the Minister is deliberately trying to mislead the House, but is it not fair to say that the 12% cut that the former Home Secretary mentioned would be subject to exactly the same precept conditions, so it would have been reduced in the same way as he has reduced his 20% cut to 14%? He has therefore inadvertently misled the House on that point. Of course, he also completely misleads the House in relation to the west midlands-

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Gentleman may disagree with the Minister, but he cannot accuse him of misleading the House because he is using figures that the hon. Gentleman does not agree with.

Steve McCabe: I am happy to apologise. I was suggesting that the Minister was inadvertently misleading the House by quoting figures that do not stand up to scrutiny.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I heard the hon. Gentleman very clearly and he said it twice. I am glad that he has clarified that he believed that it was not deliberate.

Nick Herbert: I repeat that the Opposition proposed cuts of exactly the same magnitude. Indeed, the shadow Chancellor-when he was shadow Home Secretary-told the House on 8 September that as Home Secretary he had set out savings of £1.3 billion over the next four years, or about 12% of the Home Office budget. He also said that the HMIC report confirmed that, with a lot of effort, it would be possible to save 12% without affecting front-line services- [ Interruption. ] Those are not my words: they are the words of the shadow Chancellor.

As I pointed out on Monday, the shadow Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Committee seminar in Cannock on 22 November that this is a tighter environment for police spending and would be under any Government. Let us nail once and for all the idea that the Opposition would not have cut police spending. They would, and they have admitted it. The order of cuts that they would have made in police spending is exactly the same as we are asking the police to make now-

Richard Burden: Will the Minister give way?

Nick Herbert: No, I am going to make some progress if the hon. Gentleman-whom I met this morning-will forgive me.

The hon. Member for Gedling referred to the letter that the Association of Police Authorities sent me asking for a re-profiling of the cuts. I note that it did not ask us to revisit the overall level of the cuts. I am afraid that it is not possible to revisit the spending review. The settlement, which did not presume that the deepest cut would be in the first year- [ Interruption. ] It will not be in the first year. The settlement fully takes into account the savings that we expect to be made as a consequence of the pay freeze that we expect the police to undertake, which the Opposition have unfortunately discounted in all their considerations.

One of the signatories to the letter is Ann Barnes, the independent chairman of Kent police authority, who is also, I believe, a vice-chairman of the Association of Police Authorities. She is no fan of the Government's proposals to introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners. Nor, by the way, is she one of the hon. Gentleman's friends who oppose the policy while secretly planning to run for office. Ann Barnes issued a news release about that letter in which she said-and it is important that hon. Members hear this-

"I do not think police capability in Kent will be compromised. Neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of policing in Kent and despite the reductions, we are confident that people will see little difference in the level of policing delivered locally."

She was very much reflecting the views that have been put sensibly by my hon. Friends-who have been discussing these issues with their chief officers-that, across the country, chief constables are making every effort to protect front-line policing and that some are guaranteeing that they will protect neighbourhood policing. There is an enormous discrepancy between what chief officers are saying about the impact of these spending reductions on service delivery and the Opposition's claims that there will be some catastrophic collapse in policing.

Richard Burden rose-

Nick Herbert: I will make a bit of progress because I am short of time, and then I will give way.

We are confident that these savings can be made because, in part, of the evidence of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, backed up the Audit Commission. HMIC has said that it is possible for forces to make savings of more than £1 billion a year-12% of the annual budget-through things such as improving productivity, cutting costs, sharing services and addressing savings in the back and middle offices of police forces. In addition, further savings can be realised through areas such as better procurement, although some of those savings were included in the HMIC report.

It is significant that the hon. Member for Gedling and the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) never refer to those issues. They never talk about the savings that could be made by forces, and they are simply unwilling to engage in the necessary debate about how to increase and improve deployment, given the fiscal constraints that confront us.

Ed Balls: To avoid any further inadvertent misleading of the House, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm, first, that the HMIC report that refers to 12% deliverable cuts refers to cuts over four years and, secondly, that it refers to cuts in central Government grant? The HMIC report referred to 12% cuts in central Government grant; the Government are proposing a 20% cut in central Government grant. Will he confirm the difference in those figures and that that was what HMIC recommended?

Nick Herbert: I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman understood this. The HMIC report was not referring to grant; it was referring to the savings that can be made by police forces. I strongly advise him to read the report again. It is important to understand the savings that could be made by police forces. Hon. Members could then work together sensibly and constructively, as urged by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East, to support forces in how savings can be delivered.

Police forces and authorities spend about £2.8 billion every year on equipment, goods and services. Ending the practice of procuring things in 43 different ways could drive down the costs of goods, services and equipment by £200 million annually by the end of the spending review period. Furthermore, there is the issue of IT. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman knows how many different IT systems there are across our 43 forces. There are 2,000 different systems and 5,000 staff involved with them. The information systems improvement strategy programme on savings in IT could save another £180 million annually by transforming how police information systems are developed, procured and implemented. We are convinced that further savings could be made.

It is important for hon. Members to reflect on the fact that half of all spend by police forces is on the middle and back office. The people in those offices are not involved directly in crime fighting activity-although they do important things, such as providing direct support for the front line or keeping the organisation running. Not only is half of all spend made in those areas, but a quarter of all police officers-I am talking about sworn officers-are employed there. HMIC believes that significant savings can be made in the middle and back office by better management while, at the same time, protecting the front line.

Richard Burden: The right hon. Gentleman will know that the chief constable in the west midlands is looking at all those kinds of savings and more. However, he will also know that that will not do the job in the west midlands. Why not? That is because of the disproportionate reliance in the west midlands on the central Government grant, which we have urged the Minister to address time and time again. I am pleased that he is listening to us on that. However, I would like an assurance from the Minister today not only that he will listen, but that when he comes back to the House, he will do something about the problem.

Nick Herbert: I cannot pre-announce the grant determination. I met the hon. Gentleman this morning, and I will of course pay attention to the particular circumstances of the west midlands if it is receiving less funding from local government. However, I would also like to draw his attention to what the chief constable of the west midlands has said:

"I remain absolutely confident that we will continue to protect and serve people in the West Midlands in the way they expect."

That is a familiar message, because it is also the one being sent out by chief constables up and down the country, who are rising to the challenge of delivering services.

While the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood is here, I wonder whether he will take this opportunity to apologise for what he said on Monday, when he described the figure of 11% of force strength being visible and available to the public as a "smear" and a "corrupt and erroneous statistic". That was a reference to the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. I find it difficult to believe how the right hon. Gentleman could describe something in such a report as a "corrupt and erroneous statistic" or that Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary was seeking to "smear" police forces.

There is an issue about the visibility and availability of police officers, and we have to address it. The report said that

"general availability, in which we include neighbourhood policing and response, is relatively low. Several factors have combined to produce this 'thin blue line' of which shift patterns, risk management, bureaucracy and specialisation are the most significant"-

bureaucracy being one of the factors that needs to be addressed. The real question for this House is why, at a time when we had achieved record resourcing for policing, a record number of police officers and a record size of the police work force, we had visibility and availability at only about 11% of force strength. I agree with the inspectorate of constabulary that that figure is too low. We need to have a sensible debate about how we can address shift patterns, bureaucracy and the drift of officers into specialist units, so that we can protect that visibility and availability, which all my hon. Friends-indeed, every Member of the House-want to improve.

Ed Balls: I will happily take this opportunity to say that I wrote to Sir Denis O'Connor yesterday on the matter, and I copied the letter to the Policing Minister. In that letter I say that I have not criticised-and will not criticise-the 11% statistic, which was drawn up by HMIC. What I have consistently criticised is the way in which that statistic has been used, in a misleading and smearing way, by Ministers-the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Police Minister-to do down the important work of the police. The Minister says that 11% of the time is spent on visible policing, with the other 89% wasted on bureaucracy. That excludes people working on organised crime, in CID, on domestic violence, or on child abuse. That is the smear.

Also, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I just read out the HMIC report, which says:

"A re-design of the system...has the potential"-

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am sorry to have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that he was making an intervention. I think that he has made his point, and the intervention was getting a little long. It would be very helpful if when putting forcefully the arguments on either side of the House, all Members could avoid casting any aspersions on the correctness of another person's view.

Nick Herbert: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I strongly agree with that. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has been caught out-

Ed Balls indicated dissent.

Nick Herbert: He has been caught out. I note that, in his letter to the chief inspector of constabulary, the right hon. Gentleman did not apologise for describing the chief inspector's report as a "smear" or "corrupt and erroneous", but that is what he said on Monday. I hesitate, after Monday, to advise hon. Members about using their words carefully, but the right hon. Gentleman should learn that he needs to choose his words more carefully when talking about the inspector's report. I am sure that he will do so in future.

It is essential that we address the bureaucracy-

Vernon Coaker: I should like to quote from the HMIC report, because the Minister disputed the 12% figure that I used in relation to central Government funding. The report stated:

"A re-design of the system...has the potential, at best, to save 12% of central government funding, while maintaining police availability. A cut beyond 12% would almost certainly reduce police availability".

The 12% referred to central Government funding, so the Minister was wrong.

Nick Herbert: No, the Audit Commission and HMIC said that the savings that could be made available to police officers were more than £1 billion a year- [ Interruption. ] The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood is in no position to criticise anyone for misquoting people- [ Interruption. ] No, I did not.

The Opposition simply do not focus on the importance of reducing bureaucracy or of changing shift patterns. I want to give two quick examples. The action that we are taking to scrap stop forms and to limit stop and search reporting, with all the unnecessary bureaucracy that that has imposed upon officers, will save 800,000 hours of police time. Yesterday, the Assistant Commissioner of the Met, Ian McPherson, told the Greater London authority in an evidence session at which I was present that changing shift patterns in the Met will effectively increase staffing levels by an equivalent of 20% on Friday and Saturday evenings. There are things that we can do to improve the efficiency and deployment of police officers within the availability of constrained resources. That is why it is so important that we continue to reduce interference from the point of view of central Government, and why we have scrapped the remaining targets and the pledge. It is also why we intend to give more discretion to police forces so that they can make these important management decisions.

I want quickly to comment on what hon. Members have said about the use of the A19 procedure to enforce retirement for officers who have served for more than 30 years. There are only 3,000 officers to whom A19 might apply, out of a total in England and Wales of 143,000. It is not the ideal procedure, which is why we have set up a review of pay and conditions by Tom Winsor, which will report in February. It is important that we address issues such as the number of officers on restricted duties-more than 5,500-and the institutionalisation of overtime, when overtime costs are still in the region of £400 million a year. These are all areas in which considerable savings could be delivered to help to protect front-line policing.

Finally, I want to address the issue of police numbers and crime. I want to put on record what I actually said in the interview on "The World this Weekend", which, by the way, was heavily edited. Nevertheless, as stated in the transcript of the interview that was broadcast, when asked about the link between reducing crime and police numbers, what I actually said was this:

"I don't think that anyone, and no respectable academic would make a simple link between the increase in the numbers of police officers and what has happened to crime. There is no such link."

The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood is not stupid, and he will know that I was quite clearly referring to that simple link. That was my point and I believe it was a correct point-one also made by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw). It was also made by one of the world's greatest crime fighters, Bill Bratton, who was quoted earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley). If hon. Members believe that there is such a simple link, perhaps they can explain why police numbers have increased in Sweden and Spain, but crime has increased, too. Perhaps they can also explain why police numbers in the United States have fallen, yet crime has fallen, too.

It is obvious to anybody who thinks about it that there is not a simple link, and that what we should be concerned about is how officers are deployed, whether they are available and visible to the public and whether they are there on the streets when the public want them. What therefore matters is not the total size of the police work force, but the efficiency and effectiveness of their deployment and how much they are tied up by bureaucracy. That is an issue that the Opposition simply will not address.

Opposition Members talked about the cost of police and crime commissioners. May I point out that the £100 million costing by the hon. Member for Gedling for police and crime commissioners was for a period beyond that covered by the spending review. The annual additional cost of police and commissioners is reflected only in the election cost and there will be no greater cost for the police authorities themselves. The money will not come out of police force budgets. It represents £12.5 million a year on average-less than 0.1% of police spend. Pointing out that an election will cost too much money and should not be held in the first place is not a good argument for any hon. Member to advance against a democratic reform. That is a very weak and poor argument.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) that we are determined to ensure a safe Olympics and that we will make further announcements about the police funding for the Olympics in due course. I would be happy to meet him to discuss any concerns about that.

While Labour Members continue to play politics, continue to criticise cuts, even though they would have made them themselves, and continue to criticise democratic accountability, even though they would have introduced it themselves, Government Members know that we must tackle the deficit. It is in our national interest to do so, not least for the sake of the future funding of police officers generally and of individual officers. We are determined to make the savings by reducing bureaucracy, giving forces more freedom and driving out cost. In so doing, we are sure that we can protect the front line and the visible and available policing that the public value. The public want to know that the police will be there for them, and we are absolutely determined that they will be.

Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54(4)).

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8 December 2010

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