Opposition Day Debate on Police Funding

Nick closes the debate as Minister for Policing on behalf of the Government

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): First, I join other hon. Members including the shadow Police Minister in paying tribute to the police for the job that they do for the whole country in every constituency, particularly at this time when, as the House did earlier, we remember PC Ronan Kerr, who tragically lost his life serving the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

We should always value the work that the police do and remember that they do a difficult and dangerous job, but none of that means that we can avoid the decisions that have been forced upon us by the need to deal with the deficit. My first point to Opposition Members is that they are silent about the savings that can be driven by police forces working together and individually that reach beyond the savings identified in the HMIC report. That report stated that savings of more than £1 billion a year were possible while front-line services were protected. It did not examine the potential savings that could be made through, for instance, police forces working together to procure goods and equipment-some £350 million on top of that figure.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, there are 2,000 different IT systems in our forces, employing 5,000 staff. I welcome the comment of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), that we were right to examine such procurement. He should know, and I know he does, that we have already laid regulations to drive collective procurement by forces to save money.

I repeat for the benefit of the Opposition, who have not heard or understood the point, that those savings are in addition to those identified by the inspectorate, and that they can be made by police forces working more effectively together. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) criticised that approach when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talked about it earlier. Do the Opposition Front Benchers not support that collective approach to procuring goods and equipment, and why did they not take it in their 13 years in government?

Let us examine another matter on which the Opposition are completely silent, which is the proposed savings that we have set out in relation to pay. Any organisation in which three quarters of the costs rest in the pay bill has to look to control that bill when resources are tight. That is the responsible thing to do. That is why we have said that, in common with other public services, we expect the police to be subject to a two-year pay freeze. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) was right that that directly answers the point about the savings that we require forces to make being higher in the first and second years than in the third and the fourth. In those years, we propose that another £350 million should be saved through the pay freeze. Here is a question for the Opposition: do they support that pay freeze? If not, they would put more jobs at risk in policing. They are adopting an irresponsible approach.

What about the Winsor savings? Police officers should know that it is proposed to plough back the majority of the savings that Tom Winsor identified in his report on pay and conditions into new allowances to reward front-line service and specialist skills. We will consider those matters carefully in the recommendations of the Police Negotiating Board. Do the Opposition back those savings, for which police forces have not budgeted at the moment? Do they support those proposals in the Winsor review? Again, we do not know because the Opposition are silent on the matter.

Let me explain for the benefit of the Opposition that the total effect of the savings of more than £500 million, on top of the savings that HMIC identified, add up to 10,000 officers. In opposing the pay reforms, the Opposition put those 10,000 jobs at risk. That is why their position is untenable.

Several hon. Members mentioned the front line. Of course, it includes not only visible policing, but investigative units. However, the Opposition have again completely missed the point. The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) shouts "smoke and mirrors" from a sedentary position, but he uses a fair bit himself when he claims that 5% of officers are in the back office. Does he expect officers to do IT and payroll? Those are back-office functions. The inspectorate says, "Look at the back and middle offices-the support functions-not the front line." How many police officers does the hon. Gentleman think are serving in the back and middle office? The same report tells him-I assume that he has read it. A fifth of officers and PCSOs are in the back and middle office. In case he cannot do the maths, that means that 30,000 police officers are not working on the front line, and we should begin looking for savings in the back and middle office so that we can protect front-line services.

The Opposition mentioned Northumbria police and claimed that there would be an impact on front-line services. Chief Constable Sue Sim said:

      "I am absolutely committed to maintaining frontline policing and the services we offer to our communities."

Every chief constable is saying the same. They are committed to doing everything they can to maintain front-line services.

As the Chief Inspector of Constabulary said, we must consider a total redesign of the way in which policing is delivered in this country. We must look at forces sharing services and collaborating. We must consider radical solutions, which will enable a better service to be delivered. Is the Labour party in favour of police forces outsourcing their services to the private sector? That is another matter on which it is silent. Some forces have contracted our their control rooms and their custody suites. Those are defined as being in the so-called front line. Is the Labour party in favour of those cost-saving measures? There is deafening silence from the Opposition when they are faced with difficult questions about how to drive value for money.

There is silence again about bureaucracy. The Opposition spent 13 years tying up our police officers in red tape. All the shadow Chancellor could say about that when he was shadow Home Secretary is that he did not think it mattered that officers spent more time on paperwork than on patrol. Let me say to the Opposition that the Government think it does matter and we are determined to reduce red tape and improve productivity on the front line because we want police officers to be crime fighters, not form writers.

Let us look at another matter in which the Opposition seem simply uninterested: how resources are deployed. Labour is only ever interested in how much money is spent rather than in how well it is spent. Why, therefore, do Labour Members have not the slightest interest in the fact that officer visibility and availability in the best-performing forces is twice that of the poorest-performing forces within the existing resource? Apparently, they are not interested in that. Government Members have consistently made the point that, even as resources contract and even as forces find savings, they can and should prioritise visible and available policing, and good forces are doing so.

As we have heard from my hon. Friends, Kent is increasing numbers in neighbourhood policing teams, as is Gloucestershire, and Staffordshire is protecting them.

Yvette Cooper: The Minister says that good police forces are doing all the things he wants, but what does he say about the Warwickshire, South Yorkshire and Merseyside police forces, and all forces that are being forced to take police officers off the front line? Does he think that those chief constables are doing a bad job?

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady just does not get it, does she? She does not understand the difference between how much is spent and the service that we get out at the other end, because Labour measures the value of every public service by how much is being spent on it.

Let me tell the right hon. Lady what the South Yorkshire chief constable said in January this year. He said that

      "the reduced level of government funding announced late last year was expected and I'm confident that our service to the public won't necessarily decline over the next two years."

Let us look at the sums. Labour Members always say that there will be 20% cuts in budgets.

Yvette Cooper: Will the Minister give way?

Nick Herbert: I shall make a little more progress, and then give way.

The Labour party says that there will be 20% cuts in budgets-that is the language that Labour Members always use-but there will not be. No force will have a 20% cut in its budget, because forces raise money from their precept. Assuming reasonable rises in precept over the next four years, the cash reduction is 6%. Provided that forces do the right things, that is challenging but nevertheless deliverable.

Yvette Cooper: The Minister again says that some police forces are doing the right thing, and some the wrong thing. He referred to Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes of South Yorkshire police, who said this week:

      "We will be unable to continue to provide the same level of service we do today in such areas like neighbourhood policing"

and diversionary and problem-solving activities. He also said:

      "A reduction in back officer support will put an increased burden on operational officers detracting them from frontline duties."

Is the South Yorkshire chief constable right or wrong?

Nick Herbert: It is the same tired stuff from the shadow Home Secretary, reading out local press cuttings from around the country. She should reflect on the fact that police officer numbers were falling under the previous Government by the time we got to the election. In their last year in office, officer numbers fell in 27 forces across England and Wales-did we hear a squeak from them about that?-and officer numbers fell in 13 police forces in the five years before 2009.

This is what the public need to know about Labour. It would cut police budgets by £1.5 billion-we heard that this evening-and yet Labour Members pretend that that would not mean fewer officers and staff. When asked in the election campaign, Labour refused to guarantee police numbers, yet Labour Members criticise the fall in numbers now. Labour Members say that cuts are too deep and front-loaded, yet they would be cutting £9 for every £10 we will cut next year; they claim that police and crime commissioners would cost too much, but their model would cost more; and they call Opposition debates and run their cynical campaigns, but they-

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36 ).

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5 April 2011

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