Police Grant Debate

Nick leads for the Government in a debate on police funding

12.47 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I beg to move,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2012-13 (HC 1797), which was laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.

This Government inherited the largest budget deficit in our peacetime history. The deficit needs to be reduced, which means less spending across the public sector, and the police service must play its part. The reductions we are making in police funding are not through choice; they are a direct response to the situation in which the country was left. On 8 December, I laid before this House a written ministerial statement, which set out the Government's proposed allocations of grants to police authorities and, from this November, police and crime commissioners in England and Wales. Following that, the Government held a public consultation on the proposed allocations, to which we received 21 responses.

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op) rose -

Nick Herbert: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman-at a very early stage.

Mark Hendrick: Will the Minister tell us why the Lancashire constabulary is losing 500 police officers?

Nick Herbert: I will come to all those issues in the course of my remarks. Naturally, I intend to address all these issues.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Nick Herbert: Let me make a little more progress, and I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman later.

Following careful consideration of all those responses, I have decided that force level allocations will remain as announced in my written ministerial statement of 8 December. Each police force in England and Wales will face an equal percentage reduction in core Government funding in 2012-13. I believe that that is the most transparent, straightforward and equitable means of apportioning the funding reductions. It is important to note that the allocations were set out last year and have remained the same.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister is talking about the level of cuts and maintaining the figures as originally set out. Does he accept that although it might not be his choice, it is the Government's choice that the reductions are front-ended, and therefore place an additional burden which is more difficult for police forces to meet?

Nick Herbert: The profile of the reductions for police forces was set by the spending review. There are larger reductions in the first and second years than in the third and fourth years, and that reflects the overall need for the Government to get on top of the deficit and build credibility in this area. The position and allocations I have announced remain the same, so there are no surprises for police forces, which have been working on that basis since the spending review was announced.

John Healey: The Minister talks about choices, but will he talk about consequences? South Yorkshire has been forced to cut more than 100 police officers since the election and will have to cut another 300. Will he rethink these Government funding cuts for the police instead of stripping us in south Yorkshire of the police we need?

Nick Herbert: I will come to the issue of police numbers, although the previous Home Secretary in the Government whom the right hon. Gentleman supported said just before the election that he could not guarantee the number of police officers. One of the points I will be making today is that the Opposition are committed to reductions in spending that mean they too would produce a situation in which police forces were losing officers-the question is how forces adapt to that. Anyway, I do not think we should just play the straightforward numbers game.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Does the Minister share my confusion about the fact that when police numbers in my police force in Humberside were cut by 137 in 2009 under the Labour Government, not a single Labour politician, local council or local MP criticised those cuts? Instead, they defended them, saying, "It's not about numbers; it's about what you do with your police officers." Does my right hon. Friend think that is a bit weird?

Nick Herbert: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is certainly true that we do not hear much of that from the Labour party now. Some 27 police forces were reducing police numbers at the time of the last election, but that is not frequently admitted by the Opposition.

One-off funding will additionally be provided to the Mayor's office for policing and crime in 2012 from outside the police spending review settlement. That payment will help to maintain the operational capabilities of the Metropolitan police while they are policing the Olympics, the Paralympics, WorldPride and Her Majesty's diamond jubilee celebrations. It will help to maintain resilience during this unique period and, crucially, it comes on top of the police spending review settlement, which means that no police force will see its funding reduced as a result.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): If I heard the Minister correctly a few moments ago, he said that the cuts, while regrettable, were equitable. May I ask him to address an issue that we from the west midlands and some cities have been saying for some time? For forces that are more dependent on grant, the cuts are much greater and deeper than for other forces. Why is it that the West Midlands force is suffering a reduction of 7.3% while Surrey has an increase of 3.8%? Is that his definition of us all being in it together?

Nick Herbert: There is an equal share in the reduction in central Government funding, and the decision that confronted the Government, which we have discussed in the House before, was whether to adjust that reduction for the contribution that is made by the local taxpayer. I understand why the hon. Gentleman wants to make this point as a west midlands Member of Parliament, but had we followed his advice and given a smaller reduction to his force because it raises less money from the local taxpayer, we would have penalised the forces that raise more from the local taxpayer. Why should forces that have over the years increased the amount of local funding they receive be penalised more and why should their taxpayers be penalised more? Furthermore, police forces were expecting an even share of the reduction. For all those reasons, we thought that the proper and fairest course was to give an even reduction across the forces. The hon. Gentleman might not like that explanation, but it is a credible and proper response to the situation in which we found ourselves.

I appreciate that there are differences of opinion about the use of damping and I understand why some forces wish to see it phased out while others welcome its retention. I know that many police forces and authorities are keen to have more clarity about the damping arrangements for the last two years of this spending review period, and I want to reassure the House that I intend to consider this issue very carefully and will take into account the wide range of views before making a final decision later this year.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The Minister has repeatedly said that the front line does not have to be affected, but does he accept that the evidence is clear that it is being affected and that front-line officers are going each day?

Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman is making the mistake that I think is the mistake of the Labour party of equating the quality of the front-line service purely with numbers. I shall address precisely this issue later, and if he feels that I have not done that I will be happy for him to intervene on me again.

On capital funding, I have carefully considered the consultation responses and have decided to top-slice the Home Office police capital allocation to support the establishment of the National Police Air Service. That service will give all forces access to helicopter support 24 hours a day, 365 days year, in contrast with the current system in which some force's helicopters are grounded for days at a time while being repaired. It will mean that 97% of the population of England and Wales will remain within 20 minutes' flying time, and it will save the police service £15 million a year when fully operational.

The plan for the National Police Air Service has been led by Chief Constable Alex Marshall and has the full support of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the police service's operational leaders and the vast majority of police authorities. The funding proposal I have set out is the right way to ensure that this key national service is established on a sound basis. Each force will face an equal percentage reduction in the previously indicated level of capital grant; this is the most transparent and equitable means of providing for the capital requirements of what will be a national service. All forces will benefit from the savings.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome what the Minister has done on the helicopter issue, especially in using the powers to mandate South Yorkshire, but what about unexpected events? Last Saturday, the English Defence League marched through the middle of Leicester at a cost to the police authority of £800,000. Where does it get that money from at a time when budgets are very tight? It cannot prevent people from marching unless there are reasons to do so, but that puts it under huge pressure.

Nick Herbert: First, I note the right hon. Gentleman's support for the National Police Air Service, which is important given his position as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. This move is a significant step forward and shows that police forces can collaborate to improve the quality of service and reduce cost. On events that occur in police force areas and incur particular costs, there are established procedures under which police forces can apply to the Home Office for special grant. Forces and authorities are aware of the criteria for such grants and we will always consider such applications very carefully.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): In Greater Manchester, we were genuinely grateful for the moneys that flowed from the Home Office as a consequence of the riots. However, will the Minister address this point about the front line? During the riots, the Home Secretary ordered that all leave be cancelled, and the thin blue line was very stretched. Can the Minister honestly say that with the current cutbacks, if there were large-scale disorder such as that last August, which nobody wants to see, the police service could cope, even with the cuts that are still coming?

Nick Herbert: I am absolutely confident that the police service could cope in those circumstances. In such situations, police forces will always rely on additional support from other services and will take special measures, such as the cancellation of leave, to maximise the resources available to them. The hon. Gentleman will have noted that the inspectorate of constabulary report on this issue did not suggest that the reduction in police spending and numbers was going to leave police forces more vulnerable in that regard. It talked about the importance of more effective and rapid deployment, and those are the issues on which we should focus.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): The Minister said that he did not think there was any need to lose front-line police officers, and quoted the inspectorate in that context. Has the inspectorate not said that up to 10,000 police on the beat will be lost because of his cuts?

Nick Herbert: I shall deal with precisely what the inspectorate said in a minute.

Funding for counter-terrorism policing has been prioritised in the police funding settlement to ensure that the police have the necessary resources to respond to the demands posed by the continuing terrorist threat. We have allocated £564 million to counter-terrorism for 2012-13, and that follows a considerable increase over previous years. Forces will receive their allocations shortly. Delivering a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic games is a priority for the Government, and preparations remain on track. As we indicated last year, the Government are confident that the Olympic policing and wider security programme can be delivered in full for £475 million, although £600 million remains available if required.

We have set aside sufficient funding for the election this November of police and crime commissioners, who will ensure that the police become fully accountable and responsive to the demands of their local areas. That funding is additional money, which will not come from the police settlement. [Interruption.] As hon. Members seek to interrupt me from a sedentary position, let me observe that it is very gratifying to note the number of putative police and crime commissioners on the Opposition Benches. Indeed, more and more Labour Members of Parliament are jumping from the sinking ship every day in the hope of seeking refuge in elected local office.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) rose-

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady will soon be on her own.

Yvette Cooper: Given that the Minister is so isolated as he sits there on the Government Front Bench, I think that he may want to reconsider that remark. Will he tell the House how many constables could have been paid for with the money that is to be spent on police and crime commissioners?

Nick Herbert: I have said on a number of occasions that we do not expect the running costs of police and crime commissioners to be more than those of police authorities. The only additional cost will be the cost of elections, which will represent 0.1% of annual police spend. Having got itself into the position of opposing this democratic reform over the last 18 months, the Labour party is now putting up candidates, and some would-be candidates are on the Benches behind the right hon. Lady. I think that she needs to catch up: she cannot go on criticising this policy while at the same time fielding candidates.

I believe that the challenge of maintaining and improving policing as budgets fall is manageable, provided that forces do not treat this as "business as usual". Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has set out how forces can save over £1 billion a year if those that spend more than others reduce their costs just to the average. The savings identified were in such areas as legal services, estates-buildings, maintenance and services-criminal justice and custody, training, control rooms, business support, investigations, community safety and community relations. However, it is important to appreciate that the Government and forces are identifying savings well beyond the scope of HMIC's report.

Pay accounts for the bulk of total police spending, which amounted to about £11 billion last year, so there is no doubt that pay reform and restraint must form part of the police savings package. That is why we have asked the police-along with the rest of the public sector-to accept a two-year pay freeze, which could save them at least £350 million a year. I note that the official Opposition now support that pay freeze. The first part of the Winsor review also made a number of recommendations, and the House will be aware of the Home Secretary's recent announcement that the Government will approve the recommendations of the police arbitration tribunal. I note that the official Opposition also urged the Government to implement the tribunal's findings. Once they have been fully implemented, those changes will save forces about £150 million a year.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I am listening with great interest to what the Minister has to say. He said that he did not believe that front-line policing was just about police numbers, but we believe that the front line will be badly affected by the cuts that he is making, especially in such places as Halton in Cheshire. Can he give a guarantee that the front-line response to incidents will not deteriorate over the period of this Parliament?

Nick Herbert: I believe that chief constables-including, notably, the chief constable of Cheshire-are committed to maintaining the quality of their front-line service, and to finding new ways of delivering that service, in the light of the reduced resource that they confront.

The police do important, often difficult and sometimes dangerous work, and we should continue to value police officers and staff. I appreciate that changes to pay and pensions are difficult for them, but reform is necessary. The changes in police pay will not reduce basic pay, and, crucially, will help to protect police jobs, keep officers on the streets, and fight crime. Together, the changes in pay and conditions will save half a billion pounds a year on top of HMIC's savings.

The second way in which savings beyond those identified by HMIC can be achieved is through forces working together, harnessing their collective buying power and rationalising where duplication is wasteful and inefficient. The 43 forces of England and Wales have between them 2,000 different IT systems and 300 data centres, and employ 5,000 staff, yet-as officers frequently tell me-the IT systems in forces are still not good enough. We are therefore enabling forces to introduce better, more cost- effective IT arrangements, for instance through the proposed new ICT company.

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): In the context of smarter and better procurement, can the Minister give us an update on the HMIC figure, which suggested that if all the 43 forces were as efficient procurers as the most efficient, £1.5 billion a year could be saved?

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend has made a good point. HMIC savings were predicated on forces becoming as efficient as the average. One of the points that the Government have been making is that there is no reason why we should not raise force performance to the level of the best. That is not some arbitrary target; we know that some forces are already achieving greater efficiency. We believe that there is a potential for at least £180 million of savings per annum through ICT. Forces have already made substantial savings. Police spend was some £73 million lower last year than in 2009-10, and there are opportunities for forces to go further. We are using the national buying power of the police service-indeed, the whole public sector-to do things better and more cheaply. We are requiring the police to procure more and more equipment together. Those changes alone could save a further £200 million per annum by 2014-15.

Yvette Cooper rose-

Nick Herbert: I will of course give way to the shadow Home Secretary, but I wonder whether she will confirm in her intervention that she supports the savings that we seek to make through collective procurement and better IT.

Yvette Cooper: We do think it right to make savings from procurement, but will the Minister explain why, if all these things are happening, 16,000 police officers are still being lost? Will he also confirm that 4,000 officers have already gone from the front line alone since the election?

Nick Herbert: All these changes mean that there will be a smaller work force. The Government have always accepted that. Some £2 billion a year needs to be saved, and most of the spending is on personnel, although a significant proportion is not. The savings that I have described can be achieved through more efficient working and, in many cases, fewer personnel. The question is, what will be the impact on the service and the performance of the forces? That is what the right hon. Lady simply will not focus on.

Several hon. Members rose -

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

Keith Vaz: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me for the second time. Has he seen the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee by Dame Helen Ghosh? We were pushing the recommendation that we had made in a previous report that there should be a catalogue-Dame Helen kept referring to it as an Argos catalogue, but something more up-market would be more appropriate-[Interruption.] I will not refer to John Lewis, for obvious reasons. The catalogue in question, which would be approved by the Home Office, would ensure that police forces did not procure separately, but obtained the best possible national deal.

Nick Herbert: I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that that is effectively what we are doing. We are passing new regulations-we have just introduced the latest raft-which require forces to buy certain goods and items of equipment together. The savings that they are making are accumulating, and, as I have said, will eventually reach £200 million a year. I shall be happy to provide the Home Affairs Committee with an update on that, because I think it is a good story which shows that forces can make savings by working more effectively together. I note that the Opposition have conceded that savings can be made in that area. Those savings, too, are in addition to the savings identified by HMIC.

The third way in which the police can find savings beyond those originally identified by HMIC is through transformation of the way forces work. HMIC said that savings of £1 billion a year could be found if the high-spending forces simply reduced their costs in a range of functions to the average of that spent by a similar force. However, if all forces achieved the efficiency levels of the best forces nationally, that would save a further £350 million a year. Why should not all forces be as efficient as the best?

Outsourcing can also play a major role in effecting this transformation. The Government have been supporting Surrey and West Midlands forces and authorities in a joint programme exploring the value of business partnering. Broad areas of service can be covered, including a range of activities in, or supporting, front-line policing such as dealing with incidents, supporting victims, protecting individuals at risk and providing specialist services. This is not about traditional outsourcing; rather, it is about building a new strategic relationship between forces and the private sector. By harnessing private-sector innovation, specialist skills and economies of scale, forces can transform the way they deliver services and improve outcomes for the public. Every police authority in England and Wales bar one could join in, should they choose to do so. Under its own steam, Lincolnshire is about to sign a £200 million contract over 10 years with G4S. That contract for support services is available to the other forces named on the procurement notice.

These are highly significant developments that open up the possibility of new savings across policing. The published potential value of the Surrey and West Midlands contract is between £300 million and £3.5 billion. I look forward to hearing whether the Opposition believe that such business partnering is the right way forward for policing.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): May I take the Minister back to my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary's point that HMIC has calculated that police numbers will fall by 16,000? Has the Home Office estimated how many of the posts that will be lost will be from the back office, because we know that 4,000 jobs have been lost from the front line in the first year of the Minister's cuts alone?

Nick Herbert: The HMIC report said there had been a 2% reduction in the number of front-line officers. Judging by the hon. Gentleman's face, he has not read that report, and I suggest he does so.

Taken together, these reforms will result in far in excess of a 12% real-terms reduction in central Government funding. They will save over £2 billion a year. In fact, they will save more than the reduction in central Government grant of 20% in real terms. Let me repeat the following, therefore: the savings identified by HMIC are over £1 billion; the savings from pay are £0.5 billion; the savings from collective procurement and IT are £380 million; and the savings from bringing every force's performance up to the level of the best are £350 million. The total savings, therefore, amount to over £2.3 billion, exceeding the reductions in police funding while protecting front-line services.

Yvette Cooper: According to the Minister, everything is hunky-dory, because if his figures are to believed there will be no negative impact on services. Why, therefore, has the Lancashire chief constable now had to decide that his force will have to change its response times? He has said:

"If someone is absolutely insistent that they need to see an officer, they'll see an officer. But...it might be that we negotiate either a delay or no deployment at all."

That is clearly an example of an impact on front-line policing, and the service provided to people who live in Lancashire, as a result of the scale of the Government's cuts.

Nick Herbert: I very much doubt that the chief constable of Lancashire police-who is one of the best chief constables in the country, and who heads a high-performing force-would accept the right hon. Lady's characterisation of his decision. Her entire contention is that front-line services are bound to be damaged simply because police numbers are falling. That is the equation that Labour always makes, but the fact is that the latest official figures show recorded crime falling, and according to the British crime survey the crime level is stable. There are areas of concern, and chief constables are fully aware of that. We all need to work hard to stay on top of crime. However, the Opposition cannot claim that overall crime is rising, or that falling police numbers are causing crime to rise. They cannot claim that because it is not true.

In any case, Labour cannot attack falling police numbers as a result of these savings when it is committed to the same savings. The shadow Home Secretary backs over £1 billion-worth of savings as recommended by HMIC, but the shadow police Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), has told this House that when he was in office he planned to save

"£500 million to £600 million from overtime and shift patterns".-[Official Report, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 722.]

That is far more than the HMIC's £90 million of savings from better management of staffing rotas and overtime. Further, 12 days ago the shadow Home Secretary finally admitted that Labour backed the pay freeze for police officers and staff that is worth £350 million, and she said that that was not just for the next year but for future years as well. To be added to the £1.2 billion of savings recommended by HMIC, the savings from overtime and the pay freeze are the £150 million of savings recommended by the police arbitration tribunal and endorsed by the Labour party. In total, therefore, Labour has backed more than £2 billion-worth of cuts to police funding. Let me say this plainly: the Opposition cannot attack the cuts when they back cuts on the same scale. They cannot go around criticising falling officer and staff numbers when their savings would result in a smaller work force, too.

Yvette Cooper rose-

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab) rose-

Nick Herbert: I give way to the shadow Home Secretary.

Yvette Cooper: The Minister can put up all the smokescreens he wants, but he knows that we will back a 12% reduction in the policing budgets over the course of the Parliament, not the 20% cut that he wants. Will he confirm that his 20% cuts are leading to 16,000 police officers being lost, and that HMIC took into account his pay freeze and all the savings that he has outlined when it projected that 16,000 police officer posts will be lost? Will he now ditch his 20% plan, change instead to our 12% plan, and save those 16,000 police officer posts?

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady has been caught out. The fact is that the HMIC savings did not include the pay freeze or the savings from collective procurement, which just a few minutes ago she said could be made. [Interruption.] Two weeks ago, she was forced to admit that she backed that pay freeze. Her colleague the shadow police Minister tried to disagree with that, but she has confirmed that she backs the pay freeze. Those savings are in addition to the £1 billion. [Interruption.] They are in addition to the 12%. [Interruption.] It is no use the right hon. Lady just hectoring. If she pays attention for a second, she will learn that these pay restraint savings are on top of the HMIC savings. That is the whole point. The Opposition are attacking the cuts while backing the same scale of cuts themselves; it is just that they will not admit that to police officers or the public.

Yvette Cooper: Does the Minister agree that if he shifted from 20% to 12%, he could save thousands of police officer jobs across the country and improve front-line services? If he does agree with that, why will he not switch to the far more sensible 12%?

Nick Herbert: If the right hon. Lady agreed with that herself, why does she remain committed to these 20% cuts? That is what she is committed to: the HMIC savings plus the pay savings, the procurement savings, and the savings her shadow police Minister has identified through overtime. All of that adds up to far more than 12%. [Interruption.] She is shaking her head in denial, but that is the truth of the matter. The Opposition are pretending that they are not committed to the same level of cuts, but when pushed, they have to admit that they are. Police officers will know it, and the public will know it. The Opposition cannot credibly campaign against cuts when they remain committed to these levels of reductions in spending themselves.

Mr Ruffley: According to the House of Commons Library, if we take the spending review presumption that police authorities will choose to increase the precept at the level forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, there will not be a 20% reduction by 2015; instead, there will be only a 14% reduction in real terms.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend is, of course, right. If forces choose to increase the precept, under the OBR expectation, the reduction would be less than 20%. Even if all forces froze the precept for the next three years, the reductions in police force budgets would be less than 20%. There is not a single force in the country that is facing a 20% reduction in budget. This is another way in which the Opposition either fail to understand what is going on or seek to present a different picture to the public.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): A few minutes ago, the Minister said that the crime figures were not rising, but in York they are. According to an answer from his junior Minister, the figure for York in the last year of the previous Labour Government was 14,480; it rose in the first year of the Conservative Government to 15,199. What, therefore, is the Minister's strategy in areas such as mine, where he is cutting £5 million from our local police force budget, even though we need additional resources to counter the increase in crime since the Conservatives came to power?

Nick Herbert: I did say that there were areas of concern that forces would have to attend to. Overall, the figures were clear that recorded crime is down. If other forces are working within the available resources, why does the hon. Gentleman assume that the solution is to increase resourcing in his area? Perhaps the solution is better policing, better partnership and a focus on driving down crime in those areas. The question he must ask is: if other forces and areas are doing it and have had the same level of funding reductions, why cannot his? Labour Members instantly assume that there is a need to increase spending, and it is precisely that attitude that got the country into this mess in the first place. They simply will not focus on how money is spent-only on the call for more money to be spent.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The Minister is being incredibly generous; he has given way many times, and it is appreciated. By their very nature, police community support officers provide front-line policing and support functions to the police. What is his estimate of the reduction in the number of PCSOs? They have been incredibly popular in the West Mercia area, yet the HMIC report says that we might lose up to 90. Does the Minister think that will happen?

Nick Herbert: The Government and I are strong supporters of PCSOs, and as I will mention in a minute, we continue to provide a substantial sum of money through the neighbourhood policing fund. In future, police and crime commissioners will decide how they wish to deploy that money, which will be rolled into the police main grant. I hope they will pay attention to views such as the hon. Gentleman expressed about the importance of PCSOs in providing a visible face of policing in neighbourhoods, and in offering that reassurance. They are a valuable addition to the police work force.

Therefore, although the Opposition do not want to admit it, there is agreement about the need for savings in the police budget, and it is about time we all started to focus on how money is spent. Of course, visibility and availability of police officers matters, but that is affected by how officers are deployed, shift patterns and bureaucracy. If officers waste time filling in forms or doing a task which could be done more efficiently, they are kept from front-line duties. That is why we have announced a package of measures that will cut police bureaucracy and save up to 3.3 million police hours a year-the equivalent of putting more than 1,500 police officers back on the streets. That is why we are piloting live links technology, so that police officers can give evidence from their stations rather than wasting their time hanging around in court.

However, police forces themselves can make the changes to improve front-line services within the available resources. HMIC's report "Demanding Times" was clear about the need to match resources better with demand. It found that, on average, police forces had more officers visible and available on a Monday morning than on a Friday night, and the best forces had twice the visibility and availability of those at the bottom of the table. By changing shift patterns, targeting resources better, reducing time-wasting bureaucracy and using initiatives such as "hot-spots" or problem-oriented policing, forces can not only continue to deliver within reduced budgets, but continue to cut crime.

Julie Hilling rose -

Mr Watts rose-

Nick Herbert: The evidence from HMIC also showed that a third of the police work force, including some 25,000 police officers and PCSOs-a quarter of all police officers, in fact-were employed in the back and middle offices. There is plenty of scope to make savings while protecting the front line, even if the overall number of officers has to fall, and this is what is happening. HMIC's most recent data show that the proportion of the policing work force in the front line is expected to rise over the spending review period. The Government's commitment to helping to protect visible policing is clear, not least in the neighbourhood policing fund, through which we are making £338 million available to ensure that forces can continue to provide a dedicated, consistent and visible presence in their communities through PCSOs. Crucially, maintaining the fund in 2012-13 will ensure that police and crime commissioners inherit a fully functioning neighbourhood policing framework in November. From that time, the decisions about such resourcing will be for them.

I now give way to the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), who has been patient.

Julie Hilling: I thank the Minister for giving way. I have been listening very carefully and I am somewhat confused. My understanding was that the Government were saying there would be no cuts to front-line services, but he seems to be acknowledging that there may be a cut to PCSO and officer numbers. My officers tell me that it now takes them much longer to deal with any case that they have to attend, because they cannot then get through to report it. Each case should take 10 minutes to report, but it is actually taking an hour because of the cuts to back-room services. What is the Minister's view of the fact that cases are taking much longer for police officers to resolve?

Nick Herbert: I certainly think it important that forces guard against what is sometimes called reverse civilianisation-the idea that reducing the number of staff will increase the demand on officers. It is about re-engineering policing to make sure that processes are more efficient. Actually, there has been a huge growth in the number of staff in police forces over the past 10 years, and there has been scope to reduce that. The simple point is, of course, that if the number of staff had not been reduced by rather more than the number of police officers, that would have impacted on the latter. There is balance to be achieved here. Furthermore, police officers cannot be made redundant anyway.

We have to get away from the idea that the quality of a front-line service can be measured only by the number of staff or how much money is spent on it. The National Audit Office's report on mobile technology in policing, published two weeks ago, showed that under the last Government, £71 million was spent to deliver only a "basic level" of benefits. Four years later, the scheme has still not delivered value for money to the taxpayer. The NAO found that

"not enough consideration was given to how forces would use the mobile technology, how much local spending was required or how realistic were the announced deadlines".

Let us hear less, in the constant demand to spend more money, about the focus on inputs, and rather more about value for money and how well this money is being spent.

The fact is that across the country, forces are reducing budgets while protecting, or indeed improving, front-line services. Hampshire, for example, is saving money and reducing crime, and has made a public commitment to retaining local visible policing levels. Thames Valley has reduced business support costs such as HR, removed a layer of management and is collaborating with other forces. It has saved money and is to re-deploy officers to front-line roles in neighbourhoods or on patrol. Kent police has better matched staffing levels with demand, increased police officer availability, restructured the way it provides policing services, collaborated with Essex police, streamlined support services and is realigning some of its specialist policing functions. As a result, it has been able to deploy more officers to uniformed street patrols. It has increased police visibility with the public, the head count of neighbourhood officers and staff has increased by 50%, and public satisfaction levels have increased.

It is therefore clear that, through changing the way forces do things, they can make savings and maintain or improve the service they provide to their communities.

Yvette Cooper rose -

Nick Herbert: I will give way one last time.

Yvette Cooper: The Policing Minister has been generous in giving way. He boasts about the improvements in getting more police officers on to the street and into front-line jobs. Will he therefore admit that it is a serious problem that, since the election, 4,000 front-line officers doing front-line jobs have gone?

Nick Herbert: I really think that "boasting" is a silly word to use about what I am saying these forces are doing. I am describing what chief constables have done in adjusting to reduced resources, reconfiguring how policing is delivered and protecting the front line. That is not a boast from the Government; it is an explanation of how policing services can be transformed. [ Interruption. ] I suggest-if the right hon. Lady will draw breath-that she would do well to meet some of these chief constables and hear how they are achieving these aims.

It is clear that forces, through changing the way they do things, can make savings and maintain or improve the service they provide to their communities. Our reforms will support this change: a police professional body, to be up and running by the end of the year, setting standards, improving training, equipping professionals to do the job and helping to reduce bureaucracy; a police ICT company to help the police deliver better value to forces for their ICT spend; and a new national crime agency, a powerful new crime-fighting force working across different police forces and agencies, defending our borders, co-ordinating action on economic crime and protecting children and vulnerable people. Police and crime commissioners will ensure that the police tackle local priorities and hold the chief constable to account, and they will drive value for money.

This is a coherent agenda to build a modern, flexible and responsive police service, delivering value for money for the taxpayer and fighting crime. I commend this motion to the House.



3.44 pm

Nick Herbert: I congratulate the shadow Minister on his two-minute speech. I am sorry that the shadow Home Secretary did not allow him to do more and lead the debate, as has been the tradition in this place.

I strongly agree with the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), about the opportunity in respect of procurement. Last year, we put in place the first mandatory framework, covering some key services, including police cars, body armour and a wide range of commodity IT hardware and software. This will ensure that all forces use the specified frameworks-the right hon. Gentleman's "shopping list"-so the full potential for savings in these categories, £27 million, can be achieved by 2014-15. We are consulting on going further to specify frameworks used by the service when buying further equipment, including vehicle light bars, digital interviewing equipment, translation services, mobile telephony and some e-consultancy. Savings of £34 million so far are projected to rise to £70 million by the end of this financial year, rising, as I said, to at least £200 million by 2014-15.

That is a really good example of what can be achieved, and it is noticeable that, with the exception of the right hon. Member for Leicester East, no Opposition Member talked about any of those issues. It was my hon. Friends who raised deployment issues-how well resources can be spent-and who talked about the things forces can do to adjust to the lower spending and to continue to deliver a high-quality service. Opposition Front Benchers continue to make absolutely no mention of these issues. We know now that they support the police arbitration tribunal report, the pay freeze, the overtime measures and the cuts they are criticising, but they have nothing to say about procurement, outsourcing and whether it is right to bring performance up to the standard of the best. Their mantra is-to use the shadow Minister's words-to call on us to reopen the settlement. It is the same old story: calling on us to spend more money, and that is exactly what got the country into this mess in the first place.

Nick Herbert