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David Taylor: With reference to reducing the paperwork burden on police officers, as a public institution and a public service, the police force, second only to this place, needs significantly higher levels of investment in information and communications technology to support its day-to-day work. If my hon. Friend speaks to police in his authority, particularly detective sergeants and police constables, they will tell him what proportion of their time they spend on such unproductive work.
Mr. Drew: My hon. Friend almost reads my mind, but not quite. I accept his point, but the problem is not an internal police matter. It involves the relationship with the Crown Prosecution Service, whether that relationship is conducted through computers or by human beings talking to one another. I have some misgivings. We have moved on from the impasse a few years ago involving who spoke to whom and how that was done. It is a resource issue and also a matter of cultures. Communication is improving, but it would help if there were computer systems that could talk to each other better. That will be expensive and take time, because technology does not seem to do what we want it to do at the appropriate moment.
I am assured that the situation is improving. It would be nice to think about local solutions, but it merely exacerbates the problem if police forces get their own systems and the CPS does not do all that we want it to do. There must be some centralisation, although I know that my chief constable and the Association of Chief Police Officers are a little worried about the apparent loss of independence. They are worried about the pressures on them to deliver policing in their area.
Effective centralisation is the only way forward. We must recognise that policing at the level of divisions, not even at the level of a county force, is where decisions have to be taken and priorities outlined, so that people have confidence in their police and policing is carried out in the most appropriate way.
I am happier this year. In the negotiations that are taking place nationally, the Government's position is clear. I wish that progress could be made more quickly, but I do not want any confrontation with the police. They are my friends, and I go out with them regularly in my constituency, so I see the problems that they have. We need to move on to make sure that the police are effective and deliver value for money, as we all want them to do.
Of the overall 6.1 per cent.£550 milliononly about 40 per cent. is being allocated to total standard spending. So much of it is being allocated by central Government that the ability of police authorities to meet their responsibilities is being undermined. The Home Office sets its priorities for police authorities. Happily, after years of neglecting such matters, it is beginning to talk about important issues such as visible policing.
For police services such as my own in Cambridgeshire, visibility of policing is intensely difficult to achieve, given the relatively low numbers of police. Cambridgeshire has the second lowest level of funding per head of population of any police authority in the country. It is all very well setting an overall level of provision for policing, but if, as a consequence of Home Office priorities and control over spending, local police authorities cannot meet their responsibilities, there will be a deterioration in the visibility of policing, the prevention of crime and the ability to detect crime and follow it up.
We are beginning to see that in Cambridgeshire. The number of incidents has gone up by 20 per cent. in the past few years and is projected to increase at a faster rate. The number of 999 calls is going up dramatically. The ability of the police to respond to and follow up crime and to act proactively in local communities is being diminished.
The Home Office may assume that it makes provision for its own priorities, but that is not the case. In Cambridgeshire, some of the demands have to be met from the police authority's budget, and go beyond what is provided centrally by the Home Office for its own priorities. For example, £1 million is required from the local budget for the Airwaves project, £734,000 in the coming year for the implementation of the action for justice programme, £308,000 for the DNA programme, and £234,000 for the new national crime recording system. The police authority must meet those needs from its budgets, and that diminishes the sum available for its own priorities.
The situation is even worse than that. The police authority has to meet pay and pension pressures far in excess of what has been provided by the Home Office. The Home Office has said that standard spending should rise by 2.6 per cent., but grant has risen by only 2.3 per cent. There is a national settlement of 3.5 per cent. for police officers, and pension costs for the authority are rising at about 6 per cent. After the pay, inflation and pension costs have been absorbed, there is no room for any response to other local pressures. All the Home Office priorities, in addition to those that I mentioned, are biting deeply into the authority's ability to provide policing.
What is the net result? We have a modest increase in police numbers after a decline and years of trying to attain the same number of police as in 1997. However, with a modest increase in the precept for the council tax precept, the prospect for next year is that we will not meet the gateway criteria for the crime fighting fund, and will
To fulfil the requirement for a 4 per cent. increase in the budget, the police authority would have to increase its precept by 20 per cent. to respond to the pressures and demands of policing in Cambridgeshire, and we are relatively underpoliced compared with the rest of the country and the police authority has to consult on a possible 30 per cent. increase in the precept in the council tax. Other increases are also being considered, including a possible 9.3 per cent. by the county council, and the district council has to consider an increase of 40 per cent. in its previously modest precept. That adds up to substantial pressures on individuals through the council tax.
The Home Office is chasing a headline figure of 6.1 per cent. and it has not accurately related it to the pressures that it places on police authorities. It is indifferent to the fact that some police authorities will have to increase the council tax dramatically, and it did not attempt to cut its coat according to local cloth. In future, it would be better for the Home Office to start by considering the policing that it wants to achieve locally and provide for greater devolution of budgets and discretion to enable local police authorities to fulfil their responsibilities.
The obvious candidate for such devolution is the crime fighting fund, and rural policing should also be taken into account in future formula allocations in order to provide properly for it. We should also take proper account of the cost of living. Other hon. Members have talked about inadequate consideration of the cost of living and the provision of a service in places outside London, such as the Thames valley.
If I have an opportunity later, I may speak about the area cost adjustment in more detail. However, people in the Thames valley should note that they will receive an 8 per cent. uplift in their allocation through the area cost adjustment, which is not available to Cambridgeshire. Yet housing costs and labour market pressures in Cambridge are at least as great as those in north Oxfordshire.
Earlier, I asked about the net result. An authority and a police service in Cambridgeshire, which have historically been poorly funded by Government, will receive an increase in grant of only 2.3 per cent. this year. Whatever other priorities may exist, the net result for my constituents will be a large increase in council tax simply to maintain existing levels of policing. They want more police to deal with the greater incidence of crime, the greater number of 999 calls and the recent increases in recorded crime.
The figures are much higher than those under the previous Government. They appear to be increasing under our Government because of the great success of the dynamic economy that they have created. We have thus been able to allocate more money to constituencies such as mine.
The rural part of my constituency60 per cent. of it is ruralwill benefit most, because the targeted money will help greatly. We have made good progress through the crime fighting fund: under it approximately 74 officers have been allocated for 200003. We recruited 20 officers under that fund last year; we hope that we will be allocated 36 new officers by the end of this year; and we hope to have a further allocation of 18 officers for 200203.
We have also made progress on recruitment. Police numbers have increased from 1,407 in March last year to 1,434. The Government's spirit in tackling crime and ensuring that there are enough police officers to deal with it is a credit to the Labour party.
My right hon. Friend made the allocation of 4.47 per cent., which I and other Members of Parliament who represent the area appreciate, but there is a discrepancy. I understand that the Government based their calculations on tax band D and reached a figure of 7p a week for the police precept. The police authority tells me that the precept that it expects means approximately 50p a week. Its method of calculating the required amount for fighting crime and that of the Government have led to two different figures. I should be interested to know what my right hon. Friend considers to be a sensible figure. Ultimately, we must have the support of the communities that we represent and ensure that they are willing to back the increases in the police precept.
I should also be interested to know whether my right hon. Friend believes that the local authority should consult the people of Cleveland before it sets the police precept. We are considering accountability and carrying the agreement of the people, so it is important to note that the four boroughs are not keen on the increases that the police authority has mentioned, and they therefore need a steer. They told me that the police authority can impose whatever figure it wishes. I do not know whether that is true and I await my right hon. Friend's response.