That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2015–16 (HC 930), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.

I announced that the provisional police grant report had been laid before the House in a written ministerial statement on 17 December, so that there would be plenty of opportunity for it to be read and analysed before today’s debate.

It is an honour and a privilege to be the Minister responsible for what I often say—and I should often say—is the greatest police force in the world, and it is a great honour to be here today. Policemen and women, and backroom staff, do a fantastic job for us every day, keeping us safe in our homes and tackling crime. I now want to outline the way in which policing has been transformed under this coalition Government in the last four and a half years, and to describe the fantastic work that the police are doing and the innovation that we are seeing on a daily basis. The funding settlement reflects the difficult economic times that we are still experiencing as a result of what we inherited from the last Government, but the police have done a simply fantastic job in reducing crime by 20% over those four and half years, and I think that the whole House should applaud them for that.

The police have been responsible for some unbelievable achievements in the United Kingdom. I am thinking of, for instance, the G8 summit which was held in Lough Erne, in Northern Ireland, when I was Northern Ireland Minister of State. I know that it is not relevant to today’s debate, but I have to say that that excellent summit could never have taken place without the mutual aid provided by police forces that came to Northern Ireland from all over Great Britain to provide their assistance. Last September, that same mutual aid was an integral part of the NATO summit in Wales. I also pay tribute to the members of the intelligence services who ensured that we were safe at those summits, and who keep us safe on a daily basis.

Reforms have been made in difficult economic times during which the funding for our forces has been cut, and I believe that some of the innovation that we have seen would not have been possible had it not been for those difficult times. I recently had the privilege of visiting Hampshire, where I met the police and crime commissioner, the chief constable, and many of the officers who are doing such a fantastic job in the county. I was amazed to discover that what I, an ex-fireman, had assumed was a fire station was actually a joint fire and police station, something that I had not seen before. The two forces had come together to share their facilities and keep their costs down. I went to the police building at the bottom of the old-fashioned drill yard—as a former fireman, I still call it that—and met members of the armed response unit and officers who were based at the fire station as part of Hampshire’s police authority.

Sir George Young (North West Hampshire) (Con): I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying about the Hampshire police force, which is one of the

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most efficient forces in the country, but which receives one of the lowest per capita grants. Will he ensure, as he reviews the formula, that authorities such as Hampshire are not penalised for being efficient?

Mike Penning: My right hon. Friend has raised an important point, which I discussed in depth with the chief constable and the PCC, Simon Hayes, during my visit. The 2016-17 formula is under review. As I would expect, a great deal of discussion and negotiation is taking place, involving chief constables, Members of Parliament and PCCs around the country who are all trying to make their case. I emphasise that they should be sure to submit their views to the consultation so that we can examine carefully the way in which the original formula was drawn up. I am determined that the new formula should not merely tweak the old one, and should represent the type of policing that we need in England and Wales today.

I wish not merely to echo what has been said by my right hon. Friend, but to pay tribute to the front-line officers in Hampshire, and to the bravery of one of them in particular. A uniformed female sergeant whom I met had been beaten so severely that she had become unconscious, after about the third time that her head was banged on the kerb. We know that her head hit the kerb about six more times, because the body-worn camera that has been piloted so brilliantly in Hampshire provided the evidence, and the person responsible then got the conviction that that person deserved. It was a real pleasure to see that brave officer back in uniform and back on the front line.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Police officers in Devon and Cornwall are doing a great job with fewer resources, and I am very pleased to hear about the review of the funding formula. Can my right hon. Friend assure me about the costs of policing tourism and students? We are very pleased to have universities in my constituency, but of course they bring policing costs. Will those extra costs be borne in mind in the review of the funding formula?

Mike Penning: I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I know lots of colleagues from across the House will be standing up today and asking whether, as part of the review, there could be extra money for their constituencies. I fully understand that, but I also need the House to understand that policing in many parts of the country has fundamentally changed over the years. The demands and needs are now completely different from before, particularly in rural forces. As I suggested in response to the intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), we must put the arguments together into the consultation, which will be taking place across the summer, so that, although I am not sure everybody will be happy, the 2016-17 formula will be much fairer than the current system.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): It is encouraging that the review of the formula will bear in mind the need to ensure that more efficient police forces, such as those in Hampshire, are not penalised for their efficiency. What does my right hon. Friend think about the recent survey carried out in Hampshire which

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showed that more than 70% of respondents would be willing to pay more and see an increase in the council tax precept to 1.99% because they value the services they get from the constabulary?

Mike Penning: When we introduced PCCs, who are elected by the local people, we gave them the ability to make local decisions. Where PCCs have decided to raise the precept to a level below the need for a referendum, I fully understand and respect that. There is at least one force area at the moment—Bedfordshire—where the PCC is looking to go beyond that, so there will be a referendum there. If it goes ahead, it will be held on the general election date.

I do not want to talk only about Hampshire—although a couple of colleagues from Hampshire have intervened so far, and it was a pleasure to be in Hampshire only the other day—as I want now to touch a little more on the changes that have been taking place within the police in England and Wales.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I would like to pay tribute to Cambridgeshire constabulary, which has seen a drop of 21% in recorded crime in the last five years. Will my right hon. Friend look in his ongoing review of funding at the impact of demographic change on policing? He will know that Operation Pheasant, which was tackling illegal gangmasters in the fens in northern Cambridgeshire, was a great success story, but that costs money so will he bear in mind the need for good funding streams for local police forces to deal with these demographic and population issues?

Mike Penning: Cambridgeshire is also doing a fantastic job under the Conservative PCC, who I had the pleasure of knowing before he was PCC. So that I am not being too party political, may I say that fantastic jobs are being done around the country by PCCs of all political persuasions, including independents? They are not shy in coming to my door and explaining their areas’ needs. As PCCs go forward and we see the elections for them in 2016, I think we will see not only an uptake in the number of people voting for them, but that being in touch with the local community is vitally important.

Collaboration has not in the past exactly been top of the agenda with the police forces around England and Wales; it was talked about a lot, but not much came to fruition. However, it is where some of the recent savings have come from. Communities want to see their local bobbies, and see their local constabulary badge on them, but that is only a tiny proportion of what goes on in England and Wales police forces. That is what the public care about most, but we must make sure they are also aware of the work that goes on elsewhere.

Collaboration is vital as we continue to look at making savings, with boundaries and silos having been broken down not only, as we have seen in Hampshire, with other local government agencies, but across borders and across the country. To get the benefits of collaboration does not mean it necessarily has to be between neighbouring forces.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (UKIP): The Minister just said that visible public-facing policing constitutes only a tiny proportion of what the police do. Does he think that proportion is too low and should be increased?

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Mike Penning: No, what I was saying was that there is also a lot of ongoing work behind the scenes—whether in counter-terrorism, the serious organised crime agencies and the National Crime Agency, or the backroom staff, such as in administering the out-of-court disposals we have in this country now—to allow those officers to be on the front line and us to feel safe in our homes. I was saying that that work is just as vital, but that does not mean that the brilliant and vital and brave work our officers do on a day-to-day basis is unimportant—far from it. As I have said before, I have never said police forces should not have as many people on the front line as possible, but that is also very much a local decision; it is for the chief constable and the PCC to decide how they want to disperse their officers under their powers.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): On the issue of co-operation and collaboration, I am very much with the right hon. Gentleman. As he will know, in yesterday’s Home Office questions I asked about the waste of police time whereby police in Stockport are having to parade on in central Stockport and move out to places like Reddish, wasting time in getting on to the beat. May I commend to him the other part of my constituency: Labour-controlled Tameside council, which has co-operated with Greater Manchester police so that Denton police post is now located in Denton town hall allowing Denton police officers to parade on in Denton?

Mike Penning: I welcome what is going on in the hon. Gentleman’s local authority, and it is exactly the same as what is happening in my local council, where the police front-line desk is coming into the local authority new forum building, freeing up space for things to be moved into a more cost-effective space where a better police station is going to be built. I therefore pay tribute to what is going on in his constituency and with his local authority, and I pay tribute to what is going on in mine, too. I would say, however, that this collaboration is all relatively new, and is happening somewhat sporadically around the country.

The collaboration I was referring to before I took the intervention of the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) is between forces. I am truly amazed that historically—and I still hear this quite a lot—forces would say, “We’re doing collaboration with the force directly next to us,” perhaps on human resources or IT. Well, that is great, as long as we are getting the most bang for our buck, because we are talking about taxpayers’ money, but Cheshire is, I believe, doing HR for Nottinghamshire, which is not exactly right next door, and is doing procurement and other things, and getting better value from these schemes. I have therefore been encouraging, and pushing for more joined-up procurement to make sure we get value for the taxpayer, while at the same time leaving that local decision to the PCCs. One PCC said to me, “I want to buy my officers’ white shirts locally.” I said, “I can perfectly understand that, as long as you’re getting value for money.” That is the crucial point. This is not about taking away localism from the PCCs and the chief constables: yes, there should be such localism, but they are spending taxpayers’ money and they must get value for money. I think that view is shared across the House, and I noted that the shadow Home Secretary was talking this morning about getting value for money. We know that the public trust

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localism more than they trust us in this House, and we should trust them to do what we need for us as we go forward.

The other change coming through that will also save money, time and effort within the criminal justice system is technology. I remember about four and a half years ago in the Conservative manifesto we had a commitment to bring forward roadside drug testing where the police felt that the driver was impaired. If they breathalysed a person who then passed the test and the officers still felt they were impaired, it was very difficult if they had not done the impairment course to arrest at roadside so the driver could be tested for drugs. As an ex-fireman I thought that was very important because on many occasions I had been to what used to be called RTAs—road traffic accidents are now road traffic collisions—and are now called RTCs—when I could smell the cannabis smoke still in the vehicle. The officers could smell that, but did not have the powers to do what they needed to do. They now have those powers, which have been approved. On 2 March officers will have the powers given to them by this House to arrest at the roadside based on a saliva test, which initially will be for two drugs. I have seen the type-approvals coming through from the manufacturers, and the tests will be for not only illegal drugs, but synthetic drugs—often called legal highs, but actually completely different—and prescribed drugs. There are many prescribed drugs that people should not take while driving. We need to work with the Department of Health to ensure that we give more details on the prescription: if it warns against driving heavy plant or operating heavy machinery, it actually means a motor vehicle in many cases.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I agree with the Minister’s central point, but if someone who is driving has taken prescribed drugs and has not been advised of the risk, is it the Government’s intention for that person to be treated in the same way as someone who is caught driving having taken illegal drugs?

Mike Penning: Being impaired when driving a motor vehicle is just that. When the legislation was taken through the House, that argument was put forward, but it is the responsibility of drivers who are driving a vehicle on the road to know what is in their bloodstream. This is a very important area, which is why I alluded to the need to ensure that the advice from the pharmacist when the drugs are given out is not confined to advising whether to take them after or before a meal, or not to operate heavy machinery. The hon. Gentleman is right, but it will always be the responsibility of people driving a vehicle to know what is in their bloodstream and whether it will impair them.

The level has been set by a scientific committee, so this is not about people who take one co-codamol that morning being over the limit; it is about ensuring that we have the necessary technology. Technology is moving fast and we expect another manufacturer to have type-approval on a roadside saliva test in the next few months. We expect to ensure that we keep officers on the streets as much as possible, because the time involved in implementing the existing scheme means that they are tied up for too long.

We also expect the technology to come through soon so that we have a roadside evidential base for drink-driving. At the moment our legislation is based back in the

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1960s, when the breathalyser bag provided the base, then we could arrest and the machinery was in the station. If we can get an evidential base at the roadside, that will eliminate a whole swath of the bureaucracy that we have to go through to ensure that we get the necessary conviction of impaired drivers. Such drivers cause death, dismay and injury on our roads every day. We should not in any way be lightening the pressure on drink-drivers as we work on drug-drivers.

The most obvious piece of technology that will free up officers’ time is body-worn cameras. They are freeing up time, protecting officers and giving us an evidence base. We have already seen, in the brilliant work in Hampshire, Kent and other forces, that when the evidence is put to the accused, they almost immediately say—on advice from their solicitors, usually—that they will plead guilty. The amount of assaults on officers is down. When officers arrive somewhere on a Friday night obviously wearing cameras, the dispersal is interesting to watch, as I have seen myself from the videos.

We need to take things further. We need to ensure that the body-worn camera cannot be ripped easily from the body armour—some of the early cameras could be because they were on a clip system—and we are looking into that in my own force in Hertfordshire. We also need to ensure that the evidence that the camera is capturing cannot be tampered with. In other words, someone might rip the camera off and dispose of it, so we need to stream away the evidence from the scene. At the same time I am working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and the rest of the criminal justice system to ensure that the technology flows through the system. When officers store the evidence, whether in the cloud or a secure system, the CPS should be able to enter that system and see the evidence without having to wait for it to be downloaded or burnt on to a CD-ROM.

I have also been asked whether Kent could trial statements being taken on camera, so we would not need to have them transcribed. That could be exciting, because it could put officers on to the streets for much longer, so that they did not have to sit in the stations transcribing something picked up on the body-worn camera. Such developments are world-leading. Police forces from around the world are coming to see us to see how we are using the technology. Only the other day, at a two-day international crime and policing conference in London, leading academics and other criminal justice professionals from around the world came to see how we had managed to lower not only crime, but the costs of it—in other words, how we were getting more bang for our buck—and to see the technology. Australia, for example, has had roadside drug testing for many years, but the Australian police need to take a 44-tonne articulated lorry to the roadside in order to test everyone passing through, which has huge cost implications. They are very interested in the technology that we have type-approved and are introducing.

We are still in difficult economic times. Money to the police has been cut, which was a difficult decision to make. Police forces around the country have predominantly done well at dealing with the cut. Most of them have budgeted for 2015-16 and the review for 2016-17 is still taking place—consultation continues to work—and I

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suggest that all colleagues, whether in the Chamber or not, work with their local police to see how best that consultation can be used for the benefit of their constituents.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I want to make several points. The Minister congratulated the police on the reduction in crime overall, and I concur with that, but a real issue remains. For example, in London and in my constituency in particular, the safer neighbourhood teams were introduced and were extremely popular and successful, but they are now being penalised as a result of their success. The teams reduce crime, but then lose resources, which are shifted elsewhere, and crime increases; we go around in circles time and time again. It is important that discussions on the new formula result in a new settlement that will reward those forces that are successfully operating to reduce crime, giving them consistency of funding over time. The undermining of the safer neighbourhood teams is deeply unpopular in my constituency.

Mike Penning: Recently, I had long discussions with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on that very subject. Only the other day I was at Hendon, sadly the day before the passing-out parade before the commissioner of about 400 new officers. I understand that by March the Metropolitan police will be just under the 32,000 level; it will then recruit at 175 per month, which will reflect the steady level of natural wastage in London. That is a remarkable feat achieved by the Mayor of London for the people of London. I accept that in the old days the Policing Minister would look at things in exactly the way the hon. Gentleman suggests, but it is now a matter for the commissioner and for the Mayor. Such matters would also be for the mayor and commissioner in Manchester, if it is successful in its bid to proceed with the mayoral system, which will include the police.

Key to everything is that we have managed remarkably well to reduce crime, as the hon. Gentleman said, and at the same time to reduce the cost of policing. The public’s opinion of our police in general has never been better. I always say, “Yes, I have the honour of being the police Minister for the best police force in the world.” Some police officers let us down, but they are a tiny minority and we should be proud of every single one of our officers, who represent us every single day of the year.

2.8 pm

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Five years ago, not one single Conservative candidate went to the electorate and said, “Vote for me and we will cut the police.” Not one single Liberal Democrat candidate went to the electorate and said, “Vote for me and we will cut the police.” On the contrary, Liberal Democrats up and down the country said, “Vote for us and we will put 3,000 more police officers on the beat.” In addition, the Prime Minister himself pledged to protect the front line. When it comes to writing the history of great broken political promises of our time, what has happened to the police service will rank alongside the commitments from the Prime Minister that there should be no more top-down reorganisations of the national health service and from the Deputy Prime Minister that there would not be an increase in tuition fees. Instead, we have seen the biggest cuts to our police service of any in Europe.

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Mr Stewart Jackson: On election manifestos and hyperbole, does the hon. Gentleman recall that his party told the electorate prior to the 2010 general election that any reconfiguration, any sharing of services, any co-operation between services would inevitably result in a massive hike in crime? In fact, the opposite has happened.

Jack Dromey: The short answer is no, the reverse is the case; my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), as Policing Minister, encouraged such things. When the hon. Gentleman went to his electorate, did he say, “Vote for me and 117 police officers will be cut”? That is what has happened to his local police service.

The Minister spoke about inheritance, and there was an inheritance on the police, because a Labour Government put 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 police community support officers on the beat. Local policing, local roots with local people having a say proved to be both popular and highly effective.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that neighbourhood policing was a success story of the last Labour Government. May I draw his attention to the work of the Poet’s Corner residents association in north Reddish, ably led by Brenda Bates who is really concerned about the lack of response by the PCSOs now that they have to parade in Stockport? For example, they used to do school gate work but they are now unable to get to the school gates in time for when children are dropped off because they are too busy parading in the town centre, several miles away.

Jack Dromey: Unlike what we heard from the Minister, my hon. Friend speaks from the heart about the reality in his locality, and it is unsurprising, given that the police service that covers the constituency he so ably represents has seen more than 1,300 police officers go, with more to follow at the next stages. There was a good inheritance on the police, but a generation of progress made—the formation of that British model of neighbourhood policing—is now being reversed.

I wish to make one other point about what the Minister said. He paid tribute to our police service and discussed remarkable innovation, which I have seen all over the country. Let me give but one example. Essex police, under its excellent chief constable, Stephen Kavanagh, has developed a groundbreaking system that tracks both the perpetrators and potential perpetrators of domestic violence, and the victims and potential victims of domestic violence, and enables the police to drill all the way down to hot spots of domestic violence to inform other interventions. We see such innovation by our police all over the country. But the Minister, who was previously a firefighter, will know from his experience that the police service in England and Wales is a demoralised one. It is demoralised by the scale of what is happening to the service and by the remorselessly negative tone set by the Government, from the Home Secretary downwards.

Mike Penning rose

Jack Dromey: I will gladly give way, but will the Minister confirm that every index, be it sick, stress or anxiety leave, is shooting up because of the combination of the growing pressures on the police service and the

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fact that the police feel—people tell me this all over the country—that the Government never have a good word to say about them?

Mike Penning: If the hon. Gentleman has ever heard me run down the police in this country or destroy their morale, he should stand up and say so now, because I have never done that. The police force’s morale is being destroyed by the sort of commentary we have just heard from the Opposition Dispatch Box, but he is better than that. The first thing he should have done was congratulate the police, but he went into a political rant. That is what destroys morale in our police force.

Jack Dromey: Over the past 12 months, I have visited 34 of the 43 police services, and there is without doubt an unprecedented collapse of morale, from the chief constables to the police constables and PCSOs, because of that combination of the mounting pressures on the police service and the negative tone set by our Government.

We believe that a different approach and a fresh start are essential. Today’s vote on policing is a choice between a Tory plan to cut 1,000 more police officers next year and a Labour plan of reform and savings to protect the front line, so that chief constables can prevent those 1,000 police officer posts from being cut. The Home Secretary should be straining every sinew to protect the front line, but she is not. The Home Secretary and the Tories, and their human shield, the Liberal Democrats, just do not get what pressure the public services and the police are under, and they are turning their backs on obvious savings that could keep those much needed police on our streets.

The Home Secretary has said that it does not matter that thousands more police officers are set to go, on top of the 16,000 already lost, reversing a generation of progress under the previous Labour Government; she says that under her plans all is well because crime is falling. The truth is that crime is changing, pressures on the police are going up, and this is the worst possible time to inflict the biggest cuts on the police service of any country in Europe, just when the police are facing mounting and serious demands.

Over the past 20 years, volume crime, as it is often called, has indeed been falling. Cars are more difficult to steal than they once were, because crime has been substantially designed out, and homes are more difficult to burgle than they once were. That has been a worldwide trend over the past 20 years, because of a combination of advances of the kind I have described and the success of neighbourhood policing, with its emphasis on prevention. But the figures are clear: police recorded violent crime is increasing, and online crime has shot through the roof. For example, Financial Fraud Action UK has said that online banking crime has increased by 71%, e-commerce crime has increased by 23% and card crime has increased by 15%. We have also seen the mounting terrorist threat posing an ever more serious challenge to our police service, and just this weekend assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, the national anti-terror lead, warned that he needs more resources to respond.

At the same time, the police are struggling to deal with crimes that are ever more complex in terms of what it takes to investigate them properly. Hate crime, one of the most hateful of crimes, is up. I have seen this at first hand in my constituency. A fine woman was out

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with her disabled son, who was in a motorised wheelchair, when he had stones thrown at him because of a whispering campaign about how anyone who has a car or Motability vehicle on benefits somehow has to be a scrounger. I sometimes think that Ministers should be ashamed of the tone they set, because of what it leads to in communities all over the country.

Hate crime is up. Reports of rape and domestic violence are up, yet the number of prosecutions and convictions is down. Reports of child sexual abuse have increased by 33%, but referrals to the CPS from the police have decreased by 11%.

There are serious delays in investigating online child abuse. That means that victims are finding it much harder to get justice and more criminals and abusers are walking away scot-free. After the exposés of the past two years, there is now a great national will to tackle the obscenity of child sex exploitation and abuse, both historical and current. But, because of the mounting pressures on the police, there are serious question marks over the effectiveness of their response. The National Crime Agency, for example, has, thus far, failed to bring to account those identified under Operation Notarise. Some 20,000 people were found to be accessing child pornography, thousands of whom will be contact abusers of children, but only 700 have faced any action.

Police services in Lincolnshire and all over the country say that such are the pressures on their resources that they will find it difficult to do anything other than cope with current cases, and that they will not be able to look into historical cases of abuse and exploitation. I have seen the effect of those mounting pressures in my own police service in the west midlands, where 10% and rising of police resources are now dedicated to doing nothing else but dealing with child sex exploitation and abuse.

Even in basic responsibilities, such as road safety, the police are being over-stretched. The number of traffic police on our roads has fallen by 23%. The number of driving offence penalties has fallen substantially while the number of fatalities and casualties has gone up—the number of child fatalities and casualties has gone up by 6%. Neighbourhood policing is being badly undermined.

Mark Reckless Does the hon. Gentleman recall how the Government used to stress the need to protect the front line and to put the emphasis on visible policing? But just now, the Minister said that that accounted for only a tiny proportion of activity and he seemed very happy with that and had no desire to increase it.

Jack Dromey: The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned, because his police service has lost 604 members of staff since 2010. It is certainly true that policing is complex and requires investigatory teams, not all of which will be on the front line. None the less, front-line policing is essential. We created neighbourhood policing, and it worked; we saw substantial falls in traditional forms of crime and it was popular with the public. It is about not just detecting crime, but working with communities to prevent crime and to divert people from crime. Lord Stevens rightly said that neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of policing, but under this Government it is now being hollowed out. Many forces

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all over the country are taking officers off the neighbourhood beat, putting them back into cars and forcing them to deal with only emergency response. They are now off the front line and into response, when they should be building community partnerships and intelligence and preventing crime.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Given the rise in the number of racial and anti-Semitic attacks, is not community policing important because it brings people closer to understanding different communities?

Jack Dromey: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come to that in just a moment. Neighbourhood policing, which took a generation to build, is now being systematically undermined, and the consequences of that are increasingly serious. Let me give two examples. My first relates to terrorism. It was said by a former Member of this House that neighbourhood policing was the “fluffy end” of policing. That could not be further from the truth, especially when we consider how we now have to rise to the challenge of terrorism. Two weeks ago, Peter Clark, a former head of counter terrorism, said:

“In the past decade the UK has built a counterterrorist structure that is in many ways the envy of the world. The almost seamless link between local, national and international units is remarkable. Instead of a London-centric force descending on communities, there are regional hubs where community police and counterterrorist officers work together. They understand their local communities, pick up vital intelligence and reassure the public.”

He went on to say:

“Neighbourhood police hold one end of the thread that can take us from Britain’s streets to wherever in the world terrorists are trained, equipped and radicalised. The chief constable of Merseyside has warned that if police numbers continue to fall, ‘neighbourhood policing as people understand it will not be possible’. Chief constables and police and crime commissioners have tough choices ahead in deciding what to cut. Cutting the counterterrorist policing thread could be fraught with danger.”

I know that that is an uncomfortable message for Government Members, but let me give them an example from the west midlands. Some 40 people have been brought before the courts for serious terrorist crimes in the past five years, and there have been 31 convictions. Overwhelmingly, those individuals were identified as a consequence of good neighbourhood policing and the patient building of good community relationships. The community co-operated to identify the wrongdoers, so neighbourhood policing is key to combating the mounting threat of terrorism.

What the Home Secretary now wants is a similar scale of cuts all over again, with the Association of Chief Police Officers warning that at least 16,000 more officers will go. Next year, police forces are expecting to cut more than 1,000 officers, and that is what today’s vote is all about. Labour would take an alternative approach. Yes, budgets will be tight, and we have already said that the 2015-16 budget the Government have set will have to be our starting point, because the Chancellor’s failure to secure strong growth in this Parliament means that more still needs to be done to get the deficit down. His long-term economic plan has certainly boosted borrowing. We have had to borrow £200 billion more than he planned back in 2010, putting additional pressures on budgets, including that of the Home Office. But there are alternative ways to make savings—[Interruption.]

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Mike Penning: The hon. Gentleman, who is a bit of a friend of mine, is actually reading out, word for word, the article that the shadow Home Secretary put in the press this morning. He is better than that. He should be talking about the debate today and not doing the lackey’s job for the shadow Home Secretary.

Jack Dromey: The Minister may be surprised to hear that the Labour party is united in defence of our police service. That is in contrast to what we see all over the country, which is Government Members, including the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), expressing growing concerns over what is happening to the police service. [Interruption.] Members will hear my speech. Now, there are alternative ways to make those savings—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The House well appreciates that a little bit of banter is in order, but continuing banter from a sedentary position is not in order.

Jack Dromey: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that this is an uncomfortable message for a Government who have been oblivious to the consequences of their actions. There are alternative ways to make smart savings, and that is what we will do. We will require forces to sign up to national procurement, and that would save—

Mike Penning: £100 million.

Jack Dromey: Is the Minister aware that the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has brought forward a proposal on ICT savings alone that would save £400 million, so £100 million is a conservative estimate—please forgive the bad pun.

The Home Secretary has simply refused to go down that path and instead has promoted the view that 43 forces can be trusted to do their own thing with 43 police and crime commissioners arguing over contracts of the kind that make nonsense of any sensible approach towards procurement. That is not what we would see in the best of the private sector or, indeed, in the public sector elsewhere. The Government have failed to drive a strategic approach towards procurement, which has been heavily criticised by the National Audit Office, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and, increasingly, police officers across the country.

Let me move on to the next saving that we will make and ask the Minister a question—perhaps he will want to get up to defend this. Why should the police have to continue to subsidise gun licences? The Minister is not a member of the Chipping Norton shooting set, but perhaps he could justify to the House why it costs £50 for a gun licence and £72 for a salmon and trout licence—£22 more—when it typically costs the police £200 to process each application for a gun licence. Had the Government done the sensible thing and said that they would have full cost recovery, which is what the Association of Chief Police Officers has called for, there would have been substantial savings of £20 million, but that was vetoed by the Prime Minister who, as a fully paid-up member of the Chipping Norton shooting set, declined to do the best and most obvious thing. Would the Minister care to justify that?

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Mike Penning: What is the shadow Minister trying to say to anyone who has a shotgun licence and happens to be working class, like me? I do not have a shotgun licence, but I do shoot clay occasionally at my local shooting club and I enjoy that very much. For many people who are not from an affluent set and who did not go to public school, like those on the shadow Front Bench and on the Government Front Bench, this is an important part of their social life. People do not have to be part of the Chipping Norton set to have a shotgun licence; they just need to enjoy clay shooting or something like that.

Jack Dromey: Under this Government, proposals have been made in the Home Office to move on this matter but they have been vetoed by the Prime Minister. Why should the taxpayer subsidise gun licences? Why should the police service subsidise gun licences when we need to find ways to keep police officers on the front line? Does the Minister choose to come back to me on that point?

Mike Penning: All I would say is that there is selective memory loss of 13 years of a Labour Government. Did the Labour Government do anything about this during their last term? No, they did not.

Jack Dromey: I think that the public listening to the debate will find it incredible that the Policing Minister can get up and say that despite the fact that the police have been calling for movement on this for years the police should continue to subsidise gun licences rather than that money going into our police service.

We have made a number of other proposals, such as the £9 million from driver offending retraining courses, and we have also proposed not to proceed with the police and crime commissioner elections in 2016. All those things could be done and they could be done now. If they were, those 1,000 police officers who face being cut would not go. At a time when the overall police budget is being squeezed, sensible action on four fronts, as outlined in our proposals today, would mean that the 1,000 police officers who will otherwise go will remain in the police service and on the front line. The Home Secretary could do all these things now, but she has refused. Without those policies in place, we will not support the Government’s proposal today. That is why we will vote against the Home Secretary’s plans and why we will challenge Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates throughout the country on why they are voting to cut hundreds more police officers from their local force next year.

The Government are turning their backs on neighbourhood policing. The impact on our police service is ever more serious. The Government are taking us back to the 1930s. A Labour Government would not allow this to happen. We face unprecedented challenges as crime changes—from terrorism through banking and online fraud to the emerging child abuse and exploitation cases—and we must rise to them. We want to rebuild the neighbourhood policing that helped to cut local crime and helped our citizens to remain safe. We want to rise to those new challenges, which is why we have set out sensible reforms that better protect the front line, and stand up for communities that depend on public

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services. The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens where they live and work. Unlike the Government, we will not fail the public we serve.

2.35 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I pay tribute to the chief constable of Dorset, Debbie Simpson, and our police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill, both of whom do a superb job, and to the 1,200 officers and 156 PCSOs who serve in difficult conditions and extreme circumstances, often under threat of their lives. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude and our thanks.

I will not speak for long, but I first want quickly to touch on the comments made by the shadow Minister, whom I respect. Part of his speech was dripping with the old envy, almost hatred, which I thought was sad in such a serious debate. Yes, I am here to stand up for my police force and I will probably say things that are unpalatable to the Government, but I hope I shall say them in a balanced way, based on the evidence and the fact that I have worked closely over the past five years with the Dorset police force. In part, I shall speak personally about what I have seen and heard.

Dorset police force has had an appalling history and has been at the bottom of the funding ladder for years. I know that the Minister is aware of that; I have spoken to him about it and he has listened intently on many occasions. We are now in the bottom quartile, so the situation has not improved that much. Even now, further savings will inevitably put pressure on the work that the police do.

The funding takes into account the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government and council tax legacy, and in 2014-15 it was £69.42 million. In 2015-16, it will drop to £66.82 million, a loss of about £2.6 million, which crudely equates to 75 police officers. Interestingly, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary shows in its value-for-money profile that Dorset police force is already one of the leanest forces in the land, due to the fact that over many years it was one of the first to implement the changes to meet the savings requirements that were coming in. I give credit to Martin Baker, Debbie Simpson’s predecessor, for implementing those changes, not least in the backroom areas, which have now been hugely civilianised.

In addition, when we consider the ratio of council tax to central Government funding, we see that Dorset taxpayers are already paying a disproportionate amount of tax in comparison with other parts of the country However, Dorset police force is not a force that sits on its butt and whinges. Far from it: it faces the challenge—and is facing this challenge—as best it can. As the Minister knows—we have spoken about this on several occasions—Dorset police are forming a strategic alliance with Devon and Cornwall police. For example, they are now looking to merge their firearms teams and considering how best to collaborate further across the whole south-west.

Based on what Dorset police know and the figures that we have been given, the projection for 2016-17 could be extremely serious. According to the PCC’s office, between £3 million and £5 million is needed for the force to stand still, but that is referendum territory.

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If year-on-year savings of 6% are implemented, as predicted, Dorset could see the number of police officers drop by 500, which is what it takes to police Bournemouth. I am not suggesting, of course, that Bournemouth will have no police force; I mention that just to give an idea of the scale if year-on-year savings of 6% continue.

I hope that more money will become available as the economy recovers. I point out to the Opposition that when we inherited the financial mess, we faced a huge problem, and this country still does so. I pay tribute to the Policing Minister for doing all he can within a very tight remit to safeguard front-line services. I know that he, as a former firefighter and Grenadier Guard—I forgive him for that—has done all he can, along with his team, to protect the police front line. However, this country must learn to live within her means, because parties of all colours have overspent for years. We must now face the unpalatable truth that we have to live within a very tight budget and learn to do things differently.

Sarah Newton: I am very pleased that Devon and Cornwall police are working so well with the Dorset constabulary. My hon. Friend’s constituency is not dissimilar to those in Cornwall, so does he, like me, draw comfort from the remarks made today about a revised funding formula, which might help us get fairer funding in our part of the world?

Richard Drax: My hon. Friend pre-empts my speech, as I intend to end my remarks on future funding. The Policing Minister and I have spoken about that, as has our PCC—he is on the Minister’s board, which is excellent news.

I seek reassurance from the Minister that year-on-year savings of 6% are not on the cards, for the reasons I have already expressed. As far as the PCC’s office is concerned, such savings would have an effect on community policing, on PCSOs and on the very nature of policing as we know it currently. That would be inevitable because the resources would be fewer and would have to be targeted in a very different way.

Crime is falling, and for that I pay tribute once again to the Government and to our police officers, those brave men and women who are out there doing their best to reduce crime, and obviously succeeding. However, the nature of crime is changing. I have been told that Dorset police are now dealing far more with cybercrime, forced marriage, slavery, domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation—[Interruption.] The Minister jests from a sedentary position that it is all happening in Dorset, but Dorset is not the sleepy backwater that perhaps he thinks it is.

Those sorts of crimes cost 25% more to investigate than old-style crimes. As the Minister has said, the number of burglaries has dropped, but one of my constituents recently lost £93,000 in a telephone scam. Someone pretending to be a policeman got him to move that sum from his bank account to another, and for reasons that I will not go into now he lost the lot. An investigation is now taking place. I imagine that the criminals are thoroughly well organised and probably have their fingers right across the cyber network, so it will take an awful lot of police time and effort to bring them to court. We in this place are making it clear, as of course are the police, that those sorts of crimes must be

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reported. Following the ghastly revelations in Rotherham and elsewhere, it is clear that it has never been more important for people to come forward and tell the police what is going on.

I will end my remarks by talking about the funding formula. I have lobbied the Policing Minister hard on that on many occasions, and I know that he has listened to Martyn Underhill, our PCC. I am most grateful that Mr Underhill will be sitting on the Minister’s board when the funding formula is reviewed in the summer. I note that tourism, which of course affects Dorset and many other beautiful counties, including Cornwall, is not taken into account. I know that the Minister knows that, but with budgets tightening and savings having to be made, those sorts of considerations must be taken into account so that Dorset police and other forces in rural areas that attract vast numbers of visitors can continue to police their counties.

Finally, the Minister and others talk about innovation. I have seen huge innovation in Dorset, not least the increased co-operation with other forces in the south-west. However, I suggest that rather than allowing police forces to go off on their own to try to find the best way forward, a more cohesive approach—

Mike Penning: My hon. Friend makes a really important point. They are not going off on their own. The Home Office testing laboratories, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice, which I have the honour of working in, are working together on type approvals. We pilot them in certain areas so that we can then roll out best practice in other parts of the country. That is the best way to get the biggest bang for our buck, and I will make sure that we get it right. That is exactly what my hon. Friend is asking for.

Richard Drax: I am most grateful to the Minister, but perhaps I was talking about co-operation on a bigger scale. For example, Dorset police are now co-operating with Devon and Cornwall police, and there is also an area collaboration. Perhaps leadership is the wrong word to use. We need a more cohesive and co-ordinated approach between the Government and the police—if we are to go on facing these savings, and I quite understand why we will—rather than allowing individual county police forces to go off and experiment. We need a bigger debate on how to provide policing in this country so that we all move forward together in the most cost-effective way and, as the Minister said, get the best value for money.

I will end my remarks by once again paying tribute to the brave men and women on our streets in Dorset. We are all totally indebted to those brave men and women who soldier on. I hope that in future we can take the politics—the bitterness and envy—out of debates on policing. Let us deal with the facts and then try to produce a police force in this country that does the job within the stretched resources that sadly we now face.

2.48 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The Home Secretary told us yesterday that the measures she has taken to deal with bureaucracy have saved 4.5 million hours of police time. If I may say so, that is a classic volume measure; it would be fascinating to understand how her officials arrived at it. I wonder whether the Minister is familiar with the work of Professor John Seddon.

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In his book “The Whitehall Effect”, he describes the phenomenon of “failure demand”; how many cost-cutting initiatives, such as setting up single call centres and outsourcing back office activities, can lead to failure demand, a constant inability to recognise and respond to the real problem while encouraging a referral culture and repetition of largely useless actions. Those effects are rarely spotted by the consultants who advise on the changes, because they measure their work in terms of volume—the volume of calls made or answered within a specified time, and the estimated hours saved. Volume does not measure problems solved or the quality of engagement, but rising failure demand leads to decreasing police efficiency. Would the Minister care to look at that as he considers the measures that he is taking forward?

As the Minister demonstrated earlier today, the Government are quick to tell us that crime is falling, and it is true that the most recent statistics show a continuing and welcome fall in many traditional crimes but, as we have heard, they also show a rise in violent crime, rape and sex offences, and an alarming and perhaps still under-recorded rise in fraud, identity crime and cybercrime. These serious crimes need to be tackled, and the changing face of crime needs to be considered. As the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) told us, crime is changing, and when we look at the crime figures and contemplate police budgets, we need to bear in mind that crime is not a static phenomenon.

Our police forces need to reconfigure some of their activities in order to respond to these new types of crime. That is much harder in an environment where the preoccupation is the constant search for cuts. As the largest force outside the Met, the responsibilities of the West Midlands force are enormous. I pay tribute to the amazing job that the force does, but I worry that it may be approaching the limits of what we can reasonably expect of it. It has seen £126 million cut from its budget over the past five years, with a further £100 million of cuts still to come if the Chancellor is able to make good his promise of another five years of austerity for vital public services.

The west midlands is hit doubly hard because it has a very low council tax base and therefore a very low police precept—the second lowest in the country. That means that we are more reliant on central grant than some other areas, and consequently the policy of flat rates cuts has a disproportionate impact on us. For example, whereas central Government provide 86% of the West Midlands police budget, other areas are reliant on grant for only about 49%.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a very interesting and important argument to the House. Does he accept that our position in south Yorkshire is similar to his in the west midlands, with exactly the same financial bind? Since 2010 the South Yorkshire police have faced cuts in excess of £30 million. In south Yorkshire, as in the west midlands, we are seeing the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing and the closure of local police stations such as Rawmarsh and Wath, and this is setting back a generation of progress over the previous decade.

Steve McCabe: Indeed. The effect of disproportionate cuts is that some areas, often areas with higher levels and different types of crime, are taking a much harder

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hit. As a result of what the Government are doing, we in the west midlands are losing about 22% of our funding, as opposed to about 12% in Surrey. Given that, as in my right hon. Friend’s area, we have higher crime rates and more complex policing needs, it is hard to see how anyone could regard that as fair or just.

In the west midlands the position is made worse by the continued use of formula damping. If the west midlands was paid grant according to formula needs, we would receive a further £43 million. I recall attending a meeting with the then Policing Minister over three years ago—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) was also present—when the then Minister promised to take that factor into account. I know the Government are into re-announcements, but here we are, more than three years later, and the Minister tells us today that he is going to review the police formula. I think we have been here before. We want to know when we will see some action to address the unfairness. Of course, as the Minister was making that announcement, his hon. Friends were getting to their feet to say, “Don’t make any changes that will affect the situation that we are benefiting from.”

Mike Penning: To be fair, there is a cycle for reviews, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows. Changes to the review process were made under the previous Administration. They were not fundamental changes, merely tinkering, which is why we need such a fundamental review now, as the whole House would agree.

Steve McCabe: If the Minister’s fundamental review will give us some of the £43 million that we have been robbed of for the past few years, I welcome it. If we were just £10 million closer to our current entitlement in the west midlands, that would still mean that we were hit three times harder than any other force in the country. I hope that what the Minister is promising is good news, and I thank him for it.

The current situation is not fair. The people of the west midlands are paying the price for protecting policing services in more prosperous low crime areas in other parts of the country. That is what the formula changes need to address. Not only do we have to contend with more crime, but we have to respond to terrorist threats and public order demands without additional funding, which is steadily eroding the police’s capacity to respond to more localised crime. The latest west midlands strategic policing requirement report to the policing and crime board, which the Minister is familiar with, states:

“It has become increasingly challenging to maintain all local policing services during times of significant public order deployments…with the staffing reductions we have experienced in recent years…we are often compelled to delay non-emergency services beyond our normal service expectations.”

The chief constable is attempting to manage all this demand with 300 fewer officers than he had this time last year.

There has been a 23% reduction in the number of traffic police at a time when road deaths are on the increase, and there has been a 6% rise in child fatalities. Road accidents remain the largest single cause of child deaths in this country. I know that the Home Office

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cannot tell us how many hit-and-run incidents there are, or how many hit-and-run drivers are never caught and prosecuted, because it chooses not to collect those data, but I can tell the House that my constituent, young Phebe Hilliage, was knocked down while on her way to school by a hit-and-run driver who overtook and mowed her down on a pedestrian crossing. He shattered her foot and she may never walk properly again. I want to know, Phebe’s parents want to know and my constituents want to know that West Midlands police have the resources to track down that person and bring him to justice.

Behind today’s announcement there is the reality of policing: fewer officers, squeezed budgets, unfair application of the existing grant formula, more consultants most likely feeding failure demand, new and changing forms of crime, terrorists and public order pressures, and victims such as Phebe who deserve justice. There is an awful lot more that the Government need to do before we can be satisfied that their approach to crime and policing is the right one.

2.59 pm

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): The Minister said that we have the greatest police force in the world, but the coalition has had a funny way of showing it, given the cuts made to the police up and down this land in the past five years.

In a spirit of even-handedness, I also criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who said that spending levels would be going back to those of the 1930s. I remind him of the famous Mancunian Robert Peel and the fact that there was no police force before the Metropolitan Police Act 1829—those are the levels we will be going back to. Our chief constable, Peter Fahy, and our police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, have said that if policing cuts continue beyond 2017, Greater Manchester police will not be able to maintain its service to the public. That is a very serious accusation from two very senior people in the police force of this land.

Cuts to GMP’s front-line services have been ongoing since the coalition Government came to power. GMP has lost 1,151 officers, with a further 226 expected to go this year alone. The service has already made considerable savings as it strives to deal with the £134 million hole in its budget this financial year, resulting in 1,000 fewer police staff posts and the loss of 1,138 police officers from our streets in Greater Manchester. Since 2010, the Government have slashed Greater Manchester’s police budget by a quarter, with an estimated £114 million of cuts still to come. This does not take into account the community fund, which in 2013 saw a further £6 million of cuts to GMP’s funding, to be redirected to London. In 2013, GMP had a further £6.4 million slashed from its budget to fund the Government’s own projects. That money, which could have paid for 145 police officers or 210 PCSOs, was clawed back by the Government to fund unpopular schemes such as the proposal to allow people to join the police service at a senior rank without ever having to walk the beat, and giving additional funding to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and to City of London police.

At the beginning of 2014, the Chancellor announced that the Home Office budget, which includes policing, would be cut by another 6% in 2015-16. A 6% cut would

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see Greater Manchester police lose another £26.8 million—the equivalent of 1,200 student police officers. Most recently, the police and crime commissioner was asked to find £19 million to cut from GMP’s budget. This is on top of the £134 million that has already been taken from policing in the region, resulting, as I said, in the loss of 1,138 police officers. So much for the northern powerhouse and devolution in our great cities!

Between 2010 and 2013, the service was losing on average 350 police officers each year as GMP struggled to cope with the ongoing programme of austerity. In order to meet the cuts required by central Government, GMP has undertaken a series of changes, including using office space that accommodates 1,100 admin and support staff in a building with space for just 500 desks. All employees can now work from home or in other GMP buildings. The closure and disposal of surplus estates has thus reduced operating costs by £3 million, with further year-on-year savings to come through associated reductions in business rates, energy and maintenance. GMP is playing its part.

GMP and Manchester city council are sharing vehicle servicing with each other. The force has developed a simulation model to help it understand the effects of changes to demand and resources. It researched the length of time taken by officers to deal with certain types of crimes and then used this understanding to anticipate demand and allocate resources more efficiently. Through partnership working, GMP has taken part in a variety of schemes, including a pilot scheme in Oldham providing officers with access to mental health professionals, linking with Stockport’s psychiatric department to train response officers and concluding agreements with care homes on how they and the force can work together. GMP is clearing up more and more of the other problems that are being caused by this Government’s austerity programme.

Much has been made of the need to preserve the numbers of PCSOs within GMP, in accordance with the neighbourhood policing strategy. Despite the best efforts of the police commissioner to preserve PSCO numbers, since 2010 there has been a reduction of just over 50. However, the service expects its numbers to be back up to full strength by next March. These reductions have been mitigated slightly by an increase in operational front-line staff, with an increase of 200 over the same period.

Early in 2014, the commissioner outlined plans to raise the police precept element of council tax by 5%, which would have raised £3.3 million. The plan was to help to mitigate some of the cuts being made by central Government. It would have added £5 to the average annual council tax bill—about 10p a week. This money would have been invested in shoring up neighbourhood policing teams, including the recruitment of 50 new police officers to mitigate the annual loss of about 350 officers. Unfortunately, the referendum that would have been triggered as a result of the Government’s introduction of compulsory referendums on tax increases over 5% would have cost more money to implement than it would have raised. As a result, the commissioner was able to raise only £2 million towards the cost of GMP’s policing budget, and that has been used to support front-line policing.

Most of the increases in crime rates from 2013 onwards are in what could loosely be defined as economic-type crimes such as theft, burglary, vehicle offences and

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shoplifting. This has come at the same time as the slashing of police numbers that we have seen in Greater Manchester. Let me make this very clear: the Government say that crime is going down, but crime in Greater Manchester is going up.

Mike Penning: No, it is not.

Mike Kane: The combination of all these measures is threatening the great work that has been done by Greater Manchester police, partner agencies and local communities to build safer neighbourhoods across our region. That work is being endangered.

The Minister said from a sedentary position that crime in Greater Manchester is not going up. I suggest that he talk to the Manchester Evening News, which has proved—

Mike Penning: Crime in the Greater Manchester area since 2010 is down by 21%. The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the local newspaper. I used to write for one, so I know just how they work. However, we have had an increase in reported crime in some areas, which I am really pleased about, particularly rape and serious assaults, which have seen a 3% increase this year. Three per cent. off 21%—there has been a 18% decrease since the election.

Mike Kane: When Robert Peel graced the Minister’s position, he introduced the police force and Catholic emancipation and got rid of the corn laws, and now we are arguing about whether crime is up or down. The position is clear. Statistics released this year show that crime in Greater Manchester is on the rise for the first time in 20 years. The areas that have seen the biggest increase are theft offences, including burglary, mobile phone theft and shoplifting. Detection rates across Greater Manchester are also falling, which could indicate the effect of the massive reduction in the number of police officers as a result of the cuts.

Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has echoed the concerns of GMP and the commissioner that the ongoing programme of cuts could start to hit front-line services. An HMIC report “Policing in Austerity: Meeting the Challenge” has tracked how police have responded to budget cuts since summer 2011, using force data and inspections to analyse how they are making savings and how this is affecting the way they work and the service they provide to their communities. GMP is one of the forces to have received a “good” rating for the way it has managed the budget cuts so far, but HMIC also recognised that budget cuts disproportionately affect Greater Manchester.

The chief constable has told me, “We are now standing at the edge of a cliff.” He says that if this programme of cuts goes beyond 2017, he cannot provide the levels of policing that Greater Manchester people expect and deserve, because there is simply not enough money in the pot. If policing cuts continue beyond 2017, GMP will not be able to maintain its service to the public. The police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, has warned since before he was elected that the Government’s reckless programme of cuts is endangering community safety and threatening the work done by GMP over the past

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20 years to reduce crime rates and restore Manchester’s reputation in the light of the “Gunchester” years. That is in addition to our counter-terrorism work.

After I entered public life in the early 1990s, our city experienced two terrorist attacks by the IRA. In 1992, 65 people were injured, and in 1996 the biggest bomb in peacetime devastated our city. In 2003, PC Oake was murdered by fundamentalist Islamists when he visited a scene to arrest somebody. There are currently all sorts of pressures on how Greater Manchester deals with counter-terrorism.

Sarah Newton: I know the hon. Gentleman’s constituency very well because my in-laws are from that part of the world and I recognise the challenges he is describing, but has he actually costed his proposals and have they been cleared by the shadow Chancellor?

Mike Kane: Dear oh dear. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington has clearly explained how we can mitigate some of the cuts. I say to the hon. Lady: how can we not do this when crime is going up in my community and where I live?

Jack Dromey: I am glad that point has been made, because all the costings for proposals by Opposition Front Benchers have been checked, including with the House of Commons Library. The simple reality is that the difference between the Government and the Opposition is that, in circumstances where sensible savings can be made which would save the 1,000 police officers under threat in 2015-16, the Government are choosing to go ahead with their proposals, irrespective of what has been said by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane).

Mike Kane: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Savings of £136.8 million are forecast to be required by my force alone by March 2018. Savings of £71.3 million have already been identified, with the majority coming from a net reduction in police numbers by 1,054 over that period. There is a choice at this general election: people can choose that type of austerity and see crime rise on their patch or they can choose a better way.

In conclusion, I thank my police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, for his hard work; the chief constable, Peter Fahy; my local officers in Wythenshawe and Sale East, and the fine network of home watch associations that I support, particularly Sale Homewatch, and Graham Roe, who helped me prepare this speech.

3.12 pm

Mike Penning: I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), for giving me early sight of his speech. I say that a little tongue in cheek because it was written by the shadow Home Secretary and issued this morning, and the hon. Gentleman would have read it out verbatim if I had not interrupted him.

This has mostly been a sensible debate in which MPs have rightly stood up for their constituents and praised, as I did in my opening speech, the fantastic work done by police forces across England and Wales, which are the countries for which I have responsibility.

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I reiterate my earlier remarks that front-line policing is a vital component, but so much work is done behind the scenes that the public do not see. The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) intervened on me on that issue. He should visit his chief constable. [Interruption.] I know he probably has already, but he should talk to him very carefully about the work done by non-uniformed police, including CID, the counter-terrorism and serious fraud units, and clerks and officers.

Jack Dromey rose

Mike Penning: The shadow Minister has had plenty of time to read someone else’s speech, so I am not going to give way to him.

I know where the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood is coming from, but there is no way that I would say that front-line police are not important.

I will touch on the shadow Minister’s comments later, but it is important that I first address some of the points raised by Back Benchers, because when I come on to some of his points I am afraid I will find it very difficult to keep a straight face.

Jack Dromey: Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: No, I am not taking interventions from the shadow Minister, because he made a complete fool of himself earlier and I am not going to help him make even more of a fool of himself.

I say to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) that Dorset police do absolutely fantastic work. I think he thought that I might have said, “It all happens here,” or something like that, but that was my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who had come in to listen to his speech. I understand that about 20,000 people go to Bournemouth on a Friday and Saturday to enjoy the night-time entertainment. That shows how diverse police work can be in Dorset, and I praise the work done there. Martyn Underhill will be on the review board, which is important.

My hon. and gallant Friend asked for a commitment until 2016-17, but that is difficult because there is going to be a review and his police and crime commissioner will be on the board. It would be wrong for me to pre-empt that review. As I said in my opening remarks, it is vital that everybody looks at the different types of policing needed, especially going into 2016-17, and at how the formula was formulated all those years ago. That will not be a tweak; we have to take a fundamental look at the changes needed.

John Healey: Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: I am not going to give way at the moment. I might give way later if I make some progress, but I have been given a time limit by Madam Deputy Speaker, which is why I do not want to give way too much.

Let us not get into the semantics of the speech made by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane): he was doing exactly what I would expect him to do in standing up for his force. It will be really interesting to see what happens when Manchester gets a mayor. It has clearly worked brilliantly in London, but

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we will wait to see what the Home Secretary decides. That sort of localism is very important. The PCC for Greater Manchester police does a good job, even though the shadow Minister said today—or was it the shadow Home Secretary?—that Labour wants to abolish the position.

The costings are very interesting. Several hon. Members talked about the number of police cut since the coalition came to power. Interestingly, the speech/article read out by the shadow Minister mentioned 100 new officers. The assumption is that Labour would make a saving of £100 million through procurement. I do not know where that figure comes from. There are always assumptions within procurement, but we are working very closely with forces on that; as I said earlier, it is absolutely fine for Governments to decide what should be done as long as we get it right. The shadow Minister talked about making huge savings on shotgun licences. That matter is currently under review, and an announcement will be made shortly. He said that the abolition of police and crime commissioners would save £50 million, even though I understand that Labour police and crime commissioners were told at the weekend that they were expected to be in place until at least 2017. That is another hand-brake turn following others. I am sure that Vera Baird and Paddy Tipping would love to know exactly what the policy is, because it appears to have changed since the conference.

Even on such assumptions, including that the shadow Minister is right to say that this horrible Government would cut 1,000 police next year—that is complete and utter rubbish—and Labour would put in 100 police officers, that works out at an average of 24 per constabulary. That will make a difference, but not quite the difference that some Opposition Members think the shadow Minister has announced today.

Jack Dromey: Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: I have explained why I will not give way.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) made some important comments in his very measured and sensible speech. When he talked about centralised control and such things, my mind drifted back to the regional fire control centres introduced by the previous Administration. As an ex-fireman, I have followed the issue very closely. I was absolutely fascinated by the sheer waste of taxpayers’ money caused by the disastrous policy of regionalising fire control centres. When I was the Minister with responsibility for shipping, I was very lucky to be able to add the coastguard to the centre in Gosport, which saved the coastguard a huge amount of money; however, it also cost the Department for Communities and Local Government a huge amount.

It is absolutely right to look very carefully wherever there is centralised control. That is why I have always said that forces should work together to make sure that they know exactly what is going on. Forces do not necessarily need to work with their natural partners on their boundary, because they do not have to be next to each other to do procurement, human resources or IT together, as is absolutely vital.

The key to this debate is that although we as constituency MPs quite rightly want to stand up for our forces, we must be aware that ongoing savings are required within

10 Feb 2015 : Column 660

police budgets, as the shadow Minister said. We must make sure that the review does what it says on the tin and that we have a proper review.

John Healey rose

Mike Penning: The right hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber for most of the debate, so I will not give way to him even if I had time to do so.

We need to stand up for our forces, but we must also be realistic about them. Shadow Ministers should not make false accusations, build up promises or spread doom and gloom about the police who do such a fantastic job for us. They should not stand at the Dispatch Box and run down our police. [Interruption.] I am told that I am supposed to give way. You gave me 10 minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am now at that time limit, which is why I am not giving way. If the shadow Minister had not spoken for so long, reading out an article that the shadow Home Secretary wrote in a newspaper this morning, I would have been happy to give way.

I hope that we can now conclude the debate on time, as you requested, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that the motion will go through, and that there will be no more scaremongering from the Opposition.

The House divided:

Ayes 285, Noes 212.

Division No. 150]


3.22 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, rh Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackwood, Nicola

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, rh Annette

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, rh Alistair

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

de Bois, Nick

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, rh Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simmonds, rh Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, rh John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Webb, rh Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, rh Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, rh Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Ben Wallace


Lorely Burt


Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carswell, Douglas

Caton, Martin

Clark, Katy

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Philip

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Dame Anne

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reckless, Mark

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Bridget Phillipson


Nic Dakin

Question accordingly agreed to.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 661

10 Feb 2015 : Column 662

10 Feb 2015 : Column 663

10 Feb 2015 : Column 664


That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2015-16 (HC 930), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 665

Local Government Finance

3.37 pm

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): We now come to the two motions on local government finance, which are to be debated together.

Before I call the Minister to move the first motion, I have to inform the House that there is an error on the Order Paper, in that the two reports relating to local government finance appearing in item 3 on the Order Paper have been considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Kris Hopkins): I beg to move,

That the Local Government Finance Report (England) 2015–16 (HC 1013), which was laid before this House on 3 February, be approved.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this we will consider the following:

That the Referendums Relating to Council Tax Increases (Principles) (England) Report 2015–16 (HC 1014), which was laid before this House on 3 February, be approved.

Kris Hopkins: On 18 December, I presented to the House a draft of the local government finance report, which set out our provisional settlement for local authorities in England for 2015-16, and began a period of consultation on our proposals. As I made clear to hon. Members then, we aim to deliver a settlement that is fair to all parts of the country, and that recognises the responsibility of local government to explore every opportunity for sensible savings. Every part of the public sector needs to do its bit to pay off the deficit left by the previous Administration. Local government, which accounts for a quarter of all public spending, must continue to play its part.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): During the Minister’s remarks, will he tell the House what the Government are doing to assist rural authorities? Will he also spell out what is being done to alleviate the burden generally of council tax?

Kris Hopkins: I assure my right hon. Friend that I will consider rural provision in my speech. Since coming to power in 2010, we have recognised that rural communities need additional support. I am sure he will see from the document I laid in the House on 3 February that we have responded appropriately.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The Minister says he wants a settlement that is fair to all communities. He has himself recognised that the current settlement, notwithstanding the Government’s efforts, is not fair to rural communities. The central Government grant is 50% higher for urban communities than it is for rural communities, even though rural communities are on average poorer and have fewer services.

Kris Hopkins: My hon. Friend always makes a robust challenge to the figures we lay before the House, because he is passionate about supporting rural communities. When I get to the section on rural communities I will elaborate further.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 666

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): The Minister says that local government has to bear its fair share of the cuts. Does he accept that according to the Office for Budget Responsibility—the Local Government Association produced these figures for us—if we exclude spending on schools and public health, which local authorities cannot affect, in 2009-10 local authorities represented 19% of public expenditure? By 2015-16, it will represent 16%. In other words, local government has surely borne more than its fair share of cuts. It has had more cuts as a percentage than the rest of central Government services.

Kris Hopkins: I do not have those figures, but what I will say is that I recognise that local government has had to make a substantial contribution to driving down the deficit left by the previous Administration. It is important that we recognise that local government has responded in an extremely positive way to the challenge we have placed before it.

During the consultation period, which closed on 15 January, my ministerial colleagues and I met a number of local authorities and representative groups. I also led a phone-in discussion, with more than 100 authorities participating. In addition, the consultation received numerous written responses. We considered very carefully the views of all those who commented on the provisional settlement. On 3 February, we laid before the House a local government finance report which confirmed our proposal for the settlement for 2015-16 as announced. We also confirmed our proposal that the council tax referendum principle for 2015-16 will be set at 2%.

I recognise the time and effort that those responding to the consultation—councils, in particular—have given in submitting detailed and considered comments on our proposals. As I said, we listened to those views carefully. In doing so, we recognised that councils asked for additional support. As a result, our announcement on the final settlement for 2015-16 included provision for a further £74 million to support upper-tier authorities, including to help them to respond to local welfare needs and improve social care provision.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): If the Minister listened carefully to representations and wanted to be fair, how can the outcome be that Liverpool, the most deprived local authority in the country, is suffering some of the harshest cuts?

Kris Hopkins: We need to recognise—I have said this before—that the 10% most deprived authorities receive on average 40% more than the most wealthy authorities. It is right that we create a formula to ensure the more vulnerable and deprived areas get that response, but we should not just measure on the basis of what moneys have been allocated. Local authorities now have the ability to raise money and are rewarded for building houses. I would also point out that the growth deals associated with Liverpool are significant and are led by local leaders.

With the addition of these extra resources, the overall reduction in local authority spending power in 2015-16 is 1.7%. That is lower than that proposed in our provisional settlement. Taking into account the funds we are providing to support local transformation, the overall reduction is still lower, at 1.5%. Once again, the settlement ensures

10 Feb 2015 : Column 667

that councils facing the highest demand for services will continue to receive substantially more funding, and we continue to ensure that no council will face a loss of more than 6.4% in spending power in 2015-16.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that spending power disguises the real pressure on many councils, and that the money allocated does matter? Barnsley, which covers part of my constituency, is facing eye-watering cuts: a 26.9% cut in the revenue support grant next year, it tells me, and an overall cut in its settlement of 13.6%. It is absolutely nothing like the smaller figures he is giving the House.

Kris Hopkins: I hope, then, that the right hon. Gentleman has apologised to his constituents for the financial nightmare this country faced in 2010. The Government are not making these decisions out of a desire to reduce funding for the sake of it; we are responding to the appalling economy that Labour left.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Can the Minister comment on the balance in his settlement between the money that goes directly in the block grant and the money that goes for special purposes and as a reward for certain kinds of conduct? How is that developing, and what difference does it make to the percentage change?

Kris Hopkins: I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me; I cannot give him the percentage change, but I can give him some clear figures. For example, business rate retention by local authorities alone is some £11 billion, and as the Prime Minister said this morning, should a Conservative Administration be returned at the forthcoming general election, we would hope to increase that to two thirds.

Through consecutive settlements, we have ensured that these unavoidable changes to local authority funding have been applied in a fair and sustainable way, and through our reforms to local government finance we have established a basis for more self-reliant government—a sector less dependent on grant and increasingly confident about using the tools and incentives we are providing to grow their local economies.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): The low level of private rents in the London borough of Havering has given rise to a surge in demand, particularly for children’s services. The local population is already top heavy with older people and all the demands that come with that. How might the funding formula respond more to individual boroughs with particular difficulties?

Kris Hopkins: The key thing about the choices that we have placed before local government is just that—local authorities can determine where money is spent. We appreciate that there is less money to spend as a consequence of the previous Administration’s activities, but it is right that people can make choices, set their priorities and—in this case—choose to look after very vulnerable individuals.

As well as growing their economies, the best authorities are transforming how they do business and demonstrating innovation, including in how they work with local partners.

10 Feb 2015 : Column 668

We are supporting them as they do that, helping them to achieve savings and, perhaps most importantly, improving outcomes for people who use local services. As I announced in December, we are developing proposals for a project to identify and disseminate good practice in transforming services, especially in rural areas. This work will involve rural authorities and the Rural Services Network, and is a clear commitment to our rural areas.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) mentioned demand for children’s services. In Coventry, we have to find an additional £7 million for children’s services. More importantly, we have to cut services across the board, because there has been a cut from the Government of £80 million, or 2,000 jobs, in general terms. What will the Minister do about that? He cannot go on blaming the previous Government. The coalition is in government now. There is no choice here, and that is being reflected in local government up and down the country. Local government is becoming a whipping boy for this Government, as it was for previous Conservative Governments.

Kris Hopkins: I am not moving away from the fact that there was a huge deficit in 2010, which this Government or whoever come to power after the May election will have to continue to address. The hon. Gentleman says that we keep on going back to local government. I have not seen anything from the Opposition to suggest that they will do anything but continue to bear down on spending on local government, because they will have to address the issues of concern. We have given local government the opportunity to grow resources by promoting and developing business, by securing planning permission and building the houses required for the local populace. That is the right thing to do.

Several hon. Members rose

Kris Hopkins: I shall give way in a few moments.

We continue to recognise the challenges faced by rural communities. Through consecutive settlements, we have helped address the gap in urban/rural spending power. We expect the gap to continue to close. In the meantime, the settlement confirms another year of additional resources for the most rural authorities to recognise the challenges they face in delivering services. For 2015-16, in direct response to Members of all parties, we have increased the grant to £15.5 million.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister recognise the challenges faced by London, whose population is on the increase? The population of my own borough, the London borough of Enfield, will increase by 10% up to 2020, putting enormous strain on services, not least on children’s school places. What recognition has the Minister given to that population increase, and will he include it in the baselines so that it is reflected in the grant settlement?

Kris Hopkins: What I recognise is that London is a great international city, which has thrived under this Administration, and will continue to deliver significant jobs, wealth and income to the individuals out there. That is the root issue. Many Labour Members stick

10 Feb 2015 : Column 669

their hands out and ask for more money; the reality is that this Government are setting about ensuring that we grow our economy, get people into work and give them the ability to stand on—




Several hon. Members rose

Kris Hopkins: Let me make a bit more progress.

The Government previously consulted on a range of options for how local welfare provisions for the upper-tier local authorities should be funded in 2015-16, following localisation. The Department for Work and Pensions carried out a review, and the Government concluded that local authorities should continue to be able to offer local welfare assistance from existing budgets in 2015-16, alongside a range of other services if they judge them to be a priority in their area. To assist in identifying how much of their existing funding is involved, an amount relating to local welfare provision was separately identified in each upper-tier authority general grant as part of the provisional settlement. This totalled about £130 million nationally, and was distributed in line with local welfare provision funding for 2014-15. The Government have always been clear that councils should choose how best to support local welfare needs, so this allocation cannot be ring-fenced and we will not place any new duties, expectations or monitoring requirements on its use.

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): My hon. Friend is generous in giving way this afternoon. Harborough district council area covers about a quarter of the geographical area of the county of Leicestershire. It follows that it is a large rural area, with all the sparsity factors that go with it. The district council is Conservative run and it is doing its best to ensure that taxpayers’ money is wisely spent. If I may say so, it has behaved extremely well in ensuring that both the Government’s policies and its own policies are bearing fruit. However, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that there is a perception of a distinction being made between rural funding and city funding, particularly for the city of Leicester in comparison with my area, so will he do all he can to help me explain to my constituents that this Government mean what they say—that they have not forgotten their rural heartlands?

Kris Hopkins: Members have asked for a clear direction of travel in relation to our incremental increases in rural additional funding. I think it is clear that we have done our best to provide those increases during our time in office, given the limited resources that are available to us, but let me repeat an offer that I have already made: I shall be happy to meet my hon. and learned Friend and members of his council to discuss how we can communicate better what we are trying to do.

In response to the representations that we received during the consultation, we have decided to allocate an additional £74 million to upper-tier authorities to help them to deal with pressures on local welfare, health and social care. That will help councils further as they develop localised arrangements.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Will the Minister acknowledge the warnings issued by the Local Government Association about the cumulative impact of a 40% cut in local government funding? Does he

10 Feb 2015 : Column 670

accept that many authorities, including Brighton, are struggling to provide services? Is not the truth that this Government do not care about the future of local government as we know it?

Kris Hopkins: I suggest that one of the reasons Brighton council is struggling is its poor leadership. Moreover, the figure given by the hon. Lady clearly does not include significant amounts of public money, including money from the better care fund. Some £5.3 billion appears to be missing from the LGA’s calculation.

That £74 million will be topped up with £37 million of additional funding for local authorities during the current year. That extra money will ensure that councils can step up their efforts to get people home as soon as they are ready to leave hospital, and avoid the need for people to go into hospital in the first place. It will help to promote joint working between our local public services, and will improve front-line services for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Mr Graham Stuart: Will the money be distributed in a way that is proportionate to the number of over-65s in local populations? As my hon. Friend will know, rural communities typically contain older, more vulnerable residents than their urban counterparts.

Kris Hopkins: Although I live in a large metropolitan district, I also represent a significant rural area, and I know that many single elderly people live in large houses. That is another form of deprivation, in that they must sustain those houses on limited and fixed incomes.

1 urge all councils to protect taxpayers this year by taking the additional Government funding that is on offer for a freeze. That will enable them to help hard-working households and those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, with their living costs. The tax-freeze grant will be embedded in councils’ baseline funding. Five successive years of freeze funding have seen council tax in England fall by 11% in real terms since 2010, after being doubled by the last Administration. Our actions will save for the average Band D household up to £1,075 over the course of this Parliament.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I welcome the extra funds that will help people to be moved from hospital into the community or to other forms of care, but what is the rationale for ring-fencing that pot of money and not ring-fencing the local welfare assistance money?

Kris Hopkins: The additional £37 million is specifically to address some of the winter pressures we face. We wanted to make sure that local councils work with authorities to address the particular needs of those individuals we wanted to help move into appropriate accommodation, and make sure there was sufficient and appropriate domiciliary care to look after them. That is why it is targeted around that group.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Minister asserted that the settlement was both fair and sustainable, and I want to address the word “sustainable.” On the current trajectory, by 2018

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Birmingham will have lost, using 2010 as a baseline, £821 million. That is two thirds of its discretionary spending. By any definition, that is not sustainable.

Kris Hopkins: I have a lot of respect for the hon. Lady, but I am afraid that poor leadership in Birmingham and the fact that it has not collected some £100 million in council tax arrears may explain some of the issues it is facing. Stronger leadership and the ability to carry out the simple function of placing a charge on an individual and collecting it will assist it.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the real way to achieve proper sustainability for local government funding is to reward those councils who go for growth in their area and increase their tax bases—as we are seeing with the increase in business rates income anticipated this year—and make councils less dependent on central Government grant in the long term?

Kris Hopkins: My hon. Friend speaks very wisely and he knows from his own experience that local authorities appreciate these tools we have given them to grow their finance base, and there is an incentive for them to carry this out by improving those key services and increasing the resources to those services.

For those who do not freeze the council tax, the referendums principles report laid before the House on 3 February confirms that any increase of 2% or more will require a binding referendum by the local electorate. Councils that want to increase their bills should have the courage of their convictions and seek a mandate from their electorate. It is already the case that a council tax referendum can be held at a reduced cost in 2015-16 when combined with the general election. We announced on 3 February that any savings to the Consolidated Fund as a result of a combination of a referendum with the general election will be redirected to councils, so the cost of the referendum to a local authority is low. This weakens the argument that some might make that holding a local referendum will result in excessive cost.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I have no doubt the Minister will want to congratulate Hammersmith and Fulham council, which is one of eight to cut its council tax this year, but why is he rewarding it by cutting its discretionary housing payment not by 24%, which is the national average, or 35%, which is the figure for London, but by 52%? This is an area with the highest property prices and where there is family break-up with people being forced out of the area. DHP is absolutely vital. Will he look again at that cut?

Kris Hopkins: This Government continue to ensure there is a substantial welfare net to look after the most vulnerable individuals, and we have put additional funding into the budget. I applaud the council for reducing its council tax, however, and I would just note that it is following the trajectory given by the previous Conservative administration. That may be only a small glimmer of light, but somebody appears to have learned from the excellent previous Conservative administration.

The local government finance report 2015-16 sets out a fair settlement, which ensures councils continue to have significant spending power. Even with the savings

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that have been made to date, local authorities in England were expected to spend over £115 billion in the current financial year. When we factor in councils’ new responsibilities for public health, the amount local government are expected to spend is higher than it was under the last Administration.

Mr Love: My local authority, the London borough of Enfield, is the 64th most deprived in the country, but its ability to deal with the problems of need is hampered by the long-term impact of the damping formula. I understand what the Minister said earlier about the need for floors, but can he offer any support to those local authorities struggling to address the needs of their boroughs because of capping over a long period?

Kris Hopkins: There are two things. First, there is not a cap; there is an opportunity for people to increase their council tax, and if councils believe that their public would support them, they may hold a referendum. Secondly, I go back to a point that I made earlier about the success of individuals. The route out of poverty and deprivation for an area such as my former council area of Bradford involves getting people skilled up, with local councils supporting them, and those individuals getting a job and being able to stand on their own feet. Breaking the cycle for an individual trapped in one has to be the responsibility of both central and local government.

The referendum principles report sets a sensible threshold for council tax increases, unless local people are happy to approve something else through a referendum. It is more important than ever that councils can demonstrate to local taxpayers that they are using every pound of their money to best effect to deliver efficient and effective services and to achieve sensible savings.

4.6 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): That was an interesting speech. I pay tribute to the Minister for his generosity in giving way to Members, but councillors up and down the country listening to what we have just heard—in particular the part where he talked about giving authorities the ability to grow their resources—will look at their circumstances today and ask whether the Minister really understands what is going on in our authorities.

I want to begin with the scale of what is happening, because the Minister queried the figure given by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), which was the Local Government Association’s calculation of a 40% reduction in core Government funding to councils since 2010, as a result of which councils have had to make reductions or savings worth about £20 billion. Would the Minister argue, however, with the National Audit Office, which said in its report “Financial sustainability of local authorities 2014”:

“The government will reduce its funding to local authorities by 37% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2015-16”?

Kris Hopkins: I would disagree, because neither the LGA nor the NAO includes the money for public health or the better care fund.

Hilary Benn: I shall come to that point directly, but the Minister did not actually contest the NAO figure. The reduction in resources of 1.7% that he has talked about today is a selective figure, because it does indeed

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include council tax, the better care fund and other ring-fenced funding, but if that is excluded the LGA says that the reduction is actually 8.5%. Whatever the statistics that the Minister wants to argue about, the truth is that local government has faced the biggest reductions in the whole of the public sector, as we heard in an intervention.

We should first pay tribute to councils for the extraordinary job that they have done—councils up and down the country, of all political parties—in trying to deal with the consequences of the cuts, because their effort has been herculean. I pay tribute to the Minister for his tone, which is slightly different from that of his predecessors, but councils really resented the Secretary of State once famously describing the cuts as “modest”—which I bet he now regrets—and the LGA’s fears for the future of local government as “utterly ludicrous”.

Mr Graham Stuart: If we are talking about making admissions, will the right hon. Gentleman now accept that his Government, at what seemed to be a time of relative plenty, skewed funding to urban areas at the expense of rural ones? Now that we are in a period of austerity, which will continue whoever is in power, it is those poorer, more highly taxed and yet lower-serviced rural areas that are suffering most. Will his party pledge to do something about that, or will it carry on putting its own party interests ahead of fairness for the British people?

Hilary Benn: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I resent that suggestion. I make no apology for the fact that the last Labour Government provided funding on the basis of need and that local authorities saw an increase in resources under Labour. I do not recall hearing any complaints about that from the then Opposition when those decisions were being made.

Mr Stuart rose

Hilary Benn: I am going to make some more progress; the hon. Gentleman has had his answer. I accept the point he has made in a number of these debates about the particular challenges facing rural areas. I want to see a fairer funding formula, and I shall address that a little later.

Ministers are in denial about the scale of the challenge that authorities face and are still claiming that the settlement is fair—this is my first and fundamental point. The Minister told the House in December that the settlement is

“fair to all parts of the country, whether north or south, urban or rural.”—[Official Report, 18 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 1590.]

He said that again today, but let me tell him that nobody else believes it because it clearly is not true. He does not need to take my word for it; all he has to do is listen to what others have had to say about what Ministers have done. The Audit Commission has said that

“councils in the most deprived areas have seen substantially greater reductions in government funding as a share of revenue expenditure than councils in less deprived areas.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that

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“cuts in spending power and budgeted spend are systematically greater in more deprived local authorities than in more affluent ones”.

The Public Accounts Committee report on the financial sustainability of local authorities said:

“local authorities with the highest spending needs have been receiving the largest reductions.”

The Chair of the PAC, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), said:

“These cuts have not hit all local authorities equally, with reductions ranging between 5% and 40%.

Councils with the greatest spending needs—the most deprived authorities—have been receiving the largest reductions.”

At least the former local government Minister, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), had the honesty some time ago to say:

“Those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt”—[Official Report, 10 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 450.]

Today’s Minister mentioned council tax, but the one group of people who have not benefited from any freeze in council tax are those on the very lowest incomes, who have been affected by the changes to council tax benefit. There has been no freeze for them.

Robert Neill: It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman quoted selectively, forgetting that I said that that would be because the Labour party would ruin the economy, and only by growing the economy would the poorest benefit. He has said there would be no new money for local government were Labour to come into office, so will he help us by coming clean as to which local authorities he will then penalise so he can distribute money to his political friends and on what basis?

Hilary Benn: Once again, I do not accept the charge that this is about distributing funds to friends; it is about having a fair funding formula. I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the coalition Government took office unemployment in this country was falling and the economy was growing—[Laughter.] It is no good Government Members laughing, because the evidence, the statistics, the facts will show that that was indeed the case.

On council tax increases, Ministers have frequently made reference to what happened under the last Labour Government, so I have taken the trouble to look at what actually happened then. The truth is that the biggest increases in council tax between 1997 and 2010 were put in place by Conservative-controlled authorities and the smallest increases were under Labour. Indeed, 11 of the top 15 increases in council tax during that period came under Conservative-controlled authorities, two were under authorities with no overall control and one was under a Lib Dem-controlled authority. I suppose that was a coalition.

Mr Stuart: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Hilary Benn: No. The hon. Gentleman may not like the fact, but the truth is that Conservative-controlled authorities were leading the way in raising council tax. What I am interested in, in this debate, is what the figures show. Why is it that by 2017, as we heard a moment ago, the city of Liverpool, with the most deprived local authority in the country, will have lost half its Government grant since 2010? I have nothing

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against Wokingham, but why is it on course to have higher spending power per household than Leeds or Newcastle, despite the greater needs of those two cities? Why is it that, having claimed that those with the broadest shoulders would bear the biggest burden, Ministers have done the very opposite to local government? Will the Minister explain why Elmbridge, Waverley and Surrey Heath have been given an increase in spending power over the past five years although they are among some of the very wealthiest parts of the country? They rank among the 10 least deprived local authorities in England. There is a lot of austerity elsewhere, but it does not appear to apply in those places.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way the Government have approached local government finance is putting councils between a rock and a hard place? My own council in Hounslow will have to make cuts of around 40% on what it had in 2010. To raise council tax even by 2% would generate about £2 million. To go over that would cost between £300,000 and £400,000 in terms of running a referendum. The council is concerned about what will happen to services, which will have to be very deeply cut.

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the difficult choices faced by local authorities up and down the country. I know that councils will do their darnedest to try to minimise any increase in council tax because of the pressure on people’s finances and because of what has happened over the past five years.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I wish to give one example to show that this is all about the political nature of an authority rather than the previous funding formula. In Redcar and Cleveland between 1999 and 2003, when the council was Labour-run, and 2007 and 2011—eight years—the council tax under Labour did not go up cumulatively by the amount it did under the Tories between 2003 and 2007, who raised it by 24% in four years.

Hilary Benn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting the record straight, given the charge that has been laid against us by the Government. The fundamental question today is why the system has been moving away from one where funding properly reflected need to one where the principle is being lost. That question was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who chairs the Select Committee, in this debate last year, but so far there has been no answer.

John Healey: My right hon. Friend is making a powerful and principled point about the way that funding has moved against those areas with greatest need. He is making that case with great clarity, but does he accept that using spending power, as he just did, disguises the depth of the cuts that many councils face? It really cannot be the case that we can accept £1.8 billion of a better care fund in next year’s budget as an increase in councils’ spending power when the power to approve the spending decisions lies not with councils but with the health service in those areas?

Hilary Benn: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. That is why the attempt that the Minister made to include that spending power, when we know that a goodly portion of that money is not in the

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hands of local authorities, is not a fair reflection. The point I put to the Minister is simply this: the NAO said that the Government should publish figures detailing the change in individual local authority income in real terms since 2010-11 so that the cumulative impact of funding reductions could be plain for all to see. The question is why have the Government refused to do it, and why are we relying on the finance department of Newcastle city council to do the work of the Department for Communities and Local Government?

Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that in a constituency such as mine in Hertfordshire we are facing a lot of new building of homes and we need infrastructure. If he deprives my council of the new homes bonus and its community infrastructure levy, how will we provide for all these people in our part of the world? It just does not add up.

Hilary Benn: I have no intention of depriving the hon. and learned Gentleman’s local authority of CIL income, but as he raises the new homes bonus, I shall be straight and direct with him. I shall come on to this in a moment—in fact, if he will bear with me, I shall come to that point about the new homes bonus and set out why it needs to change.

Mr Jim Cunningham: A good illustration of what is happening in local government can be seen in Coventry, at University hospital. Cuts in the care budget have led to bed blocking, and now there are also cuts in the welfare budget. The Government say that they are trying to be gentle with local government, but does my right hon. Friend not agree that they are actually putting the boot in?

Hilary Benn: I agree and I shall come to that point, too, when I talk about the consequences of what has happened for health and social care more generally.

Mr Redwood: The shadow Secretary of State is usually very fair-minded, so does he agree that the largest local authority service is education, which has over the past five years had cash increases and small real increases in spending, and that the biggest local public service is the NHS, as administered locally, which has had real increases as well? Were they not the right priorities and would not his party have shared exactly that priority of protecting health and education?

Hilary Benn: Indeed. If one looks back at the record of the previous Labour Government, one can see that that is precisely what we did. In fact, we increased investment in those two things as that reflects public priorities. Of course, Government life is about the choices one has to make and one of the choices the Government have not made is to publish the figures that the NAO has asked them to publish. I suspect that Ministers know what the figures are and know that they will damage their argument that this is a settlement that is fair to all, north and south, and therefore do not want to reveal what is happening. We also know that the NAO has criticised the Department and Ministers for not paying close enough attention to what is going on. Again, those are not my words but those of the National Audit Office, which said:

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“The Department has a limited understanding of the financial sustainability of local authorities and the extent to which they may be at risk of financial failure.”

That is why the Public Accounts Committee said:

“The Department does not understand the impact over time of reductions in funding to local authorities, and the potential risks of individual authorities becoming financially unsustainable if reductions continue.”

On current trends, the revenue support grant will disappear entirely by 2019-20. When the Minister replies, will he confirm that that is the case? What assessment have the Government made of the impact of that on the viability of local authority services, particularly in the areas most reliant on Government support? Indeed, I ask Members to pause for a moment and contemplate their local authority’s budget without any revenue support grant whatsoever. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee was very clear when she said recently:

“Further cuts could not just undermine the entire viability of most optional services, but might threaten some statutory services in these areas.”

Dame Angela Watkinson I am sure that the shadow Secretary of State is aware that the 12 inner London boroughs hold more in reserves collectively than the 20 outer London boroughs. Does he think that that indicates that funding is going where the greatest need is or does he agree with me that the balance of funding between inner and outer London needs to be reviewed?

Hilary Benn: The size of the reserves held by authorities across the country—they have been criticised by Ministers for doing that—shows the scale of the challenge they face. Councils are doing exactly what families do if they have any money to put by when times are hard, as they do not know what is around the corner or what difficulties they will face. That is my first point. Secondly, a lot of those reserves are earmarked for capital investment, including invest-to-save projects to help deliver savings further down the line. Thirdly, if councils decided today just to spend all of their reserves, that would pay for local government services for about a month and then they would all be gone. Then what should they do? It is no good criticising local councils for having reserves when they are trying to manage their money prudently.

I want to come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) about social care, which is under particular strain because of the growing number of older people. Will the Minister, in replying, tell us what percentage of the better care fund, about which we have heard today, is flowing into local authorities to support social care as opposed to going to the health service? He will be well aware of the pressures faced by local authorities and, as we have just heard and as all hon. Members know, part of the reason for the rising pressure in A and E departments, and for the growing number of elderly people in hospital beds when there is no medical need for them still to be there, is the reductions, in some cases, that have had to be made by local authorities, despite their best endeavours, in entitlement to social care. The Local Government Association estimates that adult social care faces a funding gap of £1.6 billion in 2015-16 and that that is

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expected to rise to £4.3 billion in 2019-20. Is that a figure that Ministers accept? If so, what do they intend to do about it?

Will the Minister confirm that the new homes bonus takes money away from the most disadvantaged communities and gives it to areas where, in all probability, the new homes would have been built anyway? What does he have to say about the NAO’s conclusion that there is little evidence that the new homes bonus has yet made significant changes to local authorities’ behaviour towards increasing housing supply? Even two of the Ministers on the Front Bench are not wildly keen on it. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), has admitted that he is “not a fan”, and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), was even more frank because he told the House back in November 2013: