Mark calls for better funding of the Greater Manchester Police

January 23, 2007 12:00 AM
In Westminster Hall

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess. I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) on securing it and on the diligent and industrious way in which he goes about representing the interests of his constituents. We have also had very worthwhile contributions from several other hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) and for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), as well as the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), who is a neighbour of mine in a constituency sense, and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady).

Let me start by making it clear, as several hon. Members have sought to do already, that the purpose of the debate is certainly not to be critical of the Greater Manchester police authority, Greater Manchester police, their chief constable or anybody else involved in trying to do the job on the ground. On the contrary, I should like to compliment the police authority on the open way in which it has gone about ensuring that all Members in the Greater Manchester conurbation are precisely aware of the problems that it faces. The chairman, in particular, is to be given credit for inviting Members in just before Christmas to hear what the problems were. Put simply, the issue is that Greater Manchester police face a funding crisis, and that is what today's debate is intended to deal with. As the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West said, this is precisely the time when we should be applying pressure to ensure that the Government understand Greater Manchester's needs and, I hope, why we feel hard done by in comparison with other areas.

I happen to have in front of me the report that was given to those of us who attended the meeting with the chair of the police authority, and it gives a clear breakdown of the deficits for each of the next three years. For 2007-08, the shortfall will be £1.3 million. As we heard from the hon. Member for Stockport, moves are already being made to address that deficit; indeed, the police authority chairman told us that when we met just before Christmas. However, the £25.9 million figure for 2008-09 and the £12.2 million figure for 2009-10 will require an awful lot of tweaking if they are to be manageable in any way, shape or form.

Put simply, however, our contention is that those shortfalls will not be manageable unless there is a fundamental change in the funding formula, and we will see a greater diminution of the service to the people of Greater Manchester. Let us not forget that that will be in addition to the loss of 216 officers that we have already seen in Greater Manchester. The report makes it clear that those officers are lost for good, and none of the budget projections will lead to a recovery of the previous position. We have already lost 216 officers, but the police authority's documentation makes it clear that, in addition, the budget shortfall will be £27 million over the next two years or £39 million over the next three years.

The hon. Member for Stockport talked about community policing. She was gracious enough to accept that Stockport, which is run by the Liberal Democrats, as opposed to the Labour party or the Conservatives, has seen a number of first-rate partnership initiatives with the police. As she rightly said, those have contributed to improved working, more joined-up thinking and a better all-round approach to crime and antisocial behaviour issues.

The hon. Lady talked in some detail about the strategy behind neighbourhood policing or community policing-whichever term hon. Members prefer. Again, all of us buy into that strategy, and there is no disagreement about it across the political spectrum. However, there is disagreement about whether it is being implemented. I appreciate that the hon. Lady, like me, is a glass-half-full, not a glass-half-empty person, but I do not recognise her description of responses, general attitudes or, indeed, the allocation of resources-perhaps she is just very fortunate to have more policemen in her constituency than I have in neighbouring Cheadle. However, although the theory of neighbourhood or community policing is first rate, the reaction of most of my constituents, and those of other hon. Members, is, "Frankly, it would be difficult for us to tell how good it is, because we don't see much of it."

I make that point in the context of a meeting that I attended last year with the head of the Metropolitan police, Sir Ian Blair. He told me and several colleagues-the Minister will of course know this in his capacity not only as a Minister, but as a London Member-about the wonderful way in which community policing in London means that there is a dedicated team of six police officers in every local government ward. That team includes a sergeant, two police constables and three PCSOs-wonderful! In a constituency such as mine, that would mean the equivalent of 42 dedicated officers working within the boundaries of the parliamentary constituency. My guess is that the reality is a handful of officers at any one moment.

Neither the borough commander, Neil Wain-for whom I have tremendous respect-nor the chief constable, Michael Todd, has tried to pretend to me that Stockport is getting anything like the community policing resources that other areas, particularly the capital, might have. I met the chief constable last autumn, and he told me-I am paraphrasing his words, but he has also made this claim publicly-that as long as Greater Manchester police continue to subsidise the Met to the tune of £14 million or £15 million a year, he does not see the situation changing.

I know full well that the Minister will be his usual robust self in answering these criticisms, but I hope that he will understand that most of the key facts and figures that we have repeated today have not been dreamed up by Liberal Democrat campaigners or Members of Parliament; they have come from the chief constable, the borough commander and the police authority. If the Minister wants to take the line of arguing with the facts and figures that we have presented, it is important that we make clear where they have come from.

Recorded crime is up by 3.6 per cent. The lack of police presence on our streets is a major worry-a major worry. Hon. Members have made it clear that in our constituencies the concern is not so much organised crime or high-level crime; it is low-level, antisocial behaviour and petty vandalism-the kind of crime that makes people's lives a misery. It affects not only constituencies that are largely socially deprived; it affects middle-class and affluent constituencies in just the same way.

People do not believe that there is an adequate police presence any longer. People say to me, "Mark, it's getting more and more like the fire brigade. The police will come out if you ring 999, but you never see them on beat patrol." I say again that I do not blame Greater Manchester police for that. I do not say that the Stockport borough commander has got his priorities wrong or anything like that. I simply say that the police are doing the best they can with insufficient resources. People are not satisfied with the lack of police presence on our streets. They do not feel safe to go about their business, particularly in the evenings, and they are, I think, increasingly disillusioned about the point of telephoning and reporting such incidents to the police, because they do not think that their calls will be followed up. Neighbourhood and community policing is a fine aspiration. We are all signed up to it, but the reality is that in too many of our areas there are very serious concerns about the lack of police presence and about the low-key, petty vandalism and antisocial behaviour that blights too many lives.

I hope that the Minister will address our concerns seriously. The early-day motion that was referred to and today's debate are part of our genuine efforts to focus attention on the concerns, which I am sure are shared by all Greater Manchester Members. It is perhaps slightly disappointing that that is not reflected in their attendance today, with one or two honourable exceptions, but the concerns are widespread and genuine and I hope that the Minister will address them in the spirit in which we have raised them, which is that we all want to work together to bring crime levels down and to help people to feel safe in their communities again. The issue is not only that we are far, far away from that situation at the moment. Given the funding crisis that is outlined in the report from the police authority, which we have heard so much about already today, the great danger is that the problem, unless it is tackled by the Government, will continue to get worse, rather than get better. That would be unacceptable to all our constituents.

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