HC Deb 01 March 2001 vol 363 cc1033-4
8. Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town)

If he will make a statement on the implications of the pre-Budget report for investment in public services, with particular reference to emergency services. [150142]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms)

We have been reminded in the past 24 hours of the critical importance to all of us of the work of the emergency services. The whole House will want to express its admiration for their work at Selby.

The Government's plans for spending on public services were set out in last year's spending review, and updated in the pre-Budget report. Police spending is set to rise from £7.7 billion to £9.3 billion in 2003–04; the standard spending assessment for fire services is set to rise from £1.4 billion to £1.6 billion in that year.

Mr. Fitzpatrick

Given the extra resources and the new partnership arrangements being created across the emergency services, can my hon. Friend assure us that full consultation will take place with both trade unions and professional associations, as well as with local authority representatives and the managers of the various organisations and services?

Mr. Timms

What has happened is that national debt is down. In 1997, it was 42 per cent.; it is now 31 per cent. and decreasing. That plus lower interest rates means that £4 billion is available for extra spending. Unemployment is also down, which again makes extra spending available. Those key changes enable the emergency services to plan with confidence for the future, working—as my hon. Friend said—in partnership with local authorities, trade unions and others who are involved. What the services could not cope with is having to contribute to the spending cuts that would be necessary to deliver the policy of Conservative Members.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

Is the Minister aware that in Surrey, the sum being given to our police force is being cut in real terms and, according to figures supplied to me by Surrey police, in absolute terms by as much as £6 per head? How can we have any confidence in the Government's commitment to fight crime when they are prepared to cut the funding of one of the best performing police services in the country?

Mr. Timms

I have said that our plans are to increase spending on the police service. The hon. Gentleman must explain why he supports cuts if he is really looking for more spending. In the next three years, an additional 9,000 recruits across the country will be funded centrally by the crime fighting fund. Police numbers will reach 128,000 by March 2002, and we are expecting further increases after that.