HC Deb 10 December 2003 vol 415 cc1048-50
6. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)

What discussions he has held with (a) the Secretary of State for the Home Department and (b) the National Assembly for Wales Government on future policing funding. [142074]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with colleagues about matters affecting Wales, including future police funding.

Mr. Llwyd

I thank the Minister for that very illuminating answer. May I draw his attention to the fact that the district auditor said recently that all police authorities are being—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is far too noisy. It is unfair to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Llwyd

The district auditor recently reported that central Government are underfunding all police authorities drastically at this time. North Wales police authority is a responsible authority with an excellent work force and record, but it recently received a settlement that was £1.7 million down on last year. That means that it is in considerable difficulty given that it faces a £2 million increase in pension costs and a £3 million increase in staff costs. Will the Minister lend his support to increasing the authority's funding and also put right the misleading line given by the Home Office saying that Airwave would be paid for centrally because a further £330,000 needs to be brought forward for that?

Mr. Touhig

Funding in the police service remains a top priority for the Government—indeed, it has increased by 30 per cent. since 2000 and there will be a 3.25 per cent. increase in the general grant for police services in next year's settlement. It is important to recognise that the Government are committed to investment and reform in the police service. We are putting in a funding increase of 4.2 per cent.—£403 million in cash terms—for 2004–05.

I am aware of the problems with Airwave. My colleagues in the Home Office appreciate that there has already been a good deal of expenditure on Airwave and are reviewing the position.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab)

When my hon. Friend meets Home Office Ministers, will he draw their attention to the letter from the chief constable of Gwent about the need to maintain resources so that the high detection rate that Gwent has successfully achieved may be sustained and the fight against crime can continue? Will he also join me in paying tribute to the chief constable, Mr. Keith Turner, on his impending retirement?

Mr. Touhig

I echo the points that my hon. Friend makes about the retiring chief constable of Gwent. He has been a good and able officer who has had a considerable impact on policing in Gwent. Of course, the Government recognise that financial pressures exist and that they vary from one police authority to another. As I said in reply to the previous question, the Government are putting in resources and it is important for the police service to manage them effectively. I certainly urge all members of police authorities to scrutinise carefully the budget and spending proposals put forward by chief constables to ensure that we get value for money.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)

In the Dyfed-Powys police area, the proportion of the cost of policing that falls on council tax payers has increased from 15 per cent. to 35 per cent. in the past five years due to inadequate police grants. Why do a Labour Government insist on funding local police services through the iniquitous and regressive council tax, which bears most heavily on the lowest paid in society while the rich pay only 1 per cent. of their income?

Mr. Touhig

In truth, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there have been all sorts of pressures on the police service over recent years. As I said, the Government have put considerable extra funding into the police service throughout the United Kingdom. It is important that those resources are properly husbanded and managed, and I urge police authorities to ensure that they get value for money. When I chaired a local authority finance committee in a previous incarnation, I often had discussions with the police about various aspects of their budget and I was told that I could not question this or that because they were operational matters. I do not accept that. Such matters should be transparent and the public should know exactly what is going on with funding for the police service. The Government are putting in a great deal of extra resources, which should be welcomed. It is important for the police service to husband them and use them to the best of its ability.

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