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PROBLEM OF POLICE PENSIONS A HIGH PRIORITY, BUT DIFFICULT TO CRACK, SAYS MINISTER

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Hansard 16 Feb: Column 1076-1084 ...
Hansard 16 Feb: Column 1076-1084

The funding of police pensions was a genuine issue across the country and the current situation was unfair, home office minister Charles Clarke told MPs.

Replying to the adjournment debate on Avon and Somerset police funding, he admitted: 'The government and previous governments have not grasped the issue as it needs to be grasped. It raises fundamental issues about funding as a whole, the proportion of police spending spending that goes on pensions, and distribution - because different forces deal with the situation in different ways.

'We are addressing the issues as a matter of high priority, because the current situation is not fair. We are carefully considering what should be done, but I do not have a white rabbit to pull out of the hat to solve the problem. The issues have not previously been addressed becuse they are difficult to address and even harder to get right. What is important is that a police authority such as Avon and Somerset should not have its flexibility to decide the allocation of its resources constrained unacceptably by the proportion of its funding that must be devoted to spending.'

Mr Clarke said any genuinely constructive suggestions would be welcomed. 'Many people have odd ideas, but actually cracking the problem will be difficult', added Mr Clarke.

Initiating the debate, Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat MP for Northavon, said the Somerset and Avon force was stretched to the limit. As an example, he said, one policeman had been told on 25 days in the past year not to use his police car because the cost of petrol would mean going over budget.

It estimated there was a shortfall of£7m in a budget of£180m. The force would cut 30 officers in the coming year in addition to a reduction in support staff.

Mr Webb said: 'The effect of pay awards and inflation eats up all the additional grant and additional assumed council tax rise. Over and above that,£2m is needed for police pensions.

'I was shocked to learn that, in the budget overall,£1 in every£6 of net police funding goes not on the police, but on pensions. That is an arbitary way in which to fund those liabilities. That is the position not just in the police service, but in the fire service and other sectors of public service'.

The funding formula needed to be reviewed. The government had accepted the impact of sparcity on rural areas such as Avon and Somerset, and the effect on policing costs. The area cost adjustment and the damping effect of using six-year-old establishment factors also contributed to making the funding formula unjust.

He added: 'I think that it is widely accepted that the formula is unjust. However, the government's bizarre response is to do nothing about it for at least a year, to ensure stability. Stability is a virtue, but it is not a virtue that counteracts injustice'.

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