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Police Community Support Officers

Volume 468: debated on Monday 26 November 2007

1. How many police community support officers there are in Chorley; and if she will make a statement. (167480)

There is now a neighbourhood policing team in every area in Lancashire. It is for the chief constable to decide where to deploy his police community support officers, but at the end of March 2007 the southern basic command unit, which includes Chorley, had 72 PCSOs—an invaluable addition to policing, with the primary focus of engaging with their local community.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Can she confirm that the Government are actually providing 75 per cent. of the funding for PCSOs in Chorley? The leader of the council believes they are funded by the council, but it is the Government who provide 75 per cent. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that PCSOs will not replicate the police but will assist the police force, ensuring that police numbers remain the same?

My hon. Friend is right: the introduction of PCSOs was an initiative brought about by the Labour Government. It was an initiative funded by the Labour Government to the tune of £7.6 million in the Lancashire police area this year. My hon. Friend is also right to note that we have increased the number of PCSOs at the same time as increasing the number of police officers. PCSOs play a complementary but different role.

3. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of police community support officers; and if she will make a statement. (167482)

Police community support officers make a very valuable contribution to the delivery of neighbourhood policing. That is why I am delighted to welcome the two-month intensive project being conducted by the National Policing Improvement Agency, which will build on good practice and establish greater standardisation where appropriate across forces on such issues as role and function, uniforms and equipment. It will also consider a new volunteer scheme for PCSOs, as Sir Ronnie Flanagan recommended. Ahead of that, I am pleased that the Association of Chief Police Officers shares my view that PCSOs should be at least 18 years old, and the Home Office will take forward work to introduce a code of practice to address that issue.

I welcome the announcement about the possibility of standard powers for PCSOs, who do an excellent job in my constituency and deserve the tools they need to do the job, but Unison and many PCSOs want all the powers currently on the statute book to be available to PCSOs—not just at the discretion of chief constables. Will my right hon. Friend keep the matter under review so that the public know what to expect from PCSOs, and that they have the full range of powers available to them?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As of 1 December, an agreed set of 20 powers will be standard across the whole country, thereby giving the public more certainty about the powers of PCSOs. It is to keep the matter under review and take that work forward that the National Policing Improvement Agency will carry out the two-month project I outlined, covering important points such as the standardisation of uniform and the issue of personal protection equipment.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Does she agree that those who demean and denigrate PCSOs not only insult a professional, hard-working, much valued body of men and women but demean many of our constituents who have come to see neighbourhood policing as one of the best, most reassuring and effective advances in policing since Dixon retired to Dock Green?

As always, my hon. Friend’s point is important and well made. Across the country, police community support officers play a hugely valuable role, making communities feel safer and promoting neighbourhood policing. That is why they are so widely welcomed by many of our constituents and the communities we represent. It is why, I suspect, they were welcomed even by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) when he said in July last year:

“I welcome the increase in police numbers…the deployment of community support officers…and the development of neighbourhood policing.”

Given that support in July 2006, I am hard pressed to understand why the Conservatives have now turned their back on the idea of further developing PCSOs.

Mr. Speaker, like me, you will know that Dixon was killed in the last episode, so I hope that is not a factual interpretation.

Northamptonshire police have reduced crime, partly due to the work of community support officers. Sadly, however, the Office for National Statistics massively understated population estimates for the county, creating yet another year of underfunding and forcing further cuts. Is the Secretary of State willing to do something about that unacceptable state of affairs, or do I have to tell the people of Northamptonshire that they will have to put up with another year of neglect under Labour?

May I thank the hon. Gentleman for recognising the very important work of PCSOs in his community? I hope that everyone throughout the House supports that. He makes an important point about the funding made available to police services and the nature of the formula in recognising changes in population. We will in the near future of course be making announcements about next year’s funding for police authorities and will bear in mind the issues that many forces have raised about the nature of population growth and how that is included in the formula. However, the increases that will follow the considerable increases to police forces will be possible only because of the investment that this Government have been willing to make in our police service. When the hon. Gentleman praises PCSOs in his constituency, I hope that he will also make clear his support for the extra investment made available by a Labour Government.

Is the Home Secretary aware that, in the Metropolitan police area, there is an increasing problem with finding premises for PCSOs to operate from, because of the cuts in their budget by the Mayor? This has an impact on their effectiveness so will she look into it?

It is obviously important that neighbourhood police teams have suitable premises from which to operate. I suspect that the challenge has been brought about by the considerable progress made by the Metropolitan police under the leadership of Commissioner Sir Ian Blair in delivering, two years ahead of target, neighbourhood policing teams in every single community in London.

May I tell my right hon. Friend that PCSOs are doing a fantastic job in my area and especially in my constituency in working as part of neighbourhood policing teams? That has led to Crime falling by 2.5 per cent. between 2002 and 2007, so will she tell us what sort of financial support Cleveland police can expect so that we can keep on employing more PCSOs in the future?

I cannot give my hon. Friend a figure today. As I said to the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), we are looking very carefully at the way in which we distribute the increased support for policing next year and hope to make an announcement very soon. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the important role of PCSOs at the heart of neighbourhood policing teams across the country is helping to ensure a continued reduction in crime and is helping to build community support, community engagement and confidence in the progress that we are making in crime fighting.

I am delighted that the Home Secretary has been forced to admit that allowing the employment of PCSOs under the age of 18 was a mistake, but what assurance can she give that, by potentially allowing PCSO responsibilities to be extended to detaining suspects and searching people who could be carrying dangerous items, she is not putting PCSOs and the public at greater risk? At least one PCSO has already been seriously injured when he was run down by a car earlier this month. With PCSOs receiving less training than fully qualified officers and police budgets coming under pressure, will this move not simply increase the number of such tragic incidents?

We have introduced PCSOs and massively increased their numbers at the same time as increasing investment in our police forces and increasing the number of police officers. It is right that the Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Policing Improvement Agency, alongside the Home Office, now review the powers, the roles and the protection and training available to PCSOs in order to ensure that they can build on the very considerable contribution that they have made over the past four years. We are committed to doing that and to providing PCSOs with the training and protection that they need to carry out their job effectively.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like to know that I spent a day with three PCSOs in different parts of my constituency in the summer. Not only was it excellent to see the work that they are doing, but it was tremendous to see the reception that they received on the streets from shopkeepers and others. The biggest problem that we face with PCSO recruitment is that the officers are being used as a recruiting ground for the police themselves and we have to recruit PCSOs doubly quick to keep the numbers up. What my right hon. Friend said about funding was very welcome, and if she was saying that we will move towards full implementation of formula funding for the east midlands, that will be very welcome indeed.

I know my hon. Friend and others in the east midlands have been making the case for funding in their area very strongly, including to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing. As I have said previously, we will obviously look carefully at how we can distribute the police grant over the next three years, maintaining stability where necessary but ensuring that resources are focused on where they need to go. I agree with my hon. Friend that the really heartening thing about spending time with PCSOs—as I did in my constituency on Friday—is the number of people who know their names and who are willing to talk to them and to report to them things that are happening in the community, and the way in which they work not just with local people, but with other agencies to problem-solve, build confidence and help drive down crime and antisocial behaviour.