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Police Numbers

Volume 472: debated on Monday 25 February 2008

2. What representations she has received on police force strength following the publication of the Flanagan review. (188114)

The Flanagan report makes it clear that we must think seriously about how we can make best use of police resources to meet the demands that the service faces. The changes that Sir Ronnie recommends could release up to 7 million police hours—the equivalent of 3,500 extra officers. I welcome Sir Ronnie’s contribution to the debate, and the strong case he makes for reform to improve the outcomes that we can all achieve for the public.

The Home Secretary did not really answer my question, but she will know that I asked what representations she had received about the Flanagan report. May I commend to her an excellent article by Gloucestershire’s chief constable in The Citizen last week, in which he refers to Sir Ronnie’s recommendation that damping be removed? If that were to happen, Gloucestershire would lose 100 police officers or have 6.5 per cent. added to its council tax. Will she rule out the removal of damping?

It is because we ensured not only a 2.9 per cent. overall increase in revenue support for police forces, but a floor increase of at least 2.5 per cent. for all authorities that the hon. Gentleman’s authority has been protected at that floor. We managed to find the balance between moving partially towards the formula for which many hon. Members on both sides of the House have called and protecting police forces such as his.

May I express my gratitude to Sir Ronnie Flanagan for the expeditious and efficient way in which he conducted this review of policing? I know that the Secretary of State shares my view, which motivated the commissioning of this report, that we need to reduce bureaucracy and red tape. How quickly will she be able to act on his recommendations, particularly the important ones such as the streamlined reporting of crimes, which is being piloted by Staffordshire police?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his prescience in asking Sir Ronnie to undertake the review when he was Home Secretary. He is right to say that it contains many important recommendations, including the one to which he refers. That approach is being piloted in Staffordshire. It reduces the reporting down to one page of recording for the vast majority of crimes and enables more emphasis to be placed on caring for victims. I expect to be able to roll it out much more widely very quickly—in fact, before the end of this year.

The Government have indicated that they want the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland. Does the Home Secretary accept that many people across the divide in Northern Ireland would much prefer additional resources to provide more police officers on the ground to combat criminal activity before we go down the line of devolving policing and justice?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, extra resources are being made available and ongoing discussions are taking place about the governance of policing in Northern Ireland. The point that Sir Ronnie makes has wide relevance. He says that the reforms that he has proposed, upon which we are acting and which I am sure will be relevant in Northern Ireland, will enable us to maximise police officer time spent on the front line and to use our resources as effectively as possible.

As the Home Secretary knows, the Select Committee on Home Affairs launched its new inquiry into policing in the 21st century this morning in Newark and tomorrow we will examine Sir Ronnie and his findings. Will she confirm that the police constable is central to the Government’s strategy on policing, that all the other parts, such as police community support officers and new technology, are secondary to that visible commitment to policing and that there is no question of a reduction in police numbers as a result of this report?

Nothing in this report implies a reduction in police numbers. My right hon. Friend is right to say that the office of constable lies at the heart of policing, which is why officer numbers have increased by 14,000 since 1997. That increase has occurred alongside increases in other police staff, who work alongside those officers to do the job that our communities expect of them and that they are delivering so successfully.

The Flanagan report, which the Home Secretary welcomes, states that

“maintaining police numbers at their current level is not sustainable over the course of the next three years.”

Will she unambiguously pledge to the public and the police that those numbers will not be cut?

I believe that between 1993 and 1997 police officer numbers fell by 1,100. We are increasing the resources available to support revenue funding for policing by 2.9 per cent. both next year and the following year. We are providing the resources necessary for chief constables to make the required decisions about their force’s staffing levels of police officers and others. It is difficult for Conservative Members to make a credible case for increased resources when they have not supported the increases in resources and they had such a pitiable record in government.