Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Blizzard.]
Good morning, Mr. Hood. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, and we are privileged indeed to have you in firm but fair-minded command of our proceedings.
When I heard that I had secured the debate, I was tickled to learn—hon. Members will be able to tell that I had not planned things this way—that this is the first week of a two-week national campaign to promote neighbourhood policing and enable people to learn the names and identities of their local police officers and how to contact them. The debate has turned out to be very well timed, but that was entirely accidental.
By April, every community in England and Wales will have in place neighbourhood policing teams of police officers and police community support officers. As it happens, Staffordshire anticipated that requirement and set up its neighbourhood policing teams more than 12 months early. Such teams—whether in Staffordshire or nationally—are dedicated to working with their local communities, agreeing priorities for action and informing the public of their progress.
It should now be possible for residents everywhere to find out the identities of the members of their neighbourhood policing teams. They need only ask their local police or local council, inquire at a local library or look on the internet, including on a new national website which has the names and numbers of members of their local teams. There has been some debate about giving out the mobile phone numbers of individual police officers, but all I can say is that there has been no reticence among community police officers and PCSOs in my constituency about giving them to local residents. In Staffordshire, we are certainly interested in sharing best practice on neighbourhood policing. We want to learn from what police services elsewhere are doing well and we are happy to share our successes with them.
In his final report on the review of policing, Sir Ronnie Flanagan speaks of a vision of successful 21st-century policing. He says that its components include having
“the right people in the right places at the right times, doing the right things, in partnership, for the public.”
Specifically addressing neighbourhood policing, he speaks of the need for effective partnerships, flexibility and innovation and what he calls “citizen-focused policing”. Like Sir Ronnie, I believe that neighbourhood policing is effective in cutting crime and popular with the public because it provides reassurance.
Let me illustrate that belief using some recent experiences in my constituency. Last summer, I walked a beat with a community police officer and another beat with two PCSOs. I also joined a whole neighbourhood policing team to try to solve a specific problem in a particular community. Community engagement and the accessibility of officers are given high priority in Staffordshire, and I have worked with the police and their partners in establishing a number of police surgeries in various public premises. Members of the public can now approach police officers in confidence in settings as diverse as a converted shop, a charity drop-in centre, a university campus and a children’s centre, to give just a few examples.
In the year in which neighbourhood policing is being rolled out in my constituency, I joined the police to present a roadshow. Together, the police and I explained at a series of public meetings how neighbourhood policing will work. Additionally, I encouraged residents to join existing neighbourhood watch schemes or to start new ones in areas where none existed before.
The message that I put very strongly to the public was that if the police are to put in this extra effort to be visible and up front in the community, it is time for members of the public to respond positively to support them—as eyes and ears, as providers of information and by putting peer pressure on people in their localities to behave in an acceptable way.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on obtaining the debate. I was pleased to hear him mention neighbourhood watch, which is very successfully organised and exists in strength in several areas of Leicestershire. Does he agree that such activities would benefit from more central funding? Much of what such schemes do depends on the money that they raise at charitable and other fundraising events. That seems a little hit and miss, and we need a bit more central support if such schemes are to continue to develop and work with the neighbourhood policing teams.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. Like him, I am a keen supporter of neighbourhood watch. He will recall, as I do, the kerfuffle a couple of years ago at the national level about the organisation of neighbourhood watch. That was partly a dispute within the organisation itself and it has now been resolved. At the local level, I would say that the best way to secure funding to support neighbourhood watch activities is through the safer communities partnerships and local area agreements. Certainly in Staffordshire there are good relationships between police, councils and other partners. Our neighbourhood watch annual conference is an effective and well-attended event.
This is an important matter. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the four objectives of the Government’s neighbourhood policing initiative, which was very necessary. One was to increase accessibility to the police for the public. Does he therefore agree that it is important to ensure that we protect those police stations in small communities which many hon. Members from all parties have fought to keep open—small stations such as Benfleet in Canvey island, for instance?
I would not want to intrude on matters relating to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency by saying where his constituents should or should not have police stations. I am a little hesitant about supporting the maintenance of bricks and mortar as the place where the service should be delivered. As I said, there have been some innovative ideas in my constituency, where the police can gather and meet the public out on their patrols, and that has proved highly successful. Perhaps it is a case of horses for courses. One solution may be appropriate for one place, but a different one may apply elsewhere.
It is too early to say whether neighbourhood policing is specifically responsible for falling crime, but we have had neighbourhood policing teams for more than a year in Staffordshire and there have been reductions in acquisitive crime, violent crime and antisocial behaviour. Details from the police in my constituency for the period from April 2006 to February 2007 and the equivalent 11-month period for 2007 to 2008 show that total crime has fallen by more than 14 per cent. The figure for criminal damage cases in the earlier period is 22,897 crimes, but it is 18,842 in the later period, which is a fall of more than the average—by more than 17 per cent. For antisocial behaviour incidents, only some of which will be crimes, the police gave me a figure of 58,195 reported incidents in the earlier period, with 56,897 in the later period, which is a fall of more than 2 per cent.
I frequently hear from constituents that they want to see police patrols on their streets, and they are increasingly seeing those patrols. They can often recognise the individual officers as their regular police officers, and I know that they are engaging with their local police teams to tackle local problems. Back in 1997, constituents’ concerns in Staffordshire and elsewhere in the country would have been about high levels of burglary and theft of and from motor vehicles.
Nationally, we have made vast improvements in reducing such crimes. However, on the whole, people feel no safer despite those achievements. The complaint that I hear more often than any other is that antisocial behaviour is ruining people’s daily lives. I also hear of older residents worrying about gatherings of young people, whether or not there is any overt sign of unlawful or unruly behaviour.
In cases of antisocial behaviour and intergenerational mistrust, neighbourhood policing is ideally placed to intervene and be part of the solution. Close working with the public, effective partnerships with councils, social landlords and others, and decisive action taken together can offer communities a successful end to problems of antisocial behaviour.
It would be wrong, however, to label neighbourhood policing as narrowly focused. It offers visible reassurance to communities and promises speedier responses to local matters. Trusted local police teams pick up intelligence from residents that contributes to the more effective operation of intelligence-led policing more generally. Further, the evidence, which admittedly is early, shows that neighbourhood policing contributes to crime reduction across a broad range of offences. It also offers a better quality of police service to the public. In Staffordshire, every victim of criminal damage or antisocial behaviour has contact with their local PCSO. The new chief constable, Chris Sims, intends to take the emphasis on quality of service much further still.
In taking up Sir Ronnie’s recommendations on reducing the bureaucratic burden on police officers, Chris Sims and his police force are at the forefront with a number of initiatives, including reducing the amount of information routinely recorded for many crimes while retaining extensive recording for serious crimes. Staffordshire police is one of four police services trialling a new streamlined crime recording process. The adoption of standardised forms based on minimum appropriate reporting requirements, as recommended in Sir Ronnie’s report, has also reduced the size of many forms by half.
The Staffordshire police force has offered to pilot the implementation of mobile data technology across the entire front line. The chief constable has the backing of officers and police staff for his bold offer to the Staffordshire public to home in on quality of policing even where it conflicts with centralised targets based on quantity. I know that that is what local communities want. I can give a recent example from a public meeting that I convened of all the relevant agencies last Friday in the village of Wheaton Aston. At the end of the meeting, the chair of the local parish council said to me, “David, will you tell Parliament that we want to see more police officers on the beat in our village?” I said, “Yes, I’ll do it next Wednesday morning,” which was very impressive for the audience to hear.
I suggest that if we follow the line of Sir Ronnie’s recommendations and the offer being made by Staffordshire police and their chief constable, we can free up more resources so that more police officers are seen more of the time in communities such as Wheaton Aston. The prize that many judge to be worth pursuing, myself included, is more time for police officers to spend on front-line policing. The commitment made to communities in Staffordshire about patrols and responses to some crimes, thanks to successful neighbourhood policing, can be amplified and extended to a wider range of crimes and situations. The Prime Minister visited Staffordshire police on 3 February. He listened attentively as police officers and PCSOs spoke of the work that they are doing to cut the bureaucracy faced by front-line officers.
The hon. Gentleman speaks with a great deal of passion, and he is obviously well informed. I am somewhat sceptical in my researches into claims to cut paperwork, but I cannot speak for Staffordshire. Will he enlighten us by giving specific examples that he has seen? He gave one example of a form that had been halved in size.
I was there as the officers made their presentations to the Prime Minister, and I felt proud of their professionalism as they did so and answered the Prime Minister’s searching questions, which were rather like the hon. Gentleman’s. The officers gave the Prime Minister this kind of example: the domestic investigation arrest log, which collects information on domestic violence cases, was once a 20-page form but has now been reduced to 10 pages; a 16-page traffic collision form is now eight pages; and the usual recording form for what police regard as non-serious crimes, which they reckon make up 80 per cent. of the total, has been reduced from 16 pages to one.
As I said, Staffordshire police have also been trialling hand-held mobile data computers at Longton, which is not in my constituency but in Stoke-on-Trent, and have found that they reduce the need to fill in paper forms by enabling officers to make direct contact with the police national computer and the police station. Those are all examples of how police officers on the beat have more time to do their proper work as a result of spending less time filling in pieces of paper. As the hon. Gentleman asked about it, another presentation that the police made to the Prime Minister involved a Staffordshire pilot of a speedy justice initiative. When evidence is collected, if a guilty plea is anticipated, the police officer responsible for the case can submit minimal evidence on paper to the Crown Prosecution Service instead of a raft of paper prepared specially in case of a not guilty plea.
Those are the examples given to the Prime Minister in Stafford just a month ago. I was there, and the police and I made the point together that neighbourhood policing and reducing bureaucracy are intrinsically linked. After the visit, the chief constable said:
“By tackling the culture of form-filling, we want to free up extra time and space for our officers and staff to deliver a better service, engage with communities and change public opinion”.
That is what is at stake in Staffordshire’s offer to implement the Flanagan report’s recommendations locally and early. I accept that offer willingly, and I urge the Minister to do the same. Will he say today that the Home Office will back Staffordshire’s plans with money for the investment needed, especially in new technology? We are currently using 175 mobile data devices in the pilot at Longton. The police say that with the money, they will roll out 1,200 devices to front-line police officers by September. How quick is that? Is it not an offer worth accepting?
Nationally, as in Staffordshire, Home Office policy on neighbourhood policing should focus, as Sir Ronnie observed, on supporting and sustaining the model being set up. Like Sir Ronnie, I welcome the decision to ring-fence PCSO funding for a further year. Overall, the funding this year for neighbourhood policing, including PCSOs, will be £324 million, a 2.7 per cent. increase from last year. The settlement shows that the Home Office is committed to making a success of neighbourhood policing, and I thank the Minister for that.
I acknowledge the other good work that all police services carry out alongside neighbourhood policing. Response policing bears the brunt of public service and crime detection. The last time I had cause to call the police personally—I thought that I was witnessing a possible burglary—the response was excellent, but others report mixed response times to me. The drive to reduce bureaucratic burdens promises the best gains for response policing. However, when I met representatives of manufacturing businesses recently, they warned me against over-reliance on neighbourhood policing and response policing. They were concerned about organised criminal gangs’ targeted thefts of their metal stocks as a result of huge rises in the price of metals. The manufacturers made the point—valid, I am sure—that between neighbourhood policing and response policing, there lies a wide range of complex and inter-related police services to be delivered.
In focusing on neighbourhood policing, I would not want anyone to think that I do not appreciate all the other police services. I have a high regard for the expertise and professionalism of detectives, scene of crime officers, domestic violence and prolific and persistent offender teams, scientists, intelligence officers and special branch officers—I met many of them during my recent tour of the new offices at Weston road in Stafford, and I met 999 and other call handlers with the Prime Minister on the day that he came—reception and support staff, cadets, traffic police, members of specialist services such as fraud and internet investigation, and those involved in crime prevention and neighbourhood watch. Even with that long list, I am sure that I have missed many.
Let us all work together to make neighbourhood policing an effective operation for modern police services. Let us ensure that we embed it for the long term. We in Staffordshire certainly embrace the Flanagan reform agenda, including cutting form lengths and reducing record-keeping to free up more time for front-line policing. We are willing to roll out mobile data across the whole police service in Staffordshire. We just need the money, Minister; let’s have it.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) on obtaining this debate, and on how he presented his case. It was gleefully unpartisan, and he made some important points. He will recognise that, historically, this country has always had citizen-based police organisations; we have had special constables, of course, for some years. In many ways it is regrettable that in recent decades—the situation certainly predates 1997—that practice seems to have diminished. That is why many of the new initiatives are very positive. Our policing model, in contrast with that of European nations, has always been firmly drilled into local communities.
Much as I think that neighbourhood policing is important, a visible police presence alone should not be the be-all and end-all of the policing challenge. I find that to be the case particularly in central London, where intelligence-led policing has great import, not least in fields such as counter-terrorism. The Metropolitan police and a range of other agencies, including the City of London police in the eastern part of my constituency, do painstaking work, but that approach has a less high profile. I appreciate that the villages in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency regard policing as being about bobbies on the beat and a visible presence, but it is important that we give as much credit as possible to a lot of the other work that goes on behind the scenes. In my constituency—in Westminster at least—the local authorities are at the forefront of a partnership with the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police Service over PCSOs and a range of other initiatives, some of which I shall discuss in my brief contribution.
Many of the new initiatives were key to restoring public confidence in the aftermath of 9/11. At the outset, the concern in London was that too much of the PCSO initiative was driven by a campaign to keep numbers high. PCSOs are added routinely to overall police numbers; no doubt Ken Livingstone and his mayoral campaign will make much of that. However, I have always supported the idea of PCSOs, even in the immediate aftermath of 2001, when such support was not terribly fashionable in the Conservative party. To be fair, they have worked well, although if there is one slight criticism it is that there is a risk that they have helped to crowd out special constables. From my work with the City of London police, it seems that the cadre of special constables feel that they are now third-class citizens compared with PCSOs. Becoming a PCSO is now an alternative career route in policing.
In Westminster, we have an initiative called CivicWatch, the key to which is that the police safer neighbourhood sergeant is partnered with a local government officer, which ensures effective liaison between the police and the local authority. I hope that the same applies throughout the country. We have found that one of the few positive by-products of the early retirement rule in the police is that some very talented ex-superintendents can come on board and work at City hall in Westminster. We currently have a retired superintendent, Dean Ingledew, who headed up the west end police service, and before him we had Bob Currie. That arrangement has worked extremely well in developing those partnerships.
The only potential flaw in the safer neighbourhoods initiative is that most community aspirations are not within the gift of the police but down to local authorities, which means that the strength of the partnership, which hopefully extends beyond the political divide, is key. For as long as there is increased pressure on local government financing arrangements—I am sure that there will be for the foreseeable future—it will be all too easy for such innovative programmes to fall by the wayside. It is therefore crucial to keep that relationship as strong as possible.
Crime and antisocial behaviour are as big a problem in my constituency as they obviously are in Stafford, but community confidence and perceptions have improved, which stems from the ability to report incidents easily, to see a reaction within a reasonable time and to receive feedback from the responsible authority. That helps to build confidence through the reassurance cycle, through which we can reduce the fear of crime and improve many of the positive perceptions.
In central London, our innovative partnership initiative is between the council, the Metropolitan Police Service, the London fire brigade, which comes under the auspices of the Mayor of London, and CityWest Homes, our own arm’s length management housing organisation—we have some large housing estates in Westminster. It was established five years ago as a pilot project in three areas, but has been such a success that it has been rolled out across Westminster, which is now divided into 26 distinct CivicWatch areas, closely aligned to ward and police boundaries.
Obviously the terrorist threat after September 2001 and July 2005 has resulted in more police on the streets of Westminster. I think that all hon. Members who walk around the streets of my constituency will be impressed by the number of PCSOs, although I suspect that that is in contrast with other parts of the capital. In part that is done to raise confidence. Although central London has a relatively small residential population, some 900,000 people come to work in the 7 square miles of my constituency every day. Behind CivicWatch are some specific ideas: to combat crime, antisocial behaviour and persistent environmental problems; to reduce the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour; to signpost young people to alternatives to poor behaviour, and broadly to improve community confidence in service delivery.
I am grateful to my MP—at least for four days a week—for giving way. The hon. Gentleman mentioned his positive attitude towards PCSOs, but does he agree that the initial reluctance and doubts about the value of PCSOs and co-operation with them, which was reasonably widespread among the police force, has virtually disappeared? It has certainly disappeared in Leicestershire. It would help if his party abandoned the tired old rhetoric about plastic police and became more enthusiastic about the role that they can play.
There is no doubt that there was some hostility, not least from the Police Federation, which no doubt lobbied Labour Members as much as they did Opposition Members when the PCSO initiative began. In fairness, at the outset my party might have been slightly hostile to the idea of PCSOs, for public relations reasons as much as anything else, but we have now moved away from that hostility. I shall not take words out of the mouth of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), but I am sure that he will comment on that. However, where special constables, PCSOs and the police work together, they work extremely well. If there is a residual problem, it is with the Police Federation in certain parts of the country, which obviously is worried about terms and numbers. However, it has worked well and I am certainly a believer in neighbourhood policing and similar initiatives. PCSOs clearly have an extremely important day-to-day role in ensuring that that works.
I appreciate that many other hon. Members wish to contribute, so I shall end on one brief point. Without getting over-bureaucratic, the example of Westminster works extremely well. It has a three-tiered approach towards running the CivicWatch programme: local briefings and meetings occurring on a weekly basis in each CivicWatch area to enable local teams to share information and direct problem-solving activity on the ground; fortnightly meetings chaired by a chief inspector and a CivicWatch manager, which looks at best practice within the 26 areas; and an accountability meeting every six weeks, which is open to the public as well as the leader of the council and the police borough commander.
These are exciting times in policing. My main point is that, historically and rightly, policing in this country has been very much citizen-led, of which we should be very proud, instead of the police being a class apart, as they are in many countries in Europe and across the world. Some of the initiatives being discussed are very important as we look forward to 21st-century policing, because there was a sense among the public that the police had lost their way in relation to their neighbourhood responsibilities. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I congratulate Thames Valley police on completing the roll-out of neighbourhood policing across the Thames Valley police area this month—one month ahead of the deadline. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) for securing this debate in such a timely fashion and for opening it with such an excellent speech. I should like to say how much I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field). It is very good if neighbourhood policing can be entrenched on a cross-party basis, which is obviously best for community confidence.
Neighbourhood policing is a great success, popular with the public and effective in fighting crime. It is popular with the public because it puts more uniformed officers on the streets and, I am sure, because it links local policing to local priorities through the involvement of local people in neighbourhood action groups, which in Oxford pool the input of residents, neighbourhood watch, parish, city and county councillors, housing officers, youth services and schools, the city council crime and nuisance action team, city council street wardens and park rangers—all of whom address the problems of antisocial behaviour, about which my hon. Friend spoke. The use of consultations and surveys helps to keep policing focused on what people are most concerned about and ensures that it addresses the day-to-day issues of community safety.
At a time when many types of crime, perpetrated by highly organised criminals, must be combated with specialist units and sophisticated operations, which are often inevitably remote, neighbourhood policing makes policing visible at street level, thus enhancing confidence and security and garnering intelligence. I thank the neighbourhood specialist officers, the supporting special constabulary officers, the police community support officers, street wardens and park rangers for all their work in our community. Thanks to the innovation and resources provided by our Government, their work is just what modern policing often lacked before they came along: officers out on foot or on their bikes, with time to chat to pensioners and to youths hanging out, time to call round the shopping precincts and estates and time to engage actively in community events—all the time building trust and confidence and forging local links and friendships.
Does the right hon. Gentleman welcome, as I do, the review of the police performance measurement systems, which may change the emphasis from the national crime recording standards to a new framework of policing and community safety assessment? Does he share my hope that the framework will introduce more common sense to neighbourhood policing decisions, such as when to arrest and charge people for minor offences?
Oxford city currently has 48 community support officers—a number that will go up to 59 from this summer. Ten are part-funded by the city council and four by the university of Oxford. It is a pity that, after the police authority announced the expansion in numbers, the Liberal Democrat-controlled city council saw it as an opportunity to cut plans to expand further the city’s contribution, even though it would have attracted additional match funding. I warmly welcome the expansion, and I know that my constituents do, too. The bottom line is that all those measures are making a real impact on fighting crime.
In the three priority Oxford areas where neighbourhood policing operates—Blackbird Leys, Rose Hill and Barton—there has been a measurable reduction both in all crime and in key categories. For example, if we compare April to December last year with the same period the year before, violence against the person was down 16, 13 and 18 per cent. in the three areas respectively. Coupled with the work of the Oxford safer communities partnership, neighbourhood policing is contributing to a significant fall in crime throughout our city and, moreover, in the crimes that people fear most.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend also mentions safer community teams. Does he agree that one great advantage of neighbourhood policing is the way in which the police now work much better with other public services, principally health and social services, but also youth services and the rest? That is partly because we now give the police more time to undertake that more integrative role.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The inter-agency work and collaboration with other organisations through the neighbourhood action groups, to which I referred earlier, lie at the heart of that activity.
On the impact on crime throughout Oxford, if we compare the summer of 2007 with the summer of 2006, domestic burglary is down 34 per cent., personal robbery is down 11 per cent. and criminal damage is down 4.5 per cent. Our police—all of them—and all the community support officers and neighbourhood action groups deserve praise and thanks for that achievement. There is still, of course, far too much crime and too many nasty incidents—one crime is one too many—but let us celebrate the progress that is being made. Let us build on what so clearly works to achieve still more for the future. Let us do all that we can, so that people can enjoy the community safety that is a hallmark of any civilised society.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood, not least because you and I have adjoining offices in the narrowest corridor in the Palace—appropriately known as the yellow submarine. Whichever Whip decided that you and I should have offices next door to each other in the narrowest corridor in the Palace clearly had their own particular sense of humour.
The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) has done the House a service by initiating this debate on neighbourhood policing, and I endorse everything that my colleague, constituency neighbour and friend, the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) said about the achievements of Thames Valley police.
We usually have debates in Westminster Hall because there is a problem, but I do not think that there is a problem with neighbourhood policing—an issue to which I shall return. There are, however, a couple of problems with policing, and I should like to mention them briefly. First, the Minister must recognise that there is still considerable upset, dissatisfaction and frustration at the fact that the police pay award was not fully honoured this year, and that will rankle for a long time. If an independent police arbitration system says that a fair pay settlement is 2.5 per cent. and the figures are then massaged so that officers do not receive that settlement, it is simply unfair, bad personnel management and unjust for those people who provide an excellent public service.
Does my hon. Friend also welcome the announcement by the shadow Home Secretary, our right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) that a departure by a Home Secretary in any future Conservative Government from any independent award will only ever happen under the affirmative procedure in the House? That is an important safeguard for police officers.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Those in public service need to know that they will be treated fairly and that, if independent arbitration systems are put in place, they will be honoured except in the most exceptional circumstances, which would have to be demonstrated using the affirmative procedure in Parliament. I hope that we never reach that situation.
The second issue is a problem, and as the Minister is present, I should like to have another crack at it. I am sure that I shall be supported by Members with constituencies not only in the Thames valley but throughout south-east England. The issue is the haemorrhage of police officers from Thames Valley police to the Metropolitan police. Over the past five years, we have lost 388 police officers to the Met, but the problem is worse than that, because they tend to be firearms officers, detectives and road policing officers. The chief constable of Thames Valley police, Sara Thornton, says:
“This is a disproportionately high number of specialist officers, who are more experienced and highly trained. It seems likely that this proportion will rise in future years because of the high demand for specialist trained officers for the 2012 Olympics, the increased risk of terrorism, and other factors such as the opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow.
The loss of specialist officers impact in two ways: it leaves a capability gap, and increases the recruitment and training costs to replace the lost officers.”
In Thames Valley police, it costs £55,000 to train a patrol constable, £63,000 for a detective constable and £77,500 for a firearms constable—not insignificant figures. The chief constable observes:
“One of the factors cited by police officers who left or are thinking of leaving is the increased pay in the MPS”—
the Metropolitan Police Service—
“due to the London Allowance, compared to the South East England Allowance, and the difficulties of buying a house because of high property prices in the South East. Police officers are £4,393 p.a. better off by transferring to the MPS, in addition to free travel on public transport up to a radius of 70 miles.
A key point is that the South East England Allowance is frozen, while the London Allowance increases with inflation. When it was set in 2003 the differential was £4,000, it is now £4,393.”
The situation is worsening.
Several hon. Members went to see the Home Secretary, and I am sure that we were all grateful to her, because she very courteously listened to what we had to say. We do not criticise police officers who move, as anyone who has skills must be allowed to transfer them, but the difficulty in the Thames valley is that we are spending money on training police officers and then losing our most experienced officers. It would be fairer if police officers in the Thames valley got the same kind of pay and settlement as those in the Met. It is difficult to see why police officers in Slough should get one rate of pay while those just across the border in Uxbridge should get so much more. It is also daft that a police officer who lives in Banbury can travel to work in London for free, as police officers have free travel, thus taking the benefit of their skills and knowledge away from the Thames valley and my constituents. That issue cannot rumble on; it must be addressed.
Let me turn from the matters that are of concern to neighbourhood policing. The other day, I spent a day with neighbourhood police officers in Bicester, and I was extremely impressed by what I saw. There are three groups—established police officers, police community support officers and street wardens—and I was impressed by the mutual respect that they have for one another. I was particularly impressed by the respect that regular police officers have for PCSOs, and vice versa, and by the way in which all three teams work together.
PCSOs focus on areas in which they can make a difference, such as neighbourhood environmental quality. They respond positively to the concerns and needs of young people, and they deal with litter, antisocial behaviour and graffiti. One young PCSO has shown great initiative. She took it upon herself to write to Network Rail to ask what it was doing about the homophobic graffiti under a bridge in an underpass through which many people walk between housing estates and Bicester town centre. She did not receive a satisfactory answer, so I took the matter up with the chief executive of Network Rail. We eventually got it sorted, and the underpass has been painted. Similarly, the district council has now put litter bins in an area where the PCSOs had picked up a lot of litter. I was impressed to hear that the same PCSO, when she realised that a derelict factory was being used as a refuse dump, tracked down the owner and told them to get it sorted. Regular police officers probably would not have time to do that, and the matter would not necessarily be picked up by street wardens.
My impression is that everyone works together positively in Bicester—I am sure that that happens in other towns—and that it is making a real difference. However, there are also concerns about PCSOs, such as their pay, which is not fantastic. It is fine for young, single people, but I suspect that it is not a great salary for married PCSOs whose pay is the only family income. Also, it is difficult to see what the promotional prospects will be for PCSOs, although I am glad that quite a lot of them in my patch eventually transfer into the regular police force. That creates a good opportunity for each side to evaluate the other and works well. However, there might be issues about the long-term career and pay structure for PCSOs. I do not see neighbourhood policing as a problem. In fact, it is very positive and everyone understands where it fits in. In my patch, it is a good news story.
The final issue that I want to discuss is neighbourhood watch. One advantage of being my own Member of Parliament is that, when I write to myself, I always agree with what I have to say, and I should like to share with the Chamber my views about neighbourhood watch. The traditional, old-fashioned neighbourhood watch scheme has something of Miss Marple about it and may have passed its sell-by date. Villagers think of themselves as living in villages, but people in towns do not think of themselves as living in neighbourhoods, except perhaps those in the Grimsbury area of Banbury. However, people recognise that the relationship between neighbours is important.
We could introduce variations on neighbourhood watch, such as neighbour schemes that invite people to act as neighbours. Given that most future policing will have to be intelligence-led, the police will frequently need information, so people should be encouraged to give relevant information. In addition to the telephone numbers that people can use to give information, we should make better use of websites. We could increase people’s ability to send information, perhaps anonymously, by text or electronically to local websites, such as a Banbury neighbours site.
Keeping young people on side is also important to intelligence-led policing. A difficulty with neighbourhood policing is that, if we are not careful, we can give the impression that all young people are a problem. When I go out with my two children, my son says to me, “Look, dad, you’ve got to be very careful; if we meet another youngster and they join us, we will be a group of feral youth, and you will be associated with a group of feral youth.” There is a danger that younger people will feel that way. They will often have intelligence and other information that they could send by text, so we need to have mechanisms by which they can do so.
Another variation of the neighbourhood watch scheme could be to use e-mail, which most people use. If we wrote to people locally to ask for their e-mail addresses for a positive purpose, most of them would respond. If the local police had the e-mail addresses of people in Banbury, they could send them updates about neighbourhood policing once a quarter. They could also send out instant alerts, for example, if the M40 is closed, which it is from time to time, or if they were looking for particular people. There is two-way traffic with information and intelligence, but how do we bring in the community? The community wants to be brought into neighbourhood policing, but the difficulty with neighbourhood watch is that it has depended very much on everything going through neighbourhood watch co-ordinators. With interactive websites and e-mail, the community could be more involved, especially if local authorities contributed, and the whole issue could be more positive.
I find it difficult to get Ministers to visit my constituency. I wanted the Secretary of State for Health to come, and I offered to lose two stone before Easter, but even that did not persuade him to visit Horton hospital. I should like the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing to come at some time. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stafford laughs, but it is almost impossible to get Labour Ministers to visit our constituencies. That is bad policy, because they do not see what is happening in middle England.
What is happening in middle England on policing is good news, but I would welcome a visit to north Oxfordshire from the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing to see the good work that is being done by neighbourhood policing, and so that we can bend his ear about the outflow of officers from the Thames valley to the Met. I should also like the opportunity to suggest to him in person that we can make neighbourhood policing even more interactive and involve the community much more, not at the expense of police authorities’ budgets, but in other ways. That would get everyone in the community involved in helping the police to tackle and reduce crime by providing them with intelligence.
It is a great pleasure to take part in the debate as someone who also represents middle England. It is a pleasure to support and congratulate my near neighbour in Staffordshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), on securing the debate, which is timely because we are at the beginning of the neighbourhood policing campaign.
In Staffordshire, there are 2,300 officers and 21 neighbourhood policing units, each of which is headed by an inspector with 251 police constables and 224 PCSOs. I congratulate all the officers in Staffordshire, but perhaps I will especially concentrate on the neighbourhood policing teams and the neighbourhood policing campaign. I join my hon. Friend in supporting Staffordshire’s bid for the roll-out of hand-held computers. I also commend Staffordshire police authority for reducing bureaucracy.
I also congratulate Staffordshire police authority on being at the forefront of introducing neighbourhood policing. In Staffordshire, neighbourhood policing was introduced well over a year ago and Staffordshire has been a leading police force in guaranteeing named officers in every neighbourhood. Understandably, there is pride in the achievement of Staffordshire police. My old friend Mike Poulter, chair of Staffordshire police authority, is quoted on the authority’s website as saying:
“We were among just a handful of forces to be graded ‘excellent’ in the national Police Performance Assessments for how we’ve rolled out neighbourhood policing. We are passionately committed to maintaining a named officer in every neighbourhood.”
When I spoke to a senior officer in my local division, he showed his enthusiasm and support for neighbourhood policing, describing the value of police community support officers. He told me how the PCSOs take ownership of their community and are able to provide intelligence and feedback about activities and problems in their area, and he described the value of the police consultation meetings, which involve partnership agencies and thus enable local people to raise not only policing issues but other matters that are of concern to them.
PCSOs bring with them a wealth of experience from their previous occupations. I have met many PCSOs who have had jobs in different sectors, gaining experience that is a considerable advantage when it comes to local neighbourhood policing. They also represent a wide range of ages, because they enter the PCSO family at different ages, and they are from various backgrounds. They are truly representative of the local communities that they serve. I am glad that our neighbourhood police officers work as a team with the PCSOs and in partnership with our local communities, including with local councillors and wardens. They know their communities and provide the reassurance that the public need.
We should also remember that, in the family of neighbourhood policing, we have the volunteers—our special constabulary that splendidly supports the regular police force. Indeed, in most ways it is indistinguishable from the regular police force. Reference has been made to the number of special constables. In the Burton neighbourhood policing unit, we have 14 police constables, 14 PCSOs and 25 special constables, and in the Uttoxeter NPU, we have six police constables, five PCSOs and six special constables. There are more special constables in those areas than full-time officers.
I thank all those involved in law enforcement in Staffordshire and congratulate Staffordshire police authority on the content of its website. Some hon. Members have already mentioned the importance of websites. The Staffordshire police authority website not only gives some of the history of the police force, but provides information on the policies and aspirations of Staffordshire police, neighbourhood watch schemes, Crimestoppers and PCSOs. Most importantly, the website gives full details of how people can contact their own neighbourhood police officer and their PCSOs, including by e-mail. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned e-mail, and certainly in Staffordshire the website sets out how e-mail contact can be made with officers. My constituents can look at the details of the Burton and Uttoxeter NPUs; they can see how many officers we have and they can access their contact details, including their phone numbers; and they can obtain that information through the website.
Through local events, Staffordshire police authority is promoting awareness of neighbourhood policing fortnight and the importance of people learning the contact details of officers. I welcome that process. People can also get that information by visiting the local police station or by phoning 0845 330 2010, or from the Safer Staffs. newspapers. I urge people to find out who their local officers are, whether that is in Staffordshire, including in my constituency, or elsewhere in the country, because it is important to ensure that people are aware of their local police officers. We can make people feel safer in our communities by providing that knowledge of whom they can contact.
Having first declared an interest as a member of my local neighbourhood watch committee, I commend neighbourhood watch schemes for the support that they give to the police and the help that they give in protecting local communities. Earlier, there was mention of funding for neighbourhood watch co-ordinators. Certainly in my area there are some concerns about the long-term funding of those co-ordinators. In my patch, one officer is being funded through the borough council and the other through the county council, but because that funding is not long-term, we have certainly lost one of those officers. I am therefore concerned that we should ensure security of funding. If we lose those officers, we will lose the great service that local people have developed over the years to try to help the police to protect their communities.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford for raising this subject. As has been said before, it is opportune. We should raise the public’s awareness that they have neighbourhood officers and encourage our constituents to attend the local consultation meetings, to talk to the police and to help to provide that safety, security and reduction in crime in our neighbourhoods that we all wish to see.
I too start by congratulating the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) on securing this debate. He deployed a rare quality in a politician—frankness—in admitting that he secured this debate without knowing that it was opportune. It is indeed opportune and we are all grateful to him for securing it.
The debate has been consensual. All the parties that were represented here—the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) has left us now—agree that neighbourhood policing is a good thing and the Liberal Democrats certainly support it. As a party, we are very much in favour of “pavement politics”, so it is no surprise that we are in favour of “pavement policing”, which is what neighbourhood policing is largely about.
We have some concerns about the level of resources that are available. We know from research that in the period up to March 2007, 20 out of 43 police forces experienced a drop in the number of police officers. We can only hope that when the figures for the period up to March 2008 become available, we will see that that trend has been reversed in those forces. Of course, we know that the total number of community support officers who were going to be deployed was reduced from the 24,000 that the Government had pledged to 16,000. No doubt, when the Minister responds he will point out that that lower number was the number that the police thought they could work with. However, I think that all hon. Members who have spoken here today are aware of areas in their own constituencies where there is still a high level of antisocial behaviour, for example, and where additional resources, if they could be brought to bear, could make a significant difference.
There is one thing that is perhaps surprising about neighbourhood policing. I suppose I am slightly too young to have been brought up on “Dixon of Dock Green”. None the less, I was under the impression that intelligence about individuals in a particular neighbourhood was something that was accessible to the police and that they had people on their force who knew who the local hoodlums were and so on. However, it is only as a result of neighbourhood policing that there are now sufficient police resources available to enable that very individual identification of potentially problem people or households. When that was revealed to me three or four years ago, it was a source of some surprise.
Like other Members, I am happy to endorse the activities of my own safer neighbourhood teams, and have joined several of them on patrol to witness first hand how they work. We did some canvassing in one road where one of the residents raised concerns with me about allegations of drug dealing going on close by. When I went out a few weeks later with the relevant safer neighbourhood team, I reported the matter to the lead officer, who raided the property a few weeks later and found that cannabis plants were being grown there. It is clear that safer neighbourhood teams are working, in that intelligence gets to the right people and can be acted on promptly at the right level. Like other Members, I attend the panel of my own safer neighbourhood team when I can, just to see how it and local councillors and leading members of the community identify what the priorities will be in their ward in the upcoming quarter. That works effectively.
That is not to say that bureaucracy, to which Members have referred, is not real; it needs to be tackled. The Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick, who has experience in the police force, will be looking carefully at it. Let me give the Minister one concrete example of bureaucracy, which was raised in the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, in the hope that he will be able to write to me and other Members about it.
I do not know whether the Minister has seen the Committee transcript, but Mr. Gargan, who is an assistant chief constable, raised a problem relating to CCTV cameras. He gave evidence that to change the direction that a CCTV is pointing—not to install a camera, but to change its direction—officers are required to fill in a 17-page form. That applies regardless of whether the surveillance is covert or overt. I questioned him further on that and asked whether the police were required to do that, or whether there is some scope for interpreting the law in one way or another. He said that it was probably because of the latter—interpretation of the law rather than a clear command—that the form had to be filled in to change the direction of a CCTV camera. If nothing else results from this debate, I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify for our benefit and for that officer’s benefit whether that is, in fact, a requirement. If it is not, could it be made clear that it is not, so that if the police want to make such a change—perhaps to move a CCTV camera so that it focuses on a particular parade where there have been significant problems—they can deal with it more effectively and without the need to complete a 17-page form?
We need to tackle problems of bureaucracy, but neighbourhood policing requires other actions to be taken as well. Such actions are not necessarily about policing but to do with licensing, particularly licensing regimes and ensuring responsible behaviour on the part of off-licences, bars, clubs and so on, and ensuring that we design out crime in our town centres. Those matters need to be addressed before we come to the question of neighbourhood policing itself.
My party can happily sign up to the four key principles that the Government have set out for neighbourhood policing: having visible and accessible police, influencing community safety priorities, interventions that solve local problems, and answers that give solutions to problems and feedback on results. The hon. Member for Stafford said that police accessibility was not simply about bricks and mortar. I agree that it must not simply be about that, but making the police accessible often does boil down to bricks and mortar, or at least to there being a contact point that people know about. It could be a mobile police station as opposed to a permanent base; what is needed is a known location to which people can go to visit their police officers. That is why at local level and, indeed, in London and beyond, the idea of safer neighbourhood teams having their own permanent base in their ward is appropriate.
The police certainly are more visible and accessible. The surveys that we have done over many years confirm that to be true. When we put out surveys five or 10 years ago that asked, “When did you last see a police officer?”, the responses that often came back were, “Never,” or “Twelve months ago.” Now it is almost not worth putting out such surveys because the responses tend to be much more positive.
Progress is being made on the key principles, and Liberal Democrats support that. It is clear from the statistics that community support officers and safer neighbourhood teams are increasing public confidence in the police through their extra visibility, and, as in the concrete example to which I referred, through ensuring that local intelligence is passed on to the appropriate people and acted on.
One of the key recommendations in Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s review of policing was that partnership working between the police and local communities and councils should be prioritised. I commend the example of my own borough, the London borough of Sutton, which for several years has had joint working and a joint appointment. The person happens to be a police officer, but someone from the local authority or, indeed, from outside the local authority could have been appointed. One person is responsible for the parks police, the safer neighbourhood teams, the wardens and aspects of enforcement that the local authority takes on, so that all the resources can be brought to bear in an organised fashion when local problems are identified.
I conclude by drawing attention to concerns about neighbourhood policing that other Members have referred to and which have been raised by the Police Federation. The Minister will be familiar with the report that the federation produced in December 2006, “24/7 Response Policing in the Modern Police Organisation—Views from the Frontline”. Things have moved on, and the level of resources is clearly now much more significant, but the concerns that the federation raised then—only 18 months ago—were about whether staffing would be sufficient to provide the safer neighbourhood teams, and whether 24/7 response officers would be drawn from their activities and put into safer neighbourhood teams. The federation was also concerned that safer neighbourhood teams would not reduce the work that 24/7 response officers had to do but might, in fact, increase it. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that discussions with the federation indicate that those issues have either gone away or are not as salient now as they were then.
I see that the Minister will be able to respond on that point, and I welcome that.
Neighbourhood policing is beginning to deliver results. Once it is bedded in, there will no doubt be a need for some fine tuning. That may mean looking at the balance of police officers and community support officers on safer neighbourhood teams. Undoubtedly, there will be discussion at some point about how we balance the real need for visible policing by officers who are known to the people in an area, with the real challenges that the police face in specific locations where they might want to deploy more resources. There will be discussions about how we get that balance right, but, broadly speaking, my party supports and welcomes the direction of travel. Subject to some fine tuning, it will deliver real benefit to communities up and down the country in years to come.
I and my colleagues congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) on securing this timely debate. Let me make it clear that Her Majesty’s Opposition support the six broad goals set out in the Government’s 2005 document on neighbourhood policing. We believe in the principle that local people should have more influence over setting local safety priorities. We believe in stronger partnership working not just between local authorities, neighbourhood watches and local citizens’ groups, but between primary care trusts and the whole family of partnership workers in crime and disorder reduction partnerships and other groupings. We also believe that having a more visible presence on the streets is vital to neighbourhood policing. We need to cut the paperwork and get more officers and police community support officers back on the beat.
My concerns do not relate to the principle of neighbourhood policing, which we support, but its implementation. The Conservative-controlled borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which I visited earlier this week, provides an excellent example of delivering 24/7 policing. Two wards are enjoying this piloted experiment, which involves working across 24-hour periods. They have, on average, 30 officers, rather than the London average of six. It is worth while focusing on the results, and I would like the Minister’s views on them. In Shepherd’s Bush, for example, robberies are down by 48 per cent. In Fulham Broadway, overall crime is down 10 per cent., with burglary down 27 per cent. and theft down 22 per cent. Those are real examples of a very aggressive 24/7 neighbourhood policing policy.
What is the evidence for crime reductions in non-24/7 areas—our average neighbourhood policing areas? The Home Office’s report this February, “Neighbourhood policing: the impact of piloting and early national implementation”, which I know the Minster will have studied with care, did not provide any numerical evidence for significant reductions in crime in the 16 wards that it studied. I wonder what the Minister’s view is of the empirical evidence for crime reduction in neighbourhood policing areas.
PCSOs are important in the delivery of neighbourhood policing, which was sagely observed by my hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry). I do not need to go into the argument about the Government’s promise at the time of the last election to recruit 24,000 PCSOs by 2008. That target has been reduced to 16,000. Will the Minister give us an indication of his estimates for the number of PCSOs who will be available in England and Wales to support sworn officers in neighbourhood teams for next year and the year after?
I have an even more important question about sworn officer numbers, police strength and absent PCSOs. We all believe in neighbourhood policing, but one does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the number of sworn officers needs to be kept up. I have one simple question, to which the House deserves an answer, and I am not making a party political point, because every hon. Member who cares about the problem will want the answer. On page 45 of Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s final report on the independent review of policing, published in February, he said that
“maintaining police numbers at their current level”—
which was about 141,000 in January—
“is not sustainable over the course of the next three years…we would not be making the most effective use of the resources dedicated to the police if police officer numbers were sustained at their current level.”
I would dearly like to hear whether the Minister and the Government support Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s proposition. Until we know what their intentions are over the next three years and whether 141,000 officers is a sustainable number, we cannot have an intelligent debate about the effectiveness of neighbourhood policing.
I will not, because we are very short of time and I want the Minister to have a proper crack at answering these questions. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House spoke about reducing red tape. One proposal has been de-emphasised by Sir Ronnie. In his interim report on 11 September, he strongly recommended that the Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Policing Improvement Agency draft a national suite of streamlined forms containing minimum reporting requirements by summer 2008. Conservatives support that, but we do not seem to be having much success. If anyone speaks to ACPO and the NPIA, as I did yesterday, there is not much evidence of a national suite of forms with minimum reporting requirements being produced by the summer of this year, as Sir Ronnie originally wished to see. Perhaps the Minister can comment on that. We are not going to have better and more effective neighbourhood policing unless the Government get serious at a national level on cutting red tape and reducing bureaucracy.
I want to give the Minister enough time to answer those questions, so I shall just make the following points. He will agree that it is not acceptable that the proportion of time spent by patrol officers on patrol fell from 18 to 17.1 per cent between 2003-04 and 2006-07, based on the Government’s own figures up to 2007. Unless those figures are reversed, they cast doubt on the effectiveness of the neighbourhood policing programme in the next year and beyond. There are also some rather depressing figures about police station closures in the past 10 years. Freedom of information requests reveal that, to date, 550 have shut their doors.
We also need clarity on the single non-emergency number. In his final review in February, Sir Ronnie Flanagan highlighted the importance of the 101 non-emergency number in acting as a catalyst for improved partnership working between the police and other agencies. Will the Minister tell us about funding for the 101 number, because there are question marks over that?
Finally, proper implementation of the neighbourhood policing programme requires proper and stable funding. That is the view of all who have looked at the matter. Will the Minister accept recommendation No. 30 of Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report, which states:
“The NPIA should, by April 2008 have agreed a funded programme for the next three years to continue to support forces to embed Neighbourhood Policing”?
Is that something that we will see in April 2008? If not, why not?
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) on securing the debate. If he does not mind me embarrassing him, may I also say that, as normal, he introduced his subject in an intelligent and thoughtful way? That gives enormous power to his arguments. I know that he works assiduously for his constituents, not only in respect of neighbourhood policing, but on a whole range of different matters, and I congratulate him on that.
Before I respond to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), I shall deal with some of the other points raised. This was a very intelligent debate and discussion, and hon. Members raised matters of importance. They were concerned with how to improve the delivery of neighbourhood policing in every area. The debate was not about the principle of it, because we all know that what people want is a visible uniformed presence on the street, but about how we can make that as effective as possible and how we ensure that local people can influence those officers in a proportionate way.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) was right to say that issues other than neighbourhood policing are important. It is for local police forces to achieve a balance in relation to that, which is something that we should not lose sight of. I was pleased that he and others highlighted the role of PCSOs. Given some of the publicity about them, it is important to say again that the Government and the vast majority of hon. Members think that they do an outstanding job in our communities. The introduction of PCSOs has been a major reform and has led to considerable improvements. We should consistently acknowledge that. When I and many other hon. Members travel around the country or are in our constituencies, we pay tribute to the role of PCSOs. I am grateful for his support on that.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the role of specials, and it is right and proper that we recognise their role in delivering neighbourhood policing. It is not just the number of specials that is important, but the number who are active in communities, which is a point that is often lost. A change was made in the past few years and the police work hard to ensure that specials are properly integrated into neighbourhood policing teams, and that they are active and working hard in those teams, rather than simply being numbers in a book. There has been considerable improvement in that and integration has been an important factor.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) talked about neighbourhood management, which is a particularly important point—in fact, it is crucial. Neighbourhood policing cannot be delivered without being part of neighbourhood management. He made that point when he talked about the reduction in crime in his area, brought about by a neighbourhood management approach. The role of PCSOs was also important and, again, he highlighted the difference that they have made.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) talked about a subway in his area where a tremendous difference has been made by the local authority—or Network Rail or whoever was responsible—painting out some graffiti. That is not a policing function. In many respects, it is the function of the local authority or whoever is responsible. Painting out graffiti containing homophobic hatred or other types of graffiti means that when people walk down the subway, they will feel the benefit of the actions of those who take a pride in the community. Sometimes the simple measures that people think should be done—and they cannot understand why they are not done—make a real difference. In all our constituencies, fixing a broken streetlight or sign makes a huge difference. That is not part of a policing response, but part of neighbourhood management, in which the police play an important role. I think it would be a shock if I—a Labour Minister—turned up in the middle of Banbury, and we would perhaps have some fun if I did so, but, on a serious note, I will consider visiting.
The next thing I have written on my notes is not to forget to say that on the way to Banbury, or on the way back from Banbury, I will, of course, call in at Oxford. Just in case I have missed anyone out geographically, I should say that it is important for Ministers to go to different constituencies and parts of the country. I have been to Burton, Stafford, Copland in Cumbria and other places to see the work that is going on.
Hon. Members will know that the Association of Chief Police Officers has asked the National Policing Improvement Agency to review PCSOs and career development will be considered as part of that. On the transfer or movement of officers from Thames Valley and, indeed, other forces into the Metropolitan force, officers recruited after 1 April 1994 in south-east forces receive an additional allowance of £2,000 per annum and £1,000 per annum in Bedfordshire and Hampshire. We have been asked to revisit that allowance and to uprate it to deal with inflation. We recently heard the views of Sara Thornton, the chief constable of Thames Valley, who has made representations on that issue. It is a matter for the Police Negotiating Board, but I know that it is under consideration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) made an important point about neighbourhood management and the role of neighbourhood watch. There is a need for neighbourhood watch to extend its role and to develop the way in which it works in a modern police setting. There is certainly an important role for neighbourhood watch.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) talked about local priorities and the points he made were right. One of the tasks for neighbourhood policing is to ensure that local people feel that they can influence the priorities and have a real say. That should not mean that police operational independence is compromised, but if there is to be true neighbourhood policing in an area, surely it is only right and necessary for people to have some influence.
On CCTV and accessibility, when I have been to different parts of the country, including the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed), I have visited control rooms where they change the direction of CCTV cameras all the time. However, I will consider the hon. Gentleman’s point. If it is appropriate, I will write to every hon. Member present with the answer to his question so that it is on the record. As I have said, it is not something that I have heard before, but I will take up the point.
I genuinely welcome the support of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) for neighbourhood policing. I also welcome the other points that he made. We are trying to get empirical evidence on neighbourhood policing. However, it is fair to say that every police force that we have spoken to says that neighbourhood policing has led to a reduction in crime—and importantly a reduction in the fear of crime—as happened in Hammersmith and Fulham, to which he referred.
The hon. Gentleman will also know that all the Flanagan review’s recommendations are being considered by the Government, including those that he highlighted. Part of that is about reducing bureaucracy. We know that forms are being reduced in size across the country and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford gave examples of that. As I say, we will push that matter forward. One of the ways in which we will do that is through mobile data sets, although I cannot give him a commitment on that this morning.
I am sure my hon. Friend is not surprised. I cannot give the commitment because it would drive a coach and horses through the bidding system. We have heard his plea for Staffordshire in relation to the funding for that and we will consider it.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned maintaining police numbers and referred to the point made by the Flanagan review. Obviously, we intend to maintain police numbers. We have invested record amounts in the police service and there has been a huge increase in police numbers. PCSOs have been introduced and there has been a massive increase in the number of police staff who have taken on roles previously undertaken by warranted officers.
Obviously, the Government must consider the Flanagan report, but we have not come to a conclusion on it. However, the point that Sir Ronnie makes is whether the mix of staff numbers is right. That links to the point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. Clearly, one of the reasons we reduced the funding for PCSOs from last April was because the Association of Chief Police Officers asked us to. Similarly, surely the mix of police staffing, staff numbers, PCSOs and uniformed officers is a matter for local police chiefs. Sooner or later, Parliament will have to make up its mind across the board about whether it wants to issue national diktats to local police forces or have local decision making, even if that sometimes means taking an easy political hit. With respect to the police, we must decide whether we want effective policing determined locally or yah-boo politics dictating what is an appropriate public policy. That is something on which we need to reflect. The Flanagan review has made its recommendation, which the Government will consider in due course.