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Police Officers (Morale)

Volume 481: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

6. What recent assessment she has made of trends in the level of morale among police officers in Wales and England. (229774)

The police service has a good record at retaining staff; it is one of the strongest such records in the public sector. The resignation rate has remained stable in the past five years, at around 1.5 per cent. I am also delighted that we have reached agreement on a three-year pay deal for police officers from 2008-09 to 2010-11.

A recent survey of members of the North Wales Police Federation found that more than 50 per cent. of the officers questioned reported levels of morale at the lower end of the scale. When they were asked what measures could be put in place to enable them significantly to improve their performance, the top three answers were that there should be more police officers, that bureaucracy should be reduced and that there should be fewer targets. Does the Minister consider that the low morale found in north Wales is representative of the police in general? What is the Home Office doing to address the bureaucratic, target-driven culture that is clearly contributing to it?

The hon. Gentleman will know that police officer numbers are at historically high levels. He will also know of the measures that we are taking to reduce bureaucracy, not least the appointment of Jan Berry as the reducing bureaucracy champion. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman will know of the confidence measures that we are taking to reduce the number of targets and to have a single force area target. No doubt all those measures will be welcomed in north Wales, as they have been across the rest of the country.

I know about the survey that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but should point out that resignations in north Wales fell between 2006-07 and 2007-08. As well as talking about the problems, we can point out the successes of the police in order to raise police morale. Not least of those successes has been the huge reduction in crime in north Wales and across the rest of the country.

On the subject of morale, the Minister will be aware that the National Black Police Association recently called for a boycott of the Metropolitan police. Will my hon. Friend continue to work with the association on issues of recruitment and retention and does he agree with me that a boycott is not ultimately in the interests of the police force or of the communities that the association seeks to serve?

My hon. Friend has been a champion of the police and of policing in his constituency. He speaks from a position of strength when he talks about the importance of diversity in the police force. Recently, I met representatives of the National Black Police Association and I have been at the launch of a branch of the National Association of Muslim Police in the City of London. I will continue to have such meetings and make such visits.

As my hon. Friend will know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to look into the whole issue of diversity and ethnicity in the police service. I have just given my right hon. Friend that report. The point is extremely important, and we will look to do something about it in the not-too-distant future.

Does the Minister agree that one way to improve police morale is to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service does not lose evidence and that its staff turn up on the correct date at the correct time so that the police’s hard work in bringing people before the courts can produce a hearing in the court and, I would hope, secure some sort of conviction?

To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, nobody would disagree with those comments. The relationship between the police and the CPS is crucial, which is why Crown prosecutors are now resident in police stations in order to work with the police so that those prosecutors do not make mistakes in respect of the process and there is a better chance of getting measures to court. He is right to point out the need for that close co-operation. We discuss that with our ministerial colleagues and, in the light of his question, I will do so again, because it is an important matter.

I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities. He was very effective in his previous role, and I look forward to working with him in his new one.

One aspect of police pay that is causing a problem for morale in the police forces around the border of the Metropolitan police area is that fact that the Metropolitan police get £4,393 a year more, as well as free travel into the Met police area, than the police in my constituency, who work side by side facing similar levels of crime? Will my hon. Friend reassure me that he is considering that issue?

First, I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks.

We are aware of the issues to do with the so-called south-east allowance in terms of officers leaving forces around London and going to work for the Metropolitan police. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary considers that a serious issue and is discussing it at the Police Negotiating Board. Far from cutting that allowance, as is being discussed by the Conservatives, we continue to see it as important and we will try to reach a proper and fair conclusion to those discussions.

I welcome the Minister to his new role.

The police were demoralised by the Home Secretary’s shocking breach of trust over pay last year. In the light of her decision on 15 October to end consultation on the new police pay review body during this Parliament, will the Minister confirm to the police service that it is now the Home Secretary’s principled view that the Police Negotiating Board and arbitration represent the best machinery for deciding police pay and conditions?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the police pay deal recently announced by my right hon. Friend has been welcomed by all sides. He will also know that as part of that deal, we said that the new pay review body would not be part of the forthcoming policing and crime reduction Bill, and the Government do not intend to introduce that body during this Parliament.

I welcome my hon. Friend and east midlands neighbour, the son of a policeman, to his present role.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a good proxy measurement of morale in a police force can be higher than average levels of absence in that force? Is he aware of the yardsticks that are used by HM inspectorate of constabulary to establish what is wrong when there are higher levels of absence than average? Does he think that local management can be improved, as it probably can in one northern force that has reviewed the shift system in an ill-considered way without properly consulting the police officers in that area, with the result that morale has sunk and absence has soared?

I thank my east midlands neighbour for his kind remarks.

As regards local consultation and negotiation, all the things that one would expect to happen should happen, and they usually do. Notwithstanding recent media reports, the sickness and absence rates for each police officer have reduced by three and a half days since 2001. In many respects, using the sickness and absence rates, which show the number of days for which each officer is absent from their police service, is a good proxy to show a decline in those absence levels. I hope that has been achieved because of some of the things that my hon. Friend pointed out as good practice.