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Police Bureaucracy

Volume 485: debated on Monday 15 December 2008

It is vital that the police are able to deliver for the public in the most efficient way. That is why we are scrapping the time-consuming stop and account form, reducing by up to 80 per cent. the amount of time taken to record crimes, and investing £75 million in new technology to help officers work smarter, thereby freeing up officers to focus on addressing people’s concerns.

I thank the Minister for his reply. More specifically, can he tell me what assessment he has made of the impact of the use of hand-held high technology devices issued to front-line police officers on reducing police bureaucracy?

We think that the fact that we have made increasing numbers of these hand-held devices available to front-line officers has made a significant difference. I was recently in Staffordshire talking to police officers there, and they were demonstrating the use of these devices and talking about the difference that they were making. I should point out that 10,000 extra hand-held devices have been made available to front-line officers, and that figure will rise to 30,000 by 2010.

What specific reforms, if any, is the Minister contemplating to make local police more locally accountable, and how would such reforms allow local people, rather than Home Office officials, to set local police priorities?

If the hon. Gentleman looks at our proposals regarding the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, he will see that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary only recently announced the councillor call for action, which will be implemented from April this year to allow local councillors to have more say in what happens with local police forces. Moreover, the policing pledge talks about the public having more chance to influence the police through face-to-face meetings; neighbourhood policing teams are out there meeting people; police community support officers get out there and deliver leaflets; and e-cops, which we see in Leicestershire, allow people to e-mail their concerns. All those things allow people to influence local policing in their area, and are very much welcomed by everybody I meet.

I thank my hon. Friend for his visit to Stafford a fortnight ago, when he met the chief constable, Chris Sims, and representatives of the senior leadership and the police authority. Crucially, he also met police officers and PCSOs. Does he agree, as a result of that day in Stafford, that Staffordshire police really are now leading the country on cutting out unnecessary paperwork, streamlining criminal justice systems and keeping police officers out on the front line for longer? Is that not why Jan Berry held the first meeting of her group that day in Stafford, to provide recommendations to police throughout the country?

Cutting bureaucracy is an essential part of the work that we are doing, and talking to front-line police officers—as both my hon. Friend and I did that day in Stafford—shows the impact that that is having. It is not me who is saying that it is having an impact, but police officers themselves. Staffordshire is one of the four crime-recording pilots, and Staffordshire police have looked at a whole range of measures—not only the use of hand-held computers, but forms relating to a variety of crimes, including stop and account. Not only Staffordshire but other police forces that have played a part in these pilots are demonstrating to forces across the country the serious inroads that can be made into unnecessary bureaucracy.

I agree with the Minister that communication with our constituents needs to improve, but I doubt whether it will come as a surprise to him to learn that most of my constituents do not see crime as virtual or in e-mails, but in reality. What they want to see is more police officers on the street and less bureaucracy, so it is very concerning that the Minister is talking about e-cops; what people want to see is real cops.

And they do see real cops. I bet that the neighbourhood policing teams in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency demonstrate such visible policing and the presence on the streets that everybody wants to see. By reducing bureaucracy and through the changes that we are making to stop and account forms, through the work that Jan Berry is doing and through crime recording pilots—which have shown that it is possible to reduce bureaucracy in respect of a whole range of crimes—not only will communication between constituents and the police improve, but we will see the increased numbers of police that everybody wants to see on the street.

Four years ago, the Home Office told us that police officers spent only 19 per cent. of their time on patrol. Can the Minister tell us what the latest figure is?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman is using one particular measure—an on-patrol measure, which, as he knows, takes no account of any interaction between police officers and members of the public; all that it counts is when somebody is actually out there on the street. It does not account for a police officer who stops and speaks to someone in a car or who speaks to someone whose shop has been robbed. Any of the normal things that we would expect a police officer to do are not counted, which is why we introduced a new measure called the front-line policing measure.