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Police (Regulatory Burden)

Volume 522: debated on Monday 24 January 2011

We have removed central targets by scrapping the policing pledge and the public confidence target, and we will be abolishing the assessment of policing and community safety. We are also working with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to develop new, light-touch monitoring arrangements for police forces that will allow us to focus on performance, at the same time as reducing the inspection burden.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. Police community support officers and police officers are a valuable resource in the communities that they serve in Loughborough and surrounding villages. Does my right hon. Friend agree that where savings need to be made, Leicestershire police force and others should be looking at the back office for those savings, not the front line?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is possible for police forces to make significant savings in the back office, and that is where they should look first. We are helping them by scrapping the stop form and reducing what needs to be recorded on the stop-and-search form. We will save 800,000 hours of police time a year.

My local police force, West Mercia, finds itself involved in increasing amounts of social work. Although that is to be commended—such compassion is good—it draws resources away from fighting crime. Will my right hon. Friend commit to reviewing regulations and working with her Cabinet colleagues to look at the issue carefully and ensure that social work is carried out by dedicated social services, so that the police can focus on fighting crime?

I have made it absolutely clear to the police that their aim is to cut crime, but of course they work with other agencies, in a variety of ways, on the issues that they deal with. The important thing is that when such work takes place, it leads to effective action, whatever that action should be, and not, sadly, what used to happen, as we saw from HMIC’s report on the response to antisocial behaviour. All too often, meetings and partnership meetings took place just for the sake of it, rather than something being done on the ground to benefit people.

The Home Secretary appears to be continuing with the trend of what she has been saying, which is that the cuts in the police budget can be met by back-office cuts and reductions in regulation. In the west midlands there have been huge reductions in back-office staff and a freeze on police recruitment. Does she believe that the chief constable is just a fool, or is she in denial?

I was interested that the right hon. Gentleman’s initial comment was that he was grateful for some consistency from a Minister. Perhaps that was more a comment about the Labour Government, of whom he was a senior member, and the policies that they introduced. What I would say to him is indeed what I have been saying since I came into this role. It is possible for police forces to make significant savings in their budgets by making savings in the back office. HMIC reported that simply ensuring that all police forces met average efficiency levels could save 12% in their budgets, which does not take into account issues such as procurement, IT procurement and the potential for a two-year pay freeze, were that to be agreed by the police negotiating board.

One way to reduce the burdens on front-line police is to have a team of support staff in place to do many of the tasks necessary to bring about successful convictions. Does the Home Secretary not understand the anger and dismay of people across Greater Manchester, who are set to lose not only almost 1,400 front-line police officers, but 1,500 support staff? Will she think again?

One way to release the police to do the job that the public want them to be doing, on the front line, is to get rid of the bureaucracy that was introduced by the last, Labour Government, which ties too many police officers up behind a desk, so that they are not out there on the streets.