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Police Numbers

Volume 530: debated on Monday 27 June 2011

It is for the chief constable and the police authority in each force to determine the number of police officers who are deployed within the available resource.

Crime is once again rising in the west midlands as police numbers fall, with hundreds of Birmingham’s and Britain’s best police officers being forced to retire under regulation A19, some as young as 48 years of age. Does the Home Secretary accept any responsibility, including for the latest casualty of Government cuts, the head of the west midlands counter-terrorism unit?

The detective chief superintendent to whom the hon. Gentleman referred has said:

“I have always fully appreciated the reasons why West Midlands Police is implementing A19”.

That was a procedure that the last Labour Government chose to retain. Police officers are not being made redundant under this procedure, they are retiring with a full pension having completed 30 years of service. It is for chief constables to take the decisions about how best to deploy their resources, and unlike the hon. Gentleman I will not second-guess the chief constable on that.

Does the Minister of State agree that I am lucky to represent a London constituency where we can see the reality of Conservativism in power? In 2012, after four years of Mayor Johnson, there will be more police officers in London than there were after eight years of Mayor Livingstone.

My hon. Friend makes a good point, on which the Opposition should perhaps reflect. A directly elected individual who has responsibility for policing is working hard to ensure that resources get to the front line. He has sought to maintain police numbers, and is protecting neighbourhood policing for the benefit of Londoners. It is a very good example of direct democracy in action.

Does the Minister agree that the police are only as effective as the teams that support them? If he has been in the intelligence room of a police station, as I have in the Huddersfield station, he will know that it is not a back-office function that can be wiped away. Those intelligence teams are under threat, and the police cannot work without them.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that the idea of one police force, which Tom Winsor, who is leading the independent review of police pay and conditions, has talked about, is a good one. Police staff play an important role in modern police forces, which we should understand. Nevertheless, there has been a very big growth in the number of police staff in recent years, which has proved unsustainable. Around 25,000 police officers are working not on the front line, but in back and middle offices. That is something to which chief constables need to pay attention.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, despite a challenging settlement this year, Thames Valley police are not cutting the number of front-line police officers, despite misleading information being put out locally by the Labour party after it was briefed to the contrary by the chief constable. Does he agree that it is possible to cut back-office functions, rather than front-line policing?

I strongly agree. Thames Valley police are taking decisions about how to make savings and work more efficiently in many areas so that they can protect the front line, and that is what forces up and down the country are doing. A good example is the collaboration between Thames Valley police and Hampshire police on a range of functions. That is the sort of thing we want to see extended across the country.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) on police cuts in London, can he explain why the Mayor, Boris Johnson, is cutting 1,800 officers in the next two years from London’s police force, including 300 sergeants, which will result in cuts to local safer neighbourhood teams? The Mayor is also proposing to reduce the minimum number of officers in each safer neighbourhood team from the current level of six, and I have seen a letter from one commander stating that police community support officers will not be replaced as they become fully-fledged police officers. Does the Minister accept that safer neighbourhood teams in London face being cut by stealth? Should he not get to the Dispatch Box and apologise to the people of London, on behalf of the Government and the Mayor, for cutting the number of front-line police officers?

The Labour party simply cannot stand the fact that the Mayor of London has said that he will enter the next mayoral election with more police officers than he inherited. He has made that pledge and is protecting safer neighbourhood teams. Of course there are sensible arrangements whereby some sergeants are being shared, but the number of officers in safer neighbourhood teams is being protected. It is possible, as the Mayor has shown, alongside the leadership of the Met, to protect front-line policing while having to deliver significant savings. The hon. Gentleman—