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Efficiency (Police Forces)

Volume 532: debated on Monday 12 September 2011

6. What estimate her Department has made of the potential for savings to the public purse through back-office efficiencies within police forces. (70931)

Order. If I am mistaken, I shall be happy to acknowledge it, but I thought that the Minister wished to group this question with questions 9 and 18.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am happy to group it with question 18 as well, if that is acceptable. [Hon. Members: “And 9, not 10.”] I said 10, then I realised that it has been moved to 9 because of a withdrawal. I apologise.

The Government are clear that police should be focusing on police work and not paperwork. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s report has shown how forces could save £1.15 billion, and there is scope for even greater savings.

Cambridgeshire police currently have one inspector for every three sergeants, and one chief inspector or more senior grade officer for every inspector. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the chief constable’s streamlining of senior officer grades in order to recruit an extra 50 officers in addition to the existing head count? Will he place a copy of the relevant information in the Library to allow us to benchmark the number of officers at each grade in each force?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that these kinds of overheads are reduced so as to protect the front line. I note that HMIC’s recent report also congratulated the chief constable and the authority on committing to a strategic alliance with the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire constabularies. That is exactly the kind of partnership that can help to drive savings and protect front-line services.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the unique office of constable is one that should be jealously safeguarded? Will he reassure me that in the drive for efficiency and in the implementation of the Winsor report, we will not throw the baby out with the bathwater?

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend about the importance of the office of constable and the independence that it preserves. He will know that the Winsor report, whose recommendations are currently being discussed, also recognised the importance of the office of constable.

For most of our constituents, efficiency is associated with visibility. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to commend Sergeant Adrian Thomas and PC Paul Froggatt who last week ran a mile and a half and, without regard to their own safety, jumped into the Banbury canal to rescue a 71-year-old lady who had slipped into it? With that sort of visibility evident within the Thames valley, it must be possible to have it in every other part of the country.

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the police officers for their acts of bravery. I am sure the whole House would agree that many such acts of bravery on the part of our police officers and our police community support officers are going on every day. We see that reflected each year in the police bravery awards. I believe that many of us are humbled by the selflessness and heroism of our police officers.

Given that the previous Labour Government planned efficiencies of about £1.3 billion—including on back-office staff, on procurement, on mergers such as the one between Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, on overtime and on officer deployment—will the Minister be clear about where the extra £1 billion he proposes is going to come from, if not from officer numbers, like the 200 losing their jobs in north Wales?

First, I note that the right hon. Gentleman confirms that the Labour party is committed to reducing spending on police forces by more than £1 billion—but, of course, they did not deliver those savings when they were in government; it cannot be done without reducing the work force. We have identified additional savings, including those that will accrue from pay restraint, and indeed the £350 million a year that will accrue from better procurement of goods and services. In fact, the total savings are well over £2 billion a year.

Does the Minister welcome the news from Birmingham that officers are being taken off the street to answer the phone and deal with other administrative tasks? Is that the kind of efficiency that the Government are striving for?

The hon. Gentleman should know that, in police forces generally, a third of human resources are not on the front line. Well over 20,000 police officers are in back and middle-office positions, with a higher than average proportion of them in the West Midlands constabulary. It should be possible to drive savings while still protecting the front line. That is what we ask and expect chief constables to do.

Given the Minister’s numbering problems at the outset of these questions, he probably now recognises the importance of having a good back office.

I have read again a copy of the HMIC report, “Demanding Times”, which was published in June 2011. He will know that a table on page 4 states that only 5% of police officers and PCSOs perform back-office functions, many of them necessary. With more than 16,000 police officers to be cut during the next few years of the spending review, does this not show what we already know—that there is and will be an impact on the front line from these cuts, with the loss of uniformed and neighbourhood officers and detectives?

First, I should say that what the hon. Gentleman mentioned at the outset shows that I need a better pair of glasses. As to his question, he always mentions the number of officers in back-office positions—the fact that there are thousands of them will, I think, surprise the House—but he never mentions the considerable number in middle-office positions, are not on the front line. I repeat that well over 20,000 officers are not on the front line, with 16,000 of them in the middle office. Savings can be driven while protecting front-line services—something that Opposition Members neither understand nor accept.