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Police Forces (Collaboration)

Volume 542: debated on Monday 19 March 2012

I welcome the increasing levels of collaboration between police forces and expect more forces to consider how to work together to make improvements and to save money. The Government have estimated that forces could save £350 million per year by collaboration on procurement and from IT. Further substantial savings could be made through collaboration in back-office functions.

In 2009 the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said that he was “relaxed” about the collaboration of police forces with the private sector. Is the Home Secretary similarly relaxed?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and indeed I am similarly relaxed. In 2009 the current shadow Policing Minister said that he was not only very “relaxed” about collaboration between police forces and the private sector, but that police forces had Labour’s “blessing” to do it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that collaboration between police forces, and indeed between police forces and other bodies, to get much-needed efficiencies is welcome at any time but is now essential in these challenging times, as we try to protect front-line police services and clear up the financial mess left by the Labour party?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It is of course right that at all times police forces look at what efficiencies they can make, and at what collaboration they can enter into, to ensure that they are able to increase and improve the service that they provide to the public, but while forces are having to make budget cuts because of the deficit that was left by the Labour Government, that is even more important.

Can the Home Secretary tell us why the collaboration between West Midlands police and Surrey police on the long-term privatisation of large parts of the police service, including some core functions, is going ahead before the election of police and crime commissioners? Surely she sees that that undermines, potentially, the commissioner’s role in setting the strategic direction of the police force.

Police forces throughout the country are rightly looking at collaboration, but there are different ways in which they can do so. West Midlands and Surrey police forces are looking at innovative ways in which they can bring in the private sector to ensure that they are able to make the savings that need to be made while delivering the service that the public expect them to deliver. It is important that police forces have been looking at the matter for the past two years, and in advance of the election of police and crime commissioners, because frankly we could not wait to start the job of clearing up the mess that was left by the previous Government in terms of the deficit.

Given that some of the collaboration initiatives could have a significant influence on the level of the police precept, who will have the final say on the initiative: the commissioner or the police and crime panels?

It is of course for the police and crime commissioner to set the budget and the strategic plan for any police force. We have put in place the opportunity for police and crime panels to question and challenge decisions made by the commissioner, but of course it is the commissioner who sets the precept.

Will the Home Secretary use this opportunity to confirm that collaboration should not extend to privatising 999 response teams, patrols or arrests?

I am happy to confirm to my right hon. Friend that only police officers have the power of arrest. They will continue to patrol the streets, to respond to 999 calls, and to lead investigations. The public expect the police to be experts in catching criminals, and that is what we want them to be. We do not want them to be experts in human resources or IT, which are entirely the sorts of areas that can involve collaboration with the private sector.

Of course, collaboration and sharing of good practice has been going on for very many years, including in national resilience. Would the Home Secretary not do better to put in place the collaboration arrangements that she talks about so fondly before making cuts of 16,000 in front-line policing?

Police forces up and down the country are doing what is necessary to make the savings that we are asking them to make. They are transforming the way in which they provide policing and rightly looking to ensure that the private sector can be brought in where that will increase efficiency and save money. A Labour Government would have cut police spending and reduced police budgets. Nobody on the Labour Front Bench has said that they would intend to reverse the cuts in police spending. It is about time that the Opposition stopped opposing every opportunity that we are giving the police to ensure that they can save money from back offices and get the police out on the streets.