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Defence Police and Guarding Agency

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2012

Following the comprehensive spending review and the strategic defence and security review, and in view of the continuing pressure on the defence budget, the Ministry of Defence has carried out a very wide-ranging examination of civil policing and guarding policy and requirements to ensure that they reflect the main security and crime risks faced by the MOD and are being met as cost-effectively as possible. Safeguarding our sites, people and assets—in particular those associated with our nuclear programme—remains a central priority.

We have, however, concluded that we can make sensible and prudent reductions in the number of guarding and civil policing posts at some of our sites, while continuing to maintain effective security. It would not be appropriate to describe in full the specific detail of our future guarding and civil policing requirements or the precise arrangements at individual sites, but I set out below the main elements of the changes we now envisage.

Our approach has been to look hard at our requirements, identify what is essential, and retain it. But reductions are possible in areas where activity, personnel, or expenditure is not absolutely essential to protecting our people, our assets or the delivery of defence outputs. In the current fiscal climate it is our duty to make savings in these areas, both to save money for the taxpayer, and to ensure defence can devote as much resource as possible to the front line.

We have identified areas for reductions by focusing on sites and activities:

where we can safely rely more on physical security measures and less on the continuous presence of the previous numbers of security personnel;

where the regular service occupants of sites can take on a greater role in security while maintaining their operational outputs;

where duties currently undertaken by MOD police officers do not, in today’s circumstances, require police powers, and could therefore be taken on by other staff at lower cost; and

where we can reasonably rely more on support from local police forces, who in any case have primacy in pursuing any incident or investigating any crime.

The measures are being progressed as they are developed. The furthest advanced are changes to the MOD police headquarters and management structure, the cost of which will reduce by 41%. These include: cutting the number of divisions from five to two; simplifying processes, centralising services and reducing complements; and civilianising police posts wherever that is sensible. Consultation with the staff associations and trade unions has begun, with implementation expected to start during 2012. Follow-up studies are planned, with the target of identifying a further 9% saving, bringing the total reduction to 50%. At the same time, there will be consultation on proposals to reduce the cost of the MOD guard service headquarters and regional management structure by 50%.

Other measures were the subject of general departmental consultation with the staff associations and trades unions in 2011, and are now the subject of further more detailed consultation on implementation. These measures are:

a modest increase in the number of sites where we believe can safely rely for part or all of the week on physical security measures, and therefore do not need guards on duty at all times;

changes in guarding policy that make prudent reductions in the security complements at a number of defence sites, and focus effort on the most important security activities;

adjusting guarding numbers at sites where experience has shown that effective security can in practice be maintained with complements lower than previously employed;

continuing to provide support and reassurance to defence communities by focusing a reduced number of defence community police officers on areas of greatest need;

reprioritising the work of the MOD police criminal investigation department on the crimes that most significantly affect the defence interest, yielding a cost saving; and

a rationalisation of the MOD police uniformed operational support capability not permanently allocated to specific sites, with a saving of some posts.

In parallel with the implementation of the changes above, I have agreed some additional measures for departmental consultation with the staff associations and trade unions in 2012. Formal consultative documents will be issued in due course, but the main proposals are:

Making increased use of regular service personnel to carry out unarmed access control duties at (or near) sites where they are stationed, with individuals undertaking periodic duties that will not reduce their operational readiness. At other military sites unarmed access control will be carried out by reallocating existing complements of the specialist military guards of the Military Provost Guard Service. Together these changes will allow the removal of MOD guard service officers from many Navy, Army and RAF sites;

Specific determination of guarding and policing numbers at a small number of sites with unique security features;

In the light of new analysis, some further rationalisation of the MOD police uniformed operational support capability not permanently allocated to specific sites;

Reallocation of security duties at three Navy sites so that, with a small enhancement, the Military Provost Guard Service complements can take over the essential roles of the MOD police complements there;

Maintaining essential armed security by replacing some (but not all) MOD police officers at certain sites with Military Provost Guard Service soldiers, allowing duties for which constabulary powers are not essential to be discharged at a lower cost;

Greater reliance on local police forces for community support activity on defence families estates in Great Britain, allowing the withdrawal of MOD police defence community police officers;

Further rationalisation of the MOD police criminal investigation department in the light of a recent departmental review, to form part of a co-ordinated pan-departmental strategy to combat fraud and other acquisitive crime against defence.

Further consultation will take place on all these proposed changes, during which we will assess their impact carefully in the circumstances of individual sites. In view of this flexible approach to implementation, we cannot yet state with certainty what the eventual impact will be on personnel numbers. However, on the current assumptions, the likely effect would be to reduce the MOD police from its complement in 2009 of some 3,600 officers to a complement of around 2,400 by 1 April 2016 (compared to a current strength of just under 3,100); and to reduce the MOD guard service from its complement in 2009 of some 4,000 to a complement a little under 2,200 by 1 April 2015 (compared to a current strength of just under 3,300).

While consultation on, and implementation of, these measures continues, my Department will continue to seek further efficiencies in guarding and civil policing expenditure. In particular, routine activity to review complements at all our sites continues, taking account of the latest information about specific sites, and seeking improvements in the effective deployment of staff where possible. In addition, we are seeking efficiencies in the use of the defence estate, which may change the requirement for guarding and civil policing. Such changes will be subject to consultation with the staff associations and trades unions in the usual way.

I do not expect staff affected by these changes to welcome them, and I recognise—and very much regret—the uncertainty and anxiety caused to the personnel involved, who have made a vital contribution to defence security over many years.

The fact remains, however, that we must focus our new security requirements, not on the past, but on what is essential for the future.

We can and will make savings in guarding and civil policing, but I can assure the House that effective security arrangements will be maintained at all defence sites.