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Police (Administrative Burden)

Volume 545: debated on Monday 21 May 2012

I have made it clear that police should focus on cutting crime and not on doing paperwork. That is why I have already announced a package of policies that will cut police bureaucracy, saving up to 4.5 million police hours per year, the equivalent of putting more than 2,100 officers back on the beat.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the election of police commissioners in six months’ time should allow a much more localised focus on lifting these burdens and enabling more police time to be spent on the front line?

I do agree. My hon. Friend makes an important point about the role of police and crime commissioners. They will indeed be the voice of local policing, and I am sure that as such they will want to ensure that police officers are spending as much of their time fighting crime—and not doing paperwork—as they can, and that they will be a powerful force in removing bureaucracy from the police.

In evidence to the Select Committee, the chief constables of the West Midlands and Surrey informed the Committee that £5 million had been allocated to work with the private sector in order to cut costs and reduce administrative burdens. Given what happened at the Police Federation conference last week, would it not be a good idea for the Home Secretary to sit down with all the stakeholders to discuss exactly what the role of the police should be in the 21st century, rather than there being a public dispute between the Government and the police?

I have made it absolutely clear that the focus of the police is on fighting crime. I have set them only one target, which is to cut crime. Indeed, it is right that forces up and down the country are now looking—as they have done for several years, including under the last Labour Government—at bringing in the private sector to their forces where they feel that functions can be done more cost-effectively by the private sector. But I have also made it clear—as I did at the Police Federation conference last week—that we will not move the powers of warranted officers from officers to the private sector.

One of the most pointless, expensive and time-wasting aspects of the bureaucracy that the police have to deal with is the equality and diversity industry that mushroomed under the last Labour Government, which I saw for myself when I visited West Yorkshire police on Friday. Could I meet the Home Secretary or the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to discuss how we can streamline this process so that we can get more resources on to the front line?

It is entirely right that we encourage the police to see more diversity in their ranks. There are many ways in which we do want to see more women and people from black and minority ethnic communities joining the police force and being able to press through the ranks, but my hon. Friend makes the important point that in looking at these issues we do not want bureaucratic processes to take over. Either I or my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice will meet him to discuss this.

Even if I accepted what the Home Secretary said about the changes in administrative burdens, the reality is that 16,000 police officers are being lost. Last week at the Police Federation conference, they told me that 20% cuts would lead to administrative workloads increasing, not decreasing. Only today, the chief constable of Dyfed-Powys warned of “an austerity crime wave” as a result of the Government’s approach to policing. Will the Home Secretary now recognise that despite any package of policies she takes forward on administration, there will be fewer police on the beat and more administrative work to do?

No, the whole point of the approach the Government are taking is that we are cutting the bureaucracy for police to enable them to spend more time on the beat. The challenge is this: I was willing to go to the Police Federation conference and be absolutely honest with the police about what we are doing. I trust that the message that the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow policing Minister gave to the police was that Labour Front Benchers support the same level of cuts in funding as the Government are putting through, and the impact that that would have. I wonder if the shadow policing Minister told the police about his view that £600 million should be taken out of police overtime.

Exempting the National Crime Agency from the Freedom of Information Act will reduce the administrative burden on the police, but will the Home Secretary set out how the principles of transparency and accountability will be upheld in the way that the NCA operates?

I am happy to give my right hon. Friend what I hope will be reassurance on this issue. We are clear that the NCA, when it is set up, should be transparent about how it operates and we will set out clearly those aspects that we expect it to be transparent about and publish information on. However, given the nature of many of the cases that it will deal with and some of the information behind those cases, it is right that we exempt it from the FOI. It is our intention that, on those matters that it can tell the public about, it is as transparent as possible.