Her Majesty’s inspectorate reports regularly on efficiency. In its last report, it ranked two forces as outstanding, Thames Valley and Durham, 30 forces as good, including Northamptonshire, and 10 forces as requiring improvement.
Are the most efficient forces getting together with the least efficient forces so that the least efficient can raise their game?
That is an excellent question. One of the great challenges that faces our 43-force police system is how we encourage and support greater collaboration and the greater spreading of ideas. We have joint working groups on emergency services collaboration and it is something that we look at closely.
For my constituents there is only one true test of police efficiency: can we sleep easily at night, free from crime, and are there police on the streets to keep us safe? On Merseyside, where the police are rated good, reported incidents of burglary are up by 22%, rape is up by 32%, robbery is up by 31% and the list goes on. The only thing that is down is the number of police: we had 4,700 police officers five years ago; today, the number is less than 3,500. What can the Minister do to reassure the people of Merseyside about this terrible situation?
The hon. Lady omitted one other figure that is up: the amount of cash available to Merseyside police. It is up £5.2 million next year and I hope she will welcome that number.
In Northamptonshire, we have seen cutting-edge policing and fire service innovation, which is leading to better outcomes for local people. How can that innovation be shared with other forces? Will the Government continue to support innovation as much as possible?
I think it is fair to say that Northamptonshire is closely associated with best practice on collaboration among the emergency services and sets an example to the rest of the country. My hon. Friend will be aware that the local police and crime commissioner, Stephen Mold, has applied for joint governance of fire and police. That is in the system.
Sutton police are very efficient. Is the Minister aware of the London Mayor’s plans that would see the merger of Sutton, Bromley and Croydon police? Does he share my concern that that would lead to their being less efficient and unable to focus on the needs of each borough in the way they should?
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I am a London MP, and my constituents express similar concerns about plans in north-west London. The bottom line is that these operating decisions are being driven by the police and crime commissioner team and the commissioner. They are accountable to the public for their decisions.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary identified forensics as one of the key areas impeding police efficiency. Crucial forensics tests can make the difference as to whether a person is jailed or loses their family or their job, yet shockingly the Minister told me in a recent written answer that private providers in civil cases do not need to meet any specific scientific standards. There is no regulation in this area at all. Forensics is becoming the wild west of the criminal justice system, so when will the Government stop dithering and give the regulators the powers they have been calling for?
I do not think the hon. Lady’s description of a wild west does justice to the regulators’ work in this space. In fact, everyone agrees that standards have increased on our watch. We have made it clear that we want to put powers on a statutory basis and are actively exploring opportunities for the parliamentary time to do just that.