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Nottinghamshire Police

Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2005

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2.56 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they agree with the comments of the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire that his force's ability to cope with violent crime was hindered by government reforms compelling police officers to undertake clerical tasks instead of front-line duties.

I am sorry, my Lords. I was enjoying the noble Lord's joke so much that I did not rise to my feet quickly enough.

There are over 200 more police officers in Nottinghamshire than there were in 1997 and 294 extra police support staff. Bureaucracy has been reduced, with over 7,000 forms abolished. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary is to work urgently with Nottinghamshire police to examine the force's capacity and capability in tackling murder and other serious crimes. It will produce a report by Monday 4 April to the Secretary of State to advise whether any immediate action is required prior to that date.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for her helpful reply. A chief constable who is facing an explosion of crime in a particular part of his area inevitably first concentrates his own resources on that problem. There is a limit to how far he can reduce the policing in the remainder of his force area. The same reasoning applies when he goes to neighbouring forces for assistance, if that becomes necessary. Does the Home Office retain within its budget a reserve that would enable it specifically to offer resource assistance in such a situation as exists now in Nottinghamshire?

My Lords, first, the general police grant to Nottinghamshire has risen from £104.7 million to £132.8 million, an increase of over 26 per cent or £28 million in cash terms. In real terms there has been an increase to 4.5 per cent. There is provision for the Nottinghamshire police to make application to the Home Office for additional funds. That has been done. We shall consider that application.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this is an indictment against the chief constable himself for his lack of management ability in switching from one area to another?

My Lords, it is right to say that Nottinghamshire has been one of the forces which have been challenged. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary said, first in 2003, that the performance of the Nottinghamshire police has been poor for a number of years. In its second report it said that,

"in Nottinghamshire in 2002, when a comparison of its performance was made both nationally and against its most similar forces … there were 154 crimes per 1,000 population in Nottinghamshire, 17.6% of which were detected. In comparison, there was an average of 118 crimes per 1,000 population in Nottinghamshire's most similar forces, 23.4% of which were detected. In terms of burglary and vehicle crime, the Force was failing to meet its 5-year national crime reduction targets, indeed in each case the Force was showing an increase against the baseline figure, rather than a reduction. Overall its performance was in the bottom quarter of forces nationally".

Of course, how resources are deployed is a matter for chief constables, but in recent times, as a result of the increase in funding and support, things appear to have improved in Nottinghamshire. The numbers have increased, and the force is better able to meet its targets.

My Lords, does the Minister approve of the vociferous criticism of the Chief Constable by Labour members of Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham City Council, and particularly Labour Members of Parliament, bearing in mind that most or all of them would have been enthusiastic supporters of the "More cops for Notts" campaign in 2003, which had such massive support across the county?

My Lords, as I understand it, the criticism is based on the information that they have about the true picture that pertains in Nottinghamshire. Of course it is a matter for the House, but I should tell noble Lords that the figures that the Nottinghamshire force has produced indicate that all crime is down by 10 per cent, domestic burglary is down by 24 per cent, robbery is down by 28 per cent, vehicle crime is down by 16 per cent and violent crime remains about stable but is slightly below the levels of those forces against which it is compared. Bearing in mind the increase in funding and the improvement in the statistics, I am not surprised that those who come from Nottinghamshire are disappointed by what the Chief Constable has said.

My Lords, the police need to regain the confidence of the public, and that is certainly not helped by unattainable national targets that are set centrally and take little account of local needs, which in this case is reflected in Nottingham. There has been a damning report from the Commission for Racial Equality, and only yesterday Sir Michael Bichard expressed serious concern that his recommendations on the Soham murders had not been implemented. If the HMIC is to investigate the Nottinghamshire force, will it look at other areas where there are concerns about resources and the implementation of recommendations on serious issues in which the public have lost confidence?

My Lords, the standards are not unattainable. I say that because forces up and down the country, with appropriate vigour and application, are obtaining those standards. According to Nottinghamshire's own figures, confidence in it has gone up. Its September 2004 figures demonstrate a confidence figure of 37.9 per cent against a trajectory point of 30.8 per cent for that time. Nottinghamshire's confidence performance is perhaps not as high as that of most other local criminal justice boards but it has made improvements. The HMIC will report to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on any matter that it thinks is pertinent.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that, given that there are 43 constabularies in England and Wales, in general forces are doing extremely well, particularly those such as Northumbria, Durham and Lancashire, which are subject to the same national clerical requirements as apply to Nottinghamshire? In saying that, does she agree with me that the selection of Nottinghamshire smacks of a pre-election ploy by highlighting poor performance that seems locally bound rather than being a national problem?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that constabularies up and down the country are doing very well. They have put a huge amount of effort into improving the figures, narrowing the justice gap and bringing more offenders to justice. Overall, crime has fallen 30 per cent since 1997 and the chance of being a victim is at its lowest since the British Crime Survey began in 1981. That is as a result of the hard work, dedication and application of our police service, and I celebrate them.

My Lords, the noble Baroness talks about 294 support staff. What do they all do?

My Lords, they are involved in all the administrative and other services to support officers and to ensure that there is proper delivery. Those two services—what the front-line police officers do and what the civilian employees do to support them—are very well integrated and deliver very high quality results in a number of constabularies.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, proportionately, there has been much more gun crime in Nottinghamshire for the chief constable to deal with than there has been, say, in Greater Manchester, and that it therefore needs further money to enable it to address such very serious organised crime?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that gun crime in Nottinghamshire is a concern, but I cannot agree that it is far worse than anywhere else in the country. I will say that Nottinghamshire has made inroads into the problem. The figures show that it has been able to address the issue with good results.

Murder has been one of the issues very much at the forefront of the Chief Constable's mind in terms of the latest figures from the force's Operation Stealth, targeted at drugs and firearms since August 2002. Gun crime is down from 2003 to 2004 by 28 per cent—that is Notts police's own figure—1,150 people were arrested, 70 per cent with a positive outcome; offenders are now serving a total of 876 years in gaol; 145 firearm offenders have been dealt with; 356 firearms and 6,200 rounds of ammunition have been seized. There have been seizures of £8.5 million worth of class A drugs, £1.2 million-worth of class B drugs and £950,000 of cash and vehicles. That is not failure; it is doing better than before. Is it good enough? No. Should it be better? Absolutely.