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Police: Deployment of Workforce

Volume 726: debated on Tuesday 5 April 2011

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they expect serving police officers to be moved from front-line roles to cover back-office functions of civilian staff who have been made redundant.

No, my Lords. As Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has established, one-third of the police force—that is, 80,000 people—are not on the front line. There is significant scope for major savings in reducing bureaucracy and increasing efficiency in such matters as procurement and IT without touching the front line. Furthermore, in its recent report, Demanding Times, HMIC shows that front-line officers can be deployed much more productively. There is “significant variation between forces” in the visibility and availability of officers and PCSOs. Some constabularies manage to have only 9 per cent of their officers on the street at any one time; and the average is only 12 per cent.

I thank the Minister for that reply. However, in the light of the disclosure that in Warwickshire, full-time police officers are being removed from the front line to fill back-office vacancies caused by the government cuts; the finding by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary that 68 per cent of police officers and civilian staff combined are involved in the front line and will be very hard to retain in the face of the 20 per cent cuts; and the statement by the chief constable of Lancashire, who is the ACPO lead on police performance management, that with the scale of the cuts being experienced, they could not leave the front line untouched; can the noble Baroness confirm to the House that the undertaking by the Prime Minister that front-line police services will not be cut, but will be protected, still stands?

The Government believe that front-line services will not be affected by the savings that have to be made. As HMIC has established, there is considerable room for savings to be made without touching the front line. I have given some illustrations; many more could be given. To give one example, at the moment, the average percentage of available officers who are at any one time visible on the street is 12 per cent. That is 18,795 officers. If all the forces were to reach the best practice available, which is that of Lancashire, that would amount to 26,627 policemen. Very big increases in efficiency can be made.

My Lords, work is rightly going on by police forces and by the Home Office on reducing bureaucracy. Has any assessment been made of what savings can be made from consequent reductions in back-office requirements as a result of savings in bureaucracy?

My Lords, this is just the kind of work that needs to be done. It is not easy to make those head-count calculations until one has an idea of how each force is going to make the savings, but there is no doubt that if, for instance, one procures much more efficiently than we do at the moment, considerable savings can be made.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this Question need not have been asked at all if only a proportion of the £200 million-plus which is planned to be spent on the election of police and crime commissars was to be spent on real policing?

My Lords, I think that the figure for the election of PCCs is £50 million, which will be every four years. It has been provided for in the spending round; it does not relate to the police budget.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give the House her definition of a front-line police officer, and does it include officers working under cover for some length of time?

I think we can rely on HMIC, which has given us a definition of front-line police officers—I am just looking for it. The inspector has said that it is indeed those officers on the street and also those officers who provide support, which he calculates as being the 60-something per cent that was mentioned. We now have a definition of front-line policing that the Government are happy to accept.

My Lords, may I press the Minister on her definition to make quite clear that she is giving an assurance on front-line policing of those who are police community support officers? Will she affirm the huge value that those members of the police give in preventive action in terms of crime that otherwise might occur within the community?

My Lords, we entirely agree on the value of PCSOs as well as that of warranted officers. Crime prevention is a very important part of policing, which is one of the reasons why the Government attach so much importance to police officers being visible on the streets.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is impressed by the efficiency of the Lancashire force, referred to by my noble friend. What power do the Government have to require other forces to get themselves in line with what is happening in Lancashire?

My Lords, the Government are not able to “require” forces, but would very much encourage it. HMIC leads the way in the assessment it does and the recommendations it puts to police forces about the way in which they can improve performance.

My Lords, as a Lancashire resident and formerly for 20 years a member of the Lancashire Police Authority, I am very proud of the service we achieve for the people of Lancashire. Will the Minister accept that, although she referred to money coming from different pots, it is my experience that the people of Lancashire would prefer to see their service maintained at the current high level rather than money being used to bring in a new system, for which I have yet to meet a single advocate in Lancashire?

My Lords, as I said, the police budget is in no way affected by the cost of the election of PCCs. I think that when the inhabitants of Lancashire have experience of elected PCCs, they will find that it turns out to be an extraordinarily satisfactory system and better than the one they have now.