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Police: Officer Numbers

Volume 733: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many police officers are currently employed by police forces in England and Wales and how many were employed in May 2010.

My Lords, police personnel data are collected on a financial year cycle. Published statistics show that there were 139,110 full-time equivalent police officers in England and Wales as at 31 March 2011. This compares with 143,734 as at March 2010.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He will be aware that police authority grants for the next financial year show a £700 million cut in real terms, which is part of the 20 per cent cut front-loaded over a four-year period. How can the Government continue to claim that these cuts are not having an impact on front-line policing when the latest statistics show a worrying rise in crime? What does the noble Lord have to say about that?

My Lords, first, I remind the noble Lord that we have a deficit and that must be tackled by seeking better value for money from every public service. That includes the police. There is no need for the noble Lord to make signs of that sort.

I accept that there has been a decline in police numbers, but there is no need to get fixated on this. At the same time, we have seen over the period that I mentioned—March 2010 to March 2011—a decline in recorded crime of 4 per cent.

My Lords, will the Minister tell us the cost of appointing police and crime commissioners and how many front-line officers that would represent?

My Lords, I have always accepted that there is a cost to appointing police and crime commissioners, but we believe they will bring accountability. Accountability will be good for that service, and we will get even better value for money.

I have just quoted the figures relating to the period that I cited in the original Answer, which showed that recorded crime is going down.

What progress is my noble friend making with cutting down on the amount of bureaucracy that the police have to get involved in—form filling and so forth—rather than getting out on the streets and deterring crime?

I am very grateful to my noble friend for raising the question of bureaucracy. That is what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has done in announcing a package of policies that will cut police red tape, saving some 3.3 million police hours per year. That is the equivalent of some 1,500 police posts.

My Lords, will the noble Lord answer yes to my question as to whether he will look at the pathetically low number of not only police officers but all emergency service workers who have been vaccinated against things such as smallpox and anthrax when the Olympic Games next year will clearly give us a dangerous situation so far as potential biological attacks are concerned?

I hope I will be able to answer yes to my noble friend in due course. I will have to look at those figures, but I am unsighted on them at the moment. If my noble friend is prepared to accept it, I will write to him in due course.

My Lords, when I asked the noble Lord’s predecessor but one about the retiring of more senior police officers and how this would have an adverse impact on people such as the terrorism support officers, I was told that a central register would be kept of how many were going, so that it did not have a disproportionate effect if they were taken from each police area. Where do we stand on that now? Has it had a disproportionate effect or are we managing to keep a balance across all the police areas?

My Lords, again, I am somewhat embarrassed in that I cannot answer the noble Lord’s precise question. I will certainly look at that, but I have not been made aware of any problems in that area. If I have not been made aware of them, I suspect that there is not a problem in that field. If I am wrong, of course I will let the noble Lord know.

My Lords, the Minister will recognise that police forces across the country have been very successful in developing specialist child protection teams. In the current financial situation, some of these teams are extremely vulnerable. Can the noble Lord assure the House that he will use his good offices to protect these highly specialised and very important teams?

The noble Lord is right to draw attention to the specialist work done by individual police forces. It is obviously a matter for each individual police force and the police authority to decide on the appropriate priorities. Certainly within the Home Office, we would want to encourage them to continue with that work.

My Lords, I apologise to the House for missing the start of the Question. I had forgotten that Prayers were earlier today.

Police officers tend to retire at a relatively early age. For their own satisfaction, as well as thinking of the public purse, can the Minister say anything about continuing to make use of their expertise and experience, which is the product of both years and public investment?

My Lords, obviously the training of an individual policeman is a very expensive process. We want to get maximum use of all policemen for as long as possible. Your Lordships will have noticed that some of the policemen who operate around this House tend to be at the older end of the spectrum. We are grateful for their expertise in providing protection for this House. Perhaps, as my noble friend Lord McNally implies from a sedentary position, they all look rather young to us. However, we do want to get as much use as possible out of all those policemen who have trained at such considerable public expense.

Can my noble friend advise how long the delay is in the present climate for an officer passing all the hurdles and being promoted to sergeant? How long does that person have to wait before he achieves that rank?

My Lords, I am facing a lot of difficult and technical questions, which I have to say I cannot answer in the manner in which I would want. I am grateful to my noble friend for putting that question, but I will have to write to him with an answer.

My Lords, there has been considerable effort made to recruit police officers from the black and ethnic minority communities. Can my noble friend indicate whether there has been any problem in retaining such officers and any reasons for that?

My Lords, as my noble friend has made clear, considerable efforts have been made to increase the diversity of the police force. All police forces have made considerable gains there. I am not aware of any problems of retention, but if my noble friend has any evidence of that, I would be grateful to hear from him. That would then obviously be a matter that we would have to address.