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Policing: Priorities

Volume 793: debated on Thursday 15 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether police forces have established effective priorities for fighting crime.

My Lords, police and crime commissioners are directly elected to set the policing priorities for their local areas and hold their chief constable to account. They must also have regard to national policing priorities and the strategic policing requirement. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services periodically reports on police effectiveness. In its most recent effectiveness inspection report, the majority of forces were graded good.

While I am grateful to the Minister, I wonder what she made of the comments of the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Sara Thornton, in calling on police forces to refocus their priorities on what she described as “core policing”. Does the Minister accept that that highlights the appalling state that we have reached? Since 2010, there has been a 15% real-term, full-time equivalent reduction in the number of her police officers. Many crimes now go unrecorded and undealt with. The figures since 2015 show that there has been a 26% reduction in the number of charges or summons brought for recorded crime, resulting in 153,000 fewer criminals being brought to justice. What is the Government’s response to the appalling state that we have reached?

My Lords, I think that I have stood at this Dispatch Box before and said that it is up to local police forces to set priorities for their local areas, because they will differ from area to area. It is important to note—I have said this before as well—that both the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister recognise the increasing calls on police time and the different demands facing them, particularly in light of events in the past year. There is an additional point about how the police operate. It will not be any surprise to the noble Lord that some police forces are far more effective than others, and it is important to think of ways in which they could collaborate, make better use of technology and be more efficient as time goes on.

My Lords, in the current scenario in which there is significant rationing of policing services because of central government cuts to police budgets, it is no longer acceptable for the Government, and the Home Office in particular, to wash their hands of the consequences. When will the Home Office provide the leadership needed and tell the police service what it should stop doing, because it cannot do everything that the public want with the resources it has been given?

The Home Office has no intention of telling the police what they should stop doing because, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, there will be different priorities in different areas. It is up to local police forces to decide what those are. As for the other acknowledgement by the Home Office, which is that the police are facing new demands and have faced increasing calls upon their time over the last year or so, both the Policing Minister and the Home Secretary fully recognise this and are working with the Treasury to get a better settlement.

My Lords, the Minister must recognise that there is a connection between police numbers and police effectiveness. In view of the considerable reductions of the recent past, is there any prospect of the numbers being increased in the near future?

I both agree and disagree with my noble friend: numbers in and of themselves do not lead directly to effectiveness. However, where those numbers are stretched to the point that it impacts on effectiveness, both the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister have absolutely recognised this. There is not necessarily a direct correlation between the two—of course, the most effective police force, Durham, is also the most efficient.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the impact of the reduction in the size of safer neighbourhood teams in both Wales and England on the capacity of the police to gather intelligence that helps them deliver on their priorities?

My Lords, safer neighbourhood teams certainly provide reassurance to local people, and if local forces feel there should be more numbers in the safer neighbourhood teams, then that is what they should invest in. I certainly recognise that safer neighbourhood teams provide reassurance at a local level.

My Lords, as the Minister knows, I think there are two axes that the Government might follow for the future. One is that the police genuinely need at times to be more effective—just having fewer resources is not a good reason to say that they always need more resources; they have to be more effective at times with the resources they have. I have always felt that, both in the job as well as outside now. However, there is clearly a resourcing issue, and I repeat a constructive suggestion that I ask the Minister to consider. With the transformation fund for the police rising to £350 million over the next two years, which by my estimation would provide 7,000 police officers, it is a foolish endeavour when all it is for is to cover for the fact that there will not be regional police forces. It is not transforming anything; it is taking money from the police at the very time when I would argue that those 7,000 would help to fill the 20,000 gap that has developed over the last seven years.

I start by thanking the noble Lord for what I found to be an extremely helpful discussion yesterday, particularly around knife crime, and for all the incredible work he did as commissioner. He is absolutely right, and I have alluded to it in my answers, that there needs to be more effectiveness within police forces. I take his point about fewer police forces larger in number, but I think that the transformation fund is doing some very good work and is actually incentivising police forces to be more efficient.