Home Office Questions

Nick takes questions as Minister of State for Policing

4. Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the likely effect of the outcome of the comprehensive spending review on the number of police officers in England and Wales in the period to 2014. [20301]

9. Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): How many police officers she expects there to be at the end of the current spending review period. [20306]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The number of police officers is not set by central Government, but we believe that forces can make savings to ensure that visible and available policing is secured for the public.

Mr Hanson: The Minister will be aware, because it has been mentioned already, that the poorest areas of England and Wales will bear disproportionately the brunt of any reductions in central Government funding, because the Home Office provides the bulk of resources to those areas in particular. That will mean fewer officers on the street and inexorable rises in crime. Is that fair?

Nick Herbert: I do not accept any of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. We believe that police forces can make significant savings in line with the report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, which said that they could save more than £1 billion a year without impacting on the front line. The settlement that we have announced will enable them to protect the visible and available policing that is so important to the public.

Chris Evans: Fears over the cut in the number of police mean that there are real concerns that small forces such as Gwent police could disappear in forced mergers. Given the serious impact that that would have on the quality of front-line policing in Islwyn, can the Minister give an assurance that it will not happen?

Nick Herbert: I remind the hon. Gentleman that the previous Government proposed compulsory forced mergers. We do not intend to go down that route. Where forces wish to merge, if there is a sound business case and the merger has the consent of local people, we will not stand in the way. We believe that forces can make significant savings by sharing services and collaborating, without having to merge.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): How can the cost of elected police commissioners be minimised so that it reduces the impact on police officer numbers?

Nick Herbert: We do not wish elected police commissioners to cost any more than police authorities currently do. The exception is that there will be the cost of the elections, which will be once every four years. That will be met by separate funding. It will not come out of the police budget.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Given that 10% of criminals cause 50% of the crime, does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to maximise the effective use of police time would be to ensure that our colleagues in the Ministry of Justice ensure that persistent and prolific offenders, when apprehended, serve their time in jail in full?

Nick Herbert: I was talking about that this morning to senior police officers responsible for criminal justice policy. Our concern is to ensure that rising rates of reoffending are reversed. That means ensuring that sentences are effective, and that we focus on the rehabilitation that is necessary to ensure that prisons fulfil their purpose and criminals go straight.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): It is interesting that the Home Secretary chose not to answer the question on the spending review and the impact on police numbers, but we have heard from both the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister that thousands of police jobs are to be lost. The idea that that will not impact on front-line policing is one for the fairies. Can the Minister explain why the 20% cut announced in direct Government funding for police forces is front-loaded? In other words, of that 20%, why are the deepest, most far-reaching cuts in the first two years-next year 6%, in 2012-13 8%, then 4% and 4%? Why is the deepest, most far-reaching cut, 8%, in the year when the country is facing one of it greatest security challenges, the Olympics?

Nick Herbert: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position.

Olympic security funding is being prioritised in Home Office budgets, and counter-terrorist policing was subject to a much lower cut than the 20% cut for policing. We intend to ensure that priority continues to be given to counter-terrorist policing. We believe that significant savings can be made. Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary found that only 11% of force strength, on average, was visible and available at any one time, because officers are spending too much time tied up in the red tape that the hon. Gentleman created when he was Minister.

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to ensure that when the cuts come, they will impact the back office rather than the front office? I have a particular concern in a rural constituency where front office is fairly thinly spread.

Nick Herbert: Chief constables agree with us that the front line should be the last thing that is cut, and on the spending settlement that we have announced, there is no need for the front line to be cut. They can make savings through better collaboration and efficiencies. That is what the inspectorate says. They can also make savings in relation to procurement, amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds. As a consequence, we think that the visible and available policing that the public value can be retained.


5. Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the likely effect on the number of police community support officers in post of implementation of the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review; and if she will make a statement. [20302]

13. Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the likely effect on the number of police community support officers in post of implementation of the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review; and if she will make a statement. [20310]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): PCSOs are an important part of the policing family, providing a visible, uniformed presence on our streets. It is for police forces and authorities to determine how they deploy their personnel, but we are clear that forces should be focusing on finding efficiencies in back-office and support functions to protect front-line policing.

Sir Peter Soulsby: In recent years community support officers have become a vital part of the policing team, particularly in the delivery of crime prevention and genuine community policing. There can be nothing more front-line than that. It is inconceivable that the Department has not made an estimate of the number of these posts that will be lost. The House deserves to know what that number is, and the public deserve to know how this vital service will be cut.

Nick Herbert: We do not set the number of PCSOs; that is a decision for chief constables. When I speak to chief constables throughout the country, I, like the hon. Gentleman, find that they value police community support officers, and there is an overwhelming desire on the part of chief constables to protect PCSO numbers, in so far as is possible, as an important part of the delivery of neighbourhood policing. I share that view with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Jones: On Friday last week, Durham MPs met the deputy chief constable of Durham, who said that the constabulary was just about to announce 190 compulsory redundancies. When asked whether that would include community support officers, he said it could not give a guarantee, because the decision was dependent on whether its central Government grant was going to be protected. Can the Minister guarantee Durham that its money from central Government for PCSOs will be protected?

Nick Herbert: We will announce the specific allocations for forces and the future of particular grants later on this year, but on 20 October the chief constable of Durham said:

"It will be business as usual as far as local communities-and local criminals-are concerned... our commitment to neighbourhood policing is undiminished."

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Does the Minister agree that good policing is about tangible results, and not fixated on cuts?

Nick Herbert: The previous Government would not give any guarantee on police officer numbers. Indeed, in many forces police officer numbers were already falling when this Government came to power. The test is about what those police officers are doing, and whether they are visible and available to the public. We will accept no lectures from the Opposition, who have put this country in the position of having to cut police officer funding.

[ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. I am not quite sure what Members had for either breakfast or lunch, but I think I had better steer clear of both.


7. Mr David Crausby (Bolton North East) (Lab): How many police officers there were in England and Wales in March (a) 2010 and (b) 1997. [20304]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): On 31 March 2010 there were 142,132 police officers, compared with 125,825 on 31 March 1997.

Mr Crausby: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he believe that the previous Labour Government spent too much on police officers and too little on the European Union budget?

Nick Herbert: I will not be drawn on the European budget, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman what the previous Government spent too much on-red tape that tied up police officers and wasted police time. When we had a position whereby police officers were spending more time on paperwork than on patrol, we knew that something had gone wrong: it was costly and it reduced police availability.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Can the Minister tell us how we got to the sorry state in which warranted police officers are inside the building doing the police work and non-warranted officers-community support officers-are on the streets without the power of arrest?

Nick Herbert: We believe that police community support officers do an important job out in communities, and the fact that they do not have the power to arrest prevents them from being abstracted and builds confidence in neighbourhoods. However, we are determined to release police officers from the red tape that can keep them in police stations-for instance, by fully scrapping the stop form and reducing the burden of stop-and-search reporting, which will save 450,000 and 350,000 hours of police time respectively.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): West Mercia police authority tells me that it wants to protect record police numbers in Telford, and that one of the ways of reducing the administrative burden is to scrap the crazy, politicised idea of having elected police commissioners. Will the Minister save the money that he is going to spend, even if the budget is ring-fenced, and reallocate it to police forces for front-line policing?

Nick Herbert: May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the policy of increasing the direct accountability of police authorities was proposed twice by the previous Government, who backed down from that proposal in the face of opposition? We are determined to see it through, because we want to exchange bureaucratic accountability for democratic accountability and help to get police officers where they are needed-on the streets.


Topical Questions

T2. [20373] Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Following comments by my local police commander, my constituents in the Barnet neighbourhood watch, ably led by Maureen West, have expressed concerns to me about the ring-fencing rule for safer neighbourhood teams and the impact of possible further cuts as a result of the Government tackling the economic deficit. What assurance can the Minister give me that the reduction in the police family will not lead to a reduction in the police presence on the streets of my constituency?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no need for a reduction in neighbourhood policing. Many police forces up and down the country are making a commitment to maintain neighbourhood policing by finding savings in the back office and collaborating, and through better procurement and saving money.


Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Many of my constituents are concerned that the inquiry desk at Rugby police station is being closed between the hours of 8 pm and midnight. Although I recognise the pressure on police budgets caused by Labour's economic mismanagement, does the Minister agree that this decision should be reconsidered?

Nick Herbert: What is important is how visible and available the police are. There are innovative things that they can do instead of necessarily keeping police stations open at times when very few people visit them, such as setting up shop in shared premises in supermarkets. My hon. Friend should talk to his chief constable about such ideas.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): May I genuinely and un-begrudgingly thank the Policing Minister for recently visiting my constituency and seeing the award-winning group of police community support officers and police officers at the Caerau station? Thank you very much indeed. However, will he pay a return visit if we find that that team, or any others in my constituency, is broken up because of the police cuts coming down the line?

Nick Herbert: I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that I will be returning to the force area this week, although not to his constituency. I spoke to his chief constable a few days ago, and he assured me that by making savings, there would be protection for the visible and available policing in the streets that the hon. Gentleman's constituents want to see.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): Is the Minister aware that a pioneering partnership between North Yorkshire police and the local community in Sherburn in Elmet in my constituency has seen the public inquiry desk at the village police station reopen? The desk is manned completely by volunteers. Does he agree that this is a great example of the big society in action? Will he join me in congratulating the local volunteers and North Yorkshire police-

Mr Speaker: Order. We are all very grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend might have noticed that he just got a nod of approval from the Prime Minister. Helping to keep police stations and front desks open is a very good use of volunteers. There may be very few visitors, but that visibility is important, and there are many other ways in which the police can maintain such a presence in their areas.

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1 November 2010

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