Home Office Questions

Nick takes questions as Minister of State for Policing

Police Officer Numbers

5. John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment her Department has made of potential links between police officer numbers and levels of crime. [28269]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): There is no simple link between police numbers and crime- [ Interruption. ] What matters is how officers are deployed. Our aim is to reduce costs and bureaucracy to ensure that resources can be directed to the front line.

John Woodcock: Does the Minister understand how quickly he has seemed so completely out of touch with the reality on the ground? Every community up and down the nation will understand that more police on the street make people feel safer and that it has contributed to a lowering of crime over the past decade. Will he take this opportunity to retract his statement?

Nick Herbert: Surely the test of an effective police force is what we are doing with those officers. The report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman has read, pointed out that only 11% of a police force's strength is visible and available at any one time. That number is too low. There is a problem with the bureaucracy that the previous Government created and that we have to deal with.

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): The Met Police Commissioner says that a simple way of increasing police visibility in lower-risk areas is to end double crewing, where officers patrol in pairs, and to put individual officers on patrol. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how many forces have adopted that very sensible policy?

Nick Herbert: I should say to my hon. Friend that these are operational matters for police forces, but we strongly support those who have taken what we regard as a sensible decision. The Met Police Commissioner and the Mayor have been clear that the move towards single patrolling has been hugely helpful in increasing police visibility, and that can be extended to other police forces.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): The Sunday before last, on "The World This Weekend", the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice told the nation that there was no link between police numbers and the level of crime-a quite astonishing claim. He also argued in recent weeks that it is not officer numbers that are key to cutting crime but individual directly elected police commissioners who will make the difference. As The Daily Telegraph reported, the Minister told a private meeting of police authority chairs on 9 November that, to make that happen,

"the first thing a directly elected individual will do is to appoint a political adviser."

Will he confirm that he made those remarks, and does he stand by what he told The Guardian last week-that the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will enshrine in legislation that these advisers

"may not...be a member of a political party"?

Nick Herbert: First, I did not say that there was no link; I said that there was no simple link. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman something:

"I don't think it's possible to make a direct correlation between police numbers and crime reduction."

Those are not my words; they were the words of the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) when he appeared on "Any Questions" in September.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's specific question, he and his right hon. Friend should have taken care to read the Bill and the consultation document before making the allegation that police and crime commissioners will be able to appoint political advisers. We are determined that they should not be able to do so and have legislated for that. It is in the Bill that they may not appoint political advisers.

Policing Numbers

7. Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the likely number of police community support officers at the end of the spending review period. [28271]

Hon. Members: Come on! Get up!

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 Speaker: Order. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman was slightly out of breath or a bit uncertain in coming to the Dispatch Box, but I believe that he is seeking to group the question with Question 8.

Nick Herbert: With permission, Mr Speaker, I will take Questions 7 and 8 together.

8. Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with police forces on the likely number of (a) police officers and (b) police community support officers at the end of the 2014-15 financial year. [28272]

Mr Speaker: I assume that the Minister had finished his reply, so I call Paul Blomfield.

Paul Blomfield: Will the Minister note that there are 337 police community support officers in South Yorkshire whose jobs are at risk because of cuts in both police and local government budgets? Those officers have made an enormous contribution to the reduction in crime and the fear of crime. Does he accept that people across the country would believe that money was better spent on those posts than on the £100 million that the Government propose to waste on police commissioners?

Nick Herbert: First, I should say to the hon. Gentleman that our intention is that directly elected police and crime commissioners should cost no more than existing police authorities. Of course there will be a cost for elections once every four years-an average of £12 million a year, which is less than 0.1% of the national policing budget. We are determined to do everything we can to protect front-line policing and the number of police community support officers. We think they do a very valuable job in our communities.

Mrs Hodgson: As the Minister is no doubt aware, Northumbria police force, which covers my constituency, has recently confirmed that it is to make 450 civilian staff redundant immediately and it is imposing a recruitment freeze on all front-line posts, all because of the cuts made by the Home Secretary. Does the Minister think that those cuts to front-line policing will make my constituents safer?

Nick Herbert: I do not accept that those are cuts-

Hon. Members: What was that?

Mr Speaker: Order. Opposition Members' hearing is playing tricks with them. They did not hear what they thought they heard.

Nick Herbert: Mr Speaker, I am in very good company today.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) said that these were cuts to police staff. In all, there are more than 6,000 members of staff in Northumbria police force, including police officers, and I repeat that our determination is to do everything we can to support forces in making savings to the back office, in order to protect the front line and the visible and available policing that the public value.

Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Will the Minister advise the House on what is to happen to the neighbourhood policing fund?

Nick Herbert: I am afraid I cannot give an answer to my hon. Friend right now. We will shortly be announcing the provisional police grant. At that point, we will tell the House what we plan to do with the neighbourhood policing fund.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like to congratulate the large number of regular police officers and police community support officers who have responded, often unpaid, to the crises of the past few weeks, including the bomb at east midlands airport, the violence here in Westminster and so on. In view of the spending review, how will we cope in future with the need for surging officers when those occasions occur?

Nick Herbert: As my hon. Friend knows, we prioritise counter-terrorism funding to policing, and it has received a measure of protection in the funding settlement. We will, of course, continue to prioritise it.

Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice is having a busy and rather stressful afternoon. I was hoping to ask the Home Secretary about police funding and numbers-and it looked like he thought that she would answer this question too. In any case, may I ask him about the Home Secretary's Cabinet-level spending negotiations? I hope that she has filled him in on what went on. This week, the cross-party association of police officers wrote to the Home Office to ask for the spending review settlement for the police-20% front-end loaded cuts, followed by 6% next year and 8% the year after-to be reopened in order to

"avoid long term damage to policing capability"

and to protect the front line. Back in May, the Prime Minister told the BBC:

"Any Cabinet minister...who comes to me and says 'here are my plans and they involve front line reductions' will be sent back to their department to go away and think again."

If the Prime Minister has not told the Home Secretary to go away and think again, will she listen to police chiefs up and down the country urging her to do just that?

Nick Herbert: I think that the right hon. Gentleman was referring to the Association of Police Authorities. The House might not have heard that he told the Home Affairs Committee seminar in Cannock on 22 November that this is a tighter environment for police spending and would be under any Government. He admitted that there would be cuts in police spending. We inherited £44 billion of unspecified spending cuts from his Government, and we are having to deal with the deficit, taking the decisions that he has forced upon us.

Ed Balls: The deputy to the Home Secretary will have to do a lot better than that. These cuts are front-end loaded and go well beyond the 12% over four years that Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary said was do-able. I am pleased that he has not repeated the 11% smear against our police, which he knows is a completely corrupt and erroneous statistic. Hon. Members should look at the numbers. In north Wales, 230 officers are to go; in the west midlands, 1,100; and in Greater Manchester, 1,387. The chief constable of Greater Manchester police said that

"there will be a reduction in frontline police officer numbers".

The Home Secretary was not willing to stand up for the police in the spending review, and she is not willing either to stand up in the House and answer my questions on the police. She can refuse to answer my questions, but she cannot refuse to answer the questions from police officers and the public all around the country. Today-

Mr Speaker: Order. We must have a one-sentence question.

Ed Balls: I call on the Home Secretary to listen to police chiefs and the public, and I demand that her spending settlement be reopened, that there is an end to front-end loading and that there is a better deal for the police.

Nick Herbert: First, may I say that I am absolutely astonished by the right hon. Gentleman's attack on the figure of only 11% of total police strength being visible and available to the public at any one time? That was the finding of a report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, and if he takes issue with it, perhaps he will speak to the inspectorate. I think it is disgraceful that he should attack the figure in that way. The report stated:

"The fact is that general availability, in which we include neighbourhood policing and response, is relatively low."

The right hon. Gentleman also quoted the chief constable of Greater Manchester police. In announcing the changes that he was making to the force, the chief constable said that

"the end result will be more resources put into frontline policing and a more efficient and effective service for the people of Greater Manchester."

Instead of scaremongering in this way, and instead of attacking the correction that we are having to make, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will accept responsibility for bequeathing the deficit to this country that has meant that we have had to deal with public expenditure.

Police Authority Funding

16. Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): What assessment she has made of the likely effects of the planned reduction in Government funding for police authorities in (a) England and (b) West Yorkshire. [28283]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The Government will propose individual force allocations to Parliament later this month. By cutting costs and scrapping bureaucracy, we will save both money and man hours, so I am confident that the spending review should not lead to any reduction in police officers visible and available on the streets.

Greg Mulholland: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and accept the logic of what he says. May I bring it to his attention, however, that the proposed cuts in grant reductions will lead to 7.07% cut to West Yorkshire police, whereas it will lead to a 0.17% increase for Surrey police? By looking at damping the formula grant, could we not find a fairer way and ensure that all forces have approximately the same reductions in their funding?

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend raises an important point about both the issue of damping and the contribution to police funding made by the precept. I am afraid that I cannot tell him any more about our plans right now, but we will make an announcement to the House very shortly.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Perhaps I can help the House by quoting what the Minister said on "The World This Weekend" on Sunday 21 November. He said:

"There is no such link"

between police numbers and levels of crime. Let me ask the Minister, however, about a recent quote by the Home Secretary on special constables, as I do not have the opportunity to ask the right hon. Lady. We know that special constables are a valued extra resource for our police service. It has been reported that the Home Secretary said that she is looking to recruit an additional 50,000 specials, but does the Minister seriously believe that part-time volunteers can properly substitute for the core policing work of trained, full-time police officers and police community support officers whose numbers are being so savagely cut?

Nick Herbert: I repeat to the hon. Lady that I said that there was no simple link. She may have noticed that the former police chief of Los Angeles and New York was in this country last week. He wrote a number of pieces, which I think the hon. Lady should read. One thing he said was:

"It's not so much the number of police you have... but what you do with them... You cannot spend your way to a safer community... Successful policing is not only about making the right investments: it's about leadership and focus."

I would suggest that Bill Bratton knows rather more about policing than the hon. Lady does. As to special constables, of course they are valuable and of course we would like to recruit more of them. They are not a substitute for what police officers do, but an important supplement.

Topical Questions

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): On 31 October, on the "Politics Show", the chief constable of Durham Constabulary, Jon Stoddart, said in answer to a question about the reduction in police budgets:

"Well what we are having to do is take more risks...That does not come without costs."

What kind of irresponsible Government would make front-line police officers take more risks in their jobs?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The Government's determination is to support police forces in England and Wales in making savings in the back and middle offices, by becoming more efficient, sharing services, improving IT, procuring together and so on so that they can protect the visible and available front-line policing that the public value.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Some 1,400 police officers and 1,500 police staff are to be axed from Greater Manchester police. Given that the Conservatives-and the Liberal Democrats, for that matter -locally pledged more not fewer police in the elections last May, will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to apologise on their behalf?

Nick Herbert: The test of the effectiveness of a force is not the overall number of people who are working in it but what those officers are doing. We share the determination of the chief constable of Greater Manchester police to protect the front line and to ensure that officers remain on the streets and available when the public want them.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Is not my right hon. Friend concerned that some 2,000 police officers-almost equivalent to a whole police force-are off on long-term sick and unable to work? In any other occupation, such employees would probably be retired as unavailable for work. I do not understand why those provisions do not apply, because otherwise we have a number of police officers on the books who simply are not able to work.

Nick Herbert: I share my hon. Friend's concern. It is an issue and we have set up a review of police officer employment and conditions, headed by Tom Winsor, that will make its first report shortly.

Document type



6 December 2010

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