If he will take steps to introduce a policing career structure specialising in community policing.
We are in discussion with the police service about the development of career pathways for police and police staff, including community support officers. It is important that officers who remain in front-line neighbourhood policing are valued and have a clear career structure that reflects their commitment.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reply. In teaching, when the best teachers used to be promoted to department head they no longer did any direct teaching. The position is similar in community policing, because the best community support officers become beat officers and the best beat officers become detectives, so we lose that base of expertise in the community. Will the Minister consider creating the police equivalent of the super-teachers who dealt with the educational problem? We would then have community policing specialists, and officers would feel that such policing was a long-term career, for which they would be rewarded if they stayed in the community.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the issue. We want to ensure that, in the words of Lord Scarman 25 years ago, beat officers should be seen
"not as occupying the bottom of the police pecking order . . . but at its apex, in the forefront of the police team".
The development of a career pathway has been made more achievable through the development of teams of community support officers, which gives neighbourhood police sergeants and constables the chance to lead a team. Those are some of the ways in which we are developing a career pathway at neighbourhood level. I know that that is much wanted in my hon. Friend's constituency, because that is what I was told when I met a group of community support officers in Broxtowe last year.
How can a county such as North Yorkshire fund a structure for community policing when we are so heavily dependent on targeted grant funding? If that aspect were removed, there would be an extra £1.25 million in the police precept each year.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has visited the hon. Lady's police authority and discussed the matter with the chief constable. The main issue concerning funding of our police service is that on police funding, the Labour party does what it says on the tin. We have increased the number of police officers on the streets to 140,000. The former Prime Minister from the hon. Lady's party promised in October 1995 that he had found the resources over the following three years to put not 500, but an 5,000 extra police officers on the beat—yet what he actually did was cut the police service by almost 500.
To the list of colleagues on the Government Front Bench who recently visited North Yorkshire may I add my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety? During her visit she saw community policing successfully deployed in North Yorkshire. I do not recognise the comments made by Miss McIntosh about the county. The core of the matter is to work closely with the community, so will the hon. Lady listen closely to the great messages that my hon. Friend will be able to play into the process, and into the Home Office, to help build a proper community support officer structure in the police force nationally?
It certainly can be done. Within our current promotion and retention strategies, there is an opportunity to provide special priority payments and other mechanisms to enable police officers to stay in the front line in the community. North Wales police authority and Devon and Cornwall police authority have already used those structures to enable officers who are committed to being in the front line in the community for two or three years to receive additional payments in recognition of their work.
A vital component of community policing is the special constabulary which provides important reinforcement for regular officers. Special constables also need an effective career structure. Will the Minister tell the House how many special constables were serving in 1997 and how many are serving now?
The hon. Gentleman is right to celebrate the fantastic job that special constables can do. I was proud to be part of a team giving awards to specials who had gone far in the course of their commitment to the police service, and I am pleased to announce that this year the number of specials has increased. I am also confident that in this year of the volunteer, their number will continue to increase. We will focus on the contribution made by volunteers in the justice system in the year of the volunteer in a couple of months, and that will give us a chance to build on and accelerate the progress that we are making in special recruitment. The hon. Gentleman and I share the ambition to use the talents of people who will commit their time voluntarily to our policing and work side by side with professional police officers.
North Wales police have introduced a scheme whereby community beat managers commit themselves to a three-year term in a particular area of the town. As a consequence, Sergeant Darren Jacks and his team in the Caia Park area of Wrexham have achieved a huge increase in confidence in policing in the area. Will the Minister commend Sergeant Jacks and his team on that work and encourage other police authorities to look at the North Wales experience, because real community policing has a huge beneficial effect on confidence in policing in communities?
In an earlier reply, I mentioned that the North Wales police service had introduced special priority payments. The example that my hon. Friend mentions is important, because Caia Park is a difficult place to police. However, fantastic strides have been made by using the present career structure imaginatively and intelligently. The special priority payments have been used to encourage officers to commit to the front-line role and achieve the ambition that Lord Scarman described of putting the neighbourhood police officer at the apex of our policing strategy.