Police Grant Report

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 3:12 pm on 3rd February 2010.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 3:12 pm, 3rd February 2010

Yes, we did. Although we did not specify music festivals in particular, that is one of the last recommendations in the report. We said that police authorities, with the assistance of local stakeholders, should be able to raise the money that they need if local people agree that that should happen.

Of course we were worried about the cap, as Leicestershire is one the authorities that is to be capped. I was one of the all-party group of the county's MPs that went to ask Ministers not to cap Leicestershire, on the grounds that the county's police need the resources to deal with the work that has been put before them. We accept that funding has increased, because that is a fact, but Ministers have also posed new challenges to local police forces. The amount of legislation that has emerged from this House and the challenges facing local police officers mean that they have to spend more time doing what the Government ask.

The current Police Minister was not in post when the Labour Government came to power. In fact, I cannot remember who the first one was, but the Government have been elected three times now and there will be things that the police were asked to do in 1997 that they are now being asked not to do any more. That is why we welcome the appointment of Jan Berry. We welcomed her report, but we want it to be implemented. What she says is not that much different from what Sir Ronnie Flanagan said in his report, or from what we said in our report "Policing in the 21st Century"-that is, that there should be less bureaucracy and more technology. We should cut red tape and make sure that police officers are on the front line and that they are visible.

I raised with the Minister the case of Staffordshire, as I always do. I saw very good practice in Staffordshire- 24 pieces of paper reduced to one. I asked the previous Home Secretary whether that could be done all over the country. She said that the Government would look into it. I asked the current Home Secretary and the Police Minister. They said that the Staffordshire experience is being rolled out all over the country. It is a while since I was in government, so I am not quite sure what "rolled out" means. Does it mean that rolling out will take several weeks, months and years, or does it mean a Home Secretary telling police forces, "You will do this. We think this is a good idea because it saves money in Staffordshire, so you will save money in Lincolnshire or in Northamptonshire"?

I know that the last time I raised the matter when the Minister was on the Front Bench he nodded and said that it was being rolled out in Staffordshire, so let us see when he replies how many police authorities have done what Staffordshire has done, rather than waiting for the great roll-out process, which I am sure is happening. It would be helpful for the House to have some facts.

What I say to the Minister is yes, we need to look at innovative ideas. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has, of course, had many debates and discussions with me and with the Committee on these matters, and the shadow Home Secretary gave evidence to the Committee this morning about what the Conservative party would do to try to cut crime in the future. What we say is that it is important that we do not get into a debate about the statistics, but that we look into the effect.

I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds agrees that what people want, in the end, is the visibility of police officers. They will accept any changes in backroom staff, so long as a police officer turns up when they ring and ask for an officer to be present. They will forgive us a great deal if we continue to provide that basic service. If we do, they will understand that there must be changes in the way that the police do their business.

I was as surprised as most when we read in the papers and heard on the radio that the overtime rates have shot up to such an extent that some police officers may be paid-I do not know whether this was mentioned before I came into the Chamber-£100 for answering one phone call on overtime. That is an enormous sum of public money. We do not know how many calls are answered. When I put that to the Minister this morning, he said that the Government needed to be robust in dealing with it. I said that we should have attached strings to the increase in police funding. We should have required police authorities to do more so that such stories did not emerge and so that we did not see a ballooning of overtime payments for the police.

The Government are responsible for making sure that that happens. We cannot wait for local forces to achieve efficiency. There must be some direction from central Government because it is central Government funding. I hope that that will happen in the long run, under whichever Administration take office after the next election. We should be much clearer about how public money should be spent.

We suggested in our last report that we should spend money on new technology. All officers should be given a hand-held device so that they can take statements at the time of an incident. That would save time. They could use that instrument to find out whether a car had been stolen. That would save the time of witnesses and of the police. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that scheme has been rolled out. It is a no-brainer to make sure that our police are provided with sufficient equipment to enable them to do their job as efficiently as possible.

My final point relates to accountability. The Select Committee has not considered the question of elected commissioners or police chiefs at a local level, as opposed to the current system. The Government wanted to ensure that members of the police committee were elected. They then withdrew that proposal. My concern is the way in which the current system is run. We may know, as elected representatives, but the public do not know, precisely who sits on police committees.

In addition to local police forces acquiring greater visibility, police committees need to ensure that they are more visible, so that if people had complaints about policing, they would not necessarily have to make a complaint against the police. They could go to their local police authority member and ask them to take up their complaint. Police authority meetings would not then be seen as private meetings that are held in police headquarters. More information would be provided to the public. Perhaps by means of modern technology, such meetings could be televised by the police and put online so that people had access to what was being decided on their behalf.

I am not sure that that would mean that we do not have elected police chiefs. That is a debate that we need to have. There are no conclusions from the Committee and I have no personal views on the matter, but the public needs to be much more involved in the process than they can be by attending one or two local neighbourhood meetings. In any popularity contest, the local beat officer is infinitely more important and more popular than any other local official, apart from the local doctor. Of course, we are way down the list because we are elected officials and nobody likes Members of Parliament, do they? Local councillors are probably one rung ahead of us.

That local popularity must be translated into an understanding of how the local police force works. I hope very much that we will engage in a discussion that will allow more information to go to local people, so that they feel better informed and know that their money is well spent. We will never have the opportunity again, in my view, when people will not require value for money from local police forces.

It is a terrible state of affairs that special measures may be introduced for forces such as the Nottinghamshire force. We have had to wait so long for action to be taken. I know that the Minister told us today that these were matters for the inspectorate, but the inspectorate should have acted sooner. Why was it allowed to reach a stage where a police authority with a multimillion pound budget and chief officers who are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds are assisted to do their job? That cannot be right.

There must be a better system of monitoring our local police forces at a local and national level, through the inspectorate. Whether it is through the National Policing Improvement Agency or by Denis O'Connor, someone must do their work better so that council tax payers and citizens, like those of Nottinghamshire, do not have to see their local police force being taken over because it has not been properly run. We want to make sure that that is the only case of its kind, and that we act before we get to that stage.

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