I am very happy to visit police forces, as I do, to talk to police officers across the board, and to hear directly what they are saying. When I next make a trip to the West Midlands force, I am very happy for the hon. Gentleman to arrange for me to meet those five officers. I am sure I will be meeting other officers as well.
It is important that we ensure that we make changes within our police force so that we have the police force that we need to face the 21st century, but it is also important that we make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent effectively. Our starting point for savings is the report by HMIC, “Valuing the Police” which estimated that £1.15 billion per year could be saved if only the least efficient forces brought themselves up to the average level of efficiency.
However, the fiscal deficit left by Labour is so dire that bringing all forces up to the average level is no longer enough—forces must go further. We must raise the performance of all our police forces up to the level not of the average, but of the most efficient forces. If forces improve productivity and adjust to the level of spend typical in the most efficient forces, we could add another £350 million to the £1.15 billion of savings that HMIC calculated.
This sort of thing is already happening. In Suffolk and Norfolk the police forces are creating a shared service platform for their back-office support functions, saving around £10 million per year. In Kent, as my hon. Friend Mark Reckless who serves on the Kent police authority made clear, the police are streamlining and rationalising support services, enabling them to put more into the front line. The Kent force is also collaborating with Essex police to make savings and allow more resources to be devoted to the front line.
In London the Metropolitan police are getting more officers to patrol alone, rather than in pairs, and are better matching resources to demand in neighbourhood policing, increasing officer availability to the public by 25%. In Gloucestershire the police are putting 15% more sergeants and constables into visible policing roles and increasing the numbers of officers on the beat, at the same time as they are making savings. These examples show that it can be done and it must be done.
There were other aspects that were outside the remit of the HMIC report. I know that members of the Opposition Front-Bench team have not read everything that was in that report, so let me spell it out to them. HMIC did not look at the savings that could be made by joining up police procurement and IT, for example. Currently, the police have 2,000 different IT systems across the 43 forces, employing 5,000 staff. As my hon. Friend Claire Perry said, the police currently procure items from uniforms to helicopters in 43 different ways. That makes no sense.
Working with the police, we have already secured their agreement that the right way forward is a national, joined-up approach, with better contracts, more joint purchasing, a smaller number of different IT systems and greater private sector involvement. With these changes we can save a further £350 million. Again, that is over and above the savings that HMIC identified.