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Clause 1 — Police and crime commissioners

Part of Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 12th September 2011.

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Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart Conservative, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire 6:45 pm, 12th September 2011

I certainly do not think that that is the Government’s position. It might be the position taken by some of the media, but I do not believe for one minute that the Government are attempting to underplay the importance of some of those jobs. I just think that sometimes, in the interpretation, we attach less value to the back office than we do to the front line. That seems to be an interpretation of the tone in which Members from both sides of the House sometimes speak. For those doing vital back-office intelligence jobs, or even those providing relatively mundane services to support front-line officers, that can have a very debilitating effect. I think that the packaging, tone and messaging of this kind of debate is an area where we owe the recipients rather more care than perhaps we have been able to provide so far.

A police officer said to me only this morning that the House is sometimes guilty of basing this argument purely on efficiency. The expression, “We’re all in it together” sometimes triggers a groan from Opposition Members, but for many officers who are looking with a pretty uncertain eye at what the future might hold for them and their families, it would be more helpful if we were to say that what is happening is part of rectifying a wider economic issue than we have perhaps been able to stress so far. I also think that there has been a fixation—I try to be balanced about these things, but Opposition Members sometimes test the patience of all of us, and on this particular point a little too far—that somehow there is always a correlation between police numbers and police efficiency. Whatever survey or piece of evidence we tend to look at these days, there is an increasing amount of information, which should enable us to come to the view that the two things are not always connected. They are some of the time, but the idea that an efficient police force is a big police force is a myth that this debate has to some extent helped to dispel.

In public opinion terms, however, we have to go quite a lot further, because that idea leads unfortunately to a problem whereby the public have confidence in their police force only so long as it is a bigger police force which is expanding its numbers, whereas we should be reassuring voters and, in particular, vulnerable members of society that an efficient police force, which finds ways of carrying out its work better for less and involving fewer people does not mean that they will not be safe in their beds at night. We exploit the fixation with numbers irresponsibly if that someone happens to be a pensioner wondering whether they are going to be burgled.