Police

Part of Science, Technology and Engineering (Careers Information in Schools) – in the House of Commons at 2:29 pm on 13th February 2013.

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Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Conservative, Bury St Edmunds 2:29 pm, 13th February 2013

My hon. Friend makes a good point, but we should resist the temptation to believe that a Home Secretary or a policing Minister in Whitehall can make decisions about the mix between uniformed back staff, who would be able to perform at short notice the kind of reserve and back-up on the front line that my hon. Friend describes, and pure civilians. This has been a long-running debate in the world of police reform, but we know that it is for the chief constable to decide and to make dispositions accordingly. Whether or not my hon. Friend accepts that, any Government would have to have in mind reducing the number of the uniformed work force in non-front-line activity.

Let me repeat the statistic. According to HMIC, in March 2010 17% of uniformed officers were in non-front-line roles. It is our intention that measures put in place to reduce that will mean that only one in 10 of uniformed officers are in non-front-line roles. I would have thought that the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Delyn, who I thought was a worthy and dedicated policing Minister in the last Parliament, would acknowledge that that should be a policy objective of Governments, chief constables and police commissioners.

I want to talk not just about reducing bureaucracy as part of police reform, but about getting more bang for our buck by doing more with less. That relates to what are undoubtedly difficult and controversial reforms to pay and conditions—the Winsor reforms. I remind the House that when we talk about funding settlements for the whole of the police service, a massive 80% of expenditure for most police forces in England and Wales goes on pay. Yes, we can mandate collaboration, which this Government are in the process of doing to make efficiencies in procurement, information technology, uniform, traffic and so on. But those and other heads of spending amount only to 20% of what a police force spends; 80% is spent on people. It therefore seems to me that it is incumbent on any Home Secretary, whether Labour or Conservative, to look afresh at how we can get a modernised pay system, crucially linking pay progression—the former Government indicated that they supported this concept—with higher levels of skills and with those who have undertaken higher professional training. This is not performance by results, but linking pay to the skills that officers have, paying less attention to progress up the pay ladder simply as a result of age.

The Winsor proposals are, of course, more complicated than that. Chief constables will have flexibility—and it is they, not Ministers in Whitehall, who will make these managerial decisions—and this will be done in conjunction with the locally elected police and crime commissioners. It will be for them to ensure they have the proper mix of ability within the uniformed ranks and they will also have to make decisions about civilianisation in regard to the allocations laid before the House today for each police force area, and make that money go further.

I close by saying something about accountability. This money will be voted for by Government Members, and I think the right hon. Member for Delyn suggested that the Opposition will vote against it. We must get away from the idea that Ministers will be held personally accountable. We vote for the money, and I want the message to go out that police and crime commissioners will have the prime job of driving through change to get more value for that money.

I know it is early days, but my experience so far of the elected commissioner in Suffolk, Councillor Tim Passmore, has been positive. He has put together a draft set of priorities; he has gone to the trouble of speaking to and meeting all the Suffolk MPs; and he has taken amendments to his first draft. My own view—I think most police and crime commissioners should look at this—is that a target should be set for the percentage of time that officers are visible to the Suffolk public. I think, too, that an objective should be set to move towards the 10% of uniformed officers—and it is only 10%—who should be on non-front-line activities, which as I outlined is the national objective, by March 2015. These commissioners should hold themselves to account by explaining—in my case, to the taxpayers of Suffolk, but to others in police force areas up and down the country—what they are doing to reduce bureaucracy, to get a higher percentage of officers on the front line and to ensure not only that there are more of them on the front line, but that during their shifts they spend a higher proportion of their time visibly out and about so that the public can see them.