To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their latest assessment of the impact of police funding cuts on front-line services.
My Lords, when the Government came to power, we were borrowing £1 for every £4 we spent. We must reduce the budget deficit. The police funding settlement is therefore challenging but manageable. The Government are clear that savings need to be made while protecting front-line services, and the most recent report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary shows that forces are working hard to do so. It is largely a matter for individual forces how they achieve this, but the Government are playing their part, including through a new package of policies that will cut bureaucracy, which could save up to 2.5 million police hours per year.
My Lords, I hardly think that the Government are in a position to lecture this House on the state of the economy.
Where is the Government's growth plan, I wonder? Turning to the Question, surely it cannot be the case that a reduction of 16,000 police officers will not have an impact on front-line policing. Will the noble Baroness acknowledge that the cuts already made are already impacting on front-line services, and will she respond to recent research by the London School of Economics showing that the proposed police cuts are likely to undermine forces' ability to stop crime rising?
My Lords, the noble Lord should step back from the brink. From where we sit, we are peering into the abyss because what we inherited has made this necessary. As a member of the former Government, he will know only too well from the last Labour Home Secretary that had Labour been re-elected, it too would have been making changes and looking for reductions in police force numbers. We have that on the record.
I have to say that noble Lords will have to get over this and face the reality, which is what we have had to do. Forces are focused on protecting front-line services. I have read many comments from chief officers who, I acknowledge, have a difficult and challenging task, but they are going to put the front line first and are rising to that challenge. The most recent report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, Adapting to Austerity, sets out a summary of force work plans for the spending review period which states that the number working in front-line roles was expected to fall by, on average, just 2 per cent over the two-year period between March 2010 and March 2012. I have every confidence that chief officers will ensure that the front line is protected.
My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government expect the British police service to lose its global reputation for being the most accountable, well governed and respected service in the world? If so, do they really care?
My Lords, not only do we care, but we have every respect for the work done by police forces every day. However, it is time to look at how the police are deployed in these times of austerity-the very title of Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report. We have to challenge, as senior police officers are doing up and down the country, the way forces are deployed. For example, we see in the recent report that, astonishingly, there are more front-line police officers on duty on a Monday morning than on a Friday night. Surely that has to be challenged. Surely there are ways better to deploy forces to protect the public and the front line, and to ensure that we maintain the important reputation that the noble Lord is so familiar with.
My noble friend is absolutely right. Indeed, it is very encouraging to see the way in which forces are using technology, and combining across force borders, by mutual agreement, to share in it to improve the way they serve the public.
My Lords, I would like to ask the Minister about her comments on protecting front-line services. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said that front-line services would be protected. Will she then explain to me how that equates to the response in the county of Essex, where 24-hour police stations will no longer exist as a result of these cuts, and where half the police stations are going to be closed? Is that protecting front-line services?
My Lords, these individual matters in individual forces are for individual decisions taken by the individual chief officers for good reasons when they are looking at priorities. However, buildings, numbers and statistics mean nothing compared to the way in which the leadership in police forces ensure that the police are deployed. We are very determined that police officers will police on the front line, in the streets, and not in offices.
I sense from my noble friend's question how she felt about seeing that scene on television. I have absolutely no reason to believe that it was anything to do with lack of policing, but I am very happy to write to my noble friend with more details about the background to that incident.
My Lords, will the Minister comment on the view that, given the scale and speed of the Government's reductions in police budgets over the next two years, most members of the public to whom Members of your Lordships' House speak would rather see the money put into what the noble Baroness referred to as "numbers" of staff than into some newfangled American scheme to elect police commissioners? Surely the Government could have been patient with their pet scheme and protected the public from the cuts they are imposing?
My Lords, the noble Baroness and I have had many discussions along these lines during the course of the Bill, the later stages of which are being considered today. I totally dispute the point she is making; the money for this is not coming out of the police budget. I remind her that there were many times when the previous Government spent money on elections, which they thought were extremely worthwhile. Nobody suggested at the time that democracy was something not worth paying for.