[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair] — Police Community Support Officers

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 25th March 2010.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime and Policing) 2:30 pm, 25th March 2010

Certainly, when I talk to officers on the ground-officers at senior level and sergeants and constables-there is recognition that PCSOs are part of the integrated policing family and perform a valuable function. They are not police officers, but they are police support officers. They undertake visible activity, help the police and are part of a successful neighbourhood policing operation, which is now increasing confidence and reducing crime. Equally important, PCSOs help communities to deal with serious crime and pass information back to police officers.

Taking up the hon. Gentleman's point, when I make visits throughout the country, I get a sense of real engagement with PCSOs and the police. On Monday morning, I was in Stockport with my hon. Friend Ann Coffey, paying a visit to the policing family there. I met PCSOs and residents, who really appreciated the PCSOs. They knew their PCSO by name and knew their phone number and e-mail address; they called them by a friendly moniker and talked to them as though they were part of their local community. That is important: PCSOs were not seen to be policing from outside; they were integral to that community in Stockport.

Recently, I was in Carlisle with my hon. Friend Mr. Martlew. There, too, PCSOs are in the lead on neighbourhood policing engagement. They organise the policing meetings and are the first port of call for local people. That role is reflected in our safe and confident neighbourhoods strategy, which we published at the beginning of this month. In that, we have tried-this is the main point of our discussion today-to put PCSOs in a modern, forward-looking context and to ensure that we now consider how we define their role in a very clear way, to meet the points that Mr. Cash makes.

There must be clarity about a police officer's role and a PCSO's role. We are considering what training and support PCSOs need to do their job better and what other activities and powers are needed to ensure that we not only differentiate them from police officers, but make them more effective as a whole. PCSOs are distinct from police officers because they do not have the full range of powers to which the hon. Gentleman referred. That allows them to spend more time in the neighbourhood, to make visits, to engage and to encourage discussions with community members.

PCSOs certainly fulfil an extremely important role. Indeed, in 2006-07, PCSOs were spending about 80 per cent. of their time on the streets engaging with our constituents. Police officers spend less time out there, although we hope to raise the proportion in due course. PCSOs spend 65 per cent. of their time patrolling and 15 per cent. of their time on specific engagements. Having 16,500 people spending 65 per cent. of their time on patrol in our communities is a visible way of giving reassurance to the community at large.

We are determined, in the safe and confident neighbourhoods strategy, to sharpen that role still further. We need to ensure that PCSOs receive better training and support. We need to ensure that they can get accreditation and give them a career structure. We need to improve their skills in the things that they need to do, especially those things that they need to do well. We are considering whether to give PCSOs extra powers to confiscate fireworks-we are coming to the conclusion that we should do so, as fireworks are a particular problem in November and December-and to tackle graffiti as part of our wider antisocial behaviour agenda by giving them the power to seize items that could be used for graffiti.

The service that PCSOs provide is valued by the public. The recent Casey review found that six times as many people said that PCSOs were doing a good or excellent job than said that they were doing a poor or very poor job. The review also found that people wanted PCSOs to have the strong backing of Government. Last Thursday, I was with PCSOs on the beat on the south bank, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Kate Hoey, seeing some of the general neighbourhood work that they undertake in reassuring the public, particularly businesses and shopkeepers in the area.

My first contention is that neighbourhood policing works and that PCSOs are a key part of neighbourhood policing. The improvements in public services to which we are committed include maintaining a named dedicated neighbourhood policing team in all communities. The support provided by PCSOs is crucial to that. Central Government funding for the police has increased by almost one fifth in real terms since 1997. It is important to note that next year's funding for neighbourhood policing has been ring-fenced. In 2010-11, that funding will be uprated by 2.7 per cent. for each force, to a total of £341 million. That will ensure that neighbourhood policing teams will be maintained intact in 2010-11, and gives a commitment to police community support officers.

I do not expect the Government to change much after the forthcoming general election, such is my optimistic outlook on life. However, I seek a commitment today from Andrew Rosindell that, in the event that he assumes a ministerial position, the ring-fenced funding for police community support officers for 2010-11, which has been approved by Parliament, will be maintained. Mr. Ruffley did not give such an agreement five or six weeks ago, when we debated this matter on the Floor of the House, but I am sure that that was an oversight. I would like to hear the hon. Member for Romford give us the true picture of the Opposition's position on the matter.