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19 Jul 2000 : Column 376

Police and Criminal Justice Spending Review

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about increased spending for the police and the criminal justice system for 2001-04, following the statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday.

The Government's strategy for fighting crime is comprehensive and long term. The current programme for that was spelt out in a document laid before the House last November. Our strategy seeks to prevent criminal behaviour, as well as to raise the performance of the criminal justice system, better to detect, to catch and to punish those responsible for crime and disorder. The spending review will reinforce that strategy.

First, the police. The police are at the sharp end of the fight against crime and disorder, but, like others in public service, they have operated under tight financial constraints in the first years of this Government. For the first two years in office, we kept to the spending plans set for the police by the previous Administration. Following the comprehensive spending review published two years ago, I announced in December 1998 a small real-terms increase for 1999-2002 of about 2 per cent. in total. None the less, pressures on police budgets have continued, not least from the cost of pensions, which is now estimated to take 14.5 per cent. of total budgets compared with just half that--7.2 per cent.--10 years ago.

Despite those pressures, I am glad to tell the House that the police service has embraced reform over the past three years, with a commitment to a clear performance culture. Major strides have been made in cutting unnecessary bureaucracy to meet 2 per cent. efficiency targets; in reducing unacceptably high sickness and early retirement rates; in setting challenging performance targets; and in publishing detailed information about crime trends at basic command unit and crime and disorder partnership level so that the service and the public can better compare police performance in their areas.

As we know from the experience of the 1980s, without reforms of that kind, increased police funding is no guarantee of improved performance. However, increased resources properly targeted and managed can unquestionably help to secure significant improvements in the fight against crime. I am therefore pleased to announce today major investment in policing in England and Wales.

For the police, spending in cash terms will rise by more than 20 per cent. between this year and 2003-04. The settlement will see an increase of over 10 per cent. in cash for next year alone against the current provision for 2000-01, which itself has been raised by £90 million over the original 1998 comprehensive spending review plan. The allocation will therefore rise from £7.7 billion for this year to £8.5 billion next year; £9 billion in 2002-03; and £9.3 billion in the final year of the settlement.

Much of that increase will be allocated direct to police forces through the police grant and SSA for them to spend as best fits their local needs. I am, however, targeting investment on two key areas to boost front-line policing, by raising police numbers and by enhancing police equipment and new technology.

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As the House knows, the downward trend in police officer numbers, which began in 1992-93, has regrettably continued under the present Administration. I have today answered a parliamentary question from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) showing that officer numbers in the last year have fallen by 1,678, to a total of 124,418 for the 43 forces in England and Wales. Civilian numbers in the last year have shown a small rise to 53,227.

To reverse that trend of falling police numbers from 1992-93, I announced last September that there would be new money for this financial year from the crimefighting fund to provide 5,000 additional recruits over and above forces' existing plans. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget in March ensured that that recruitment could be accelerated from three years to two, starting this April. Today, I am able to announce funding for a further 4,000 recruits over and above those already planned, taking the total to an additional 9,000 recruits by 2003-04.

Following changes made in the law by the previous Administration in 1994, the Home Office since then has had no direct legal control over police numbers, so predicting future numbers is very difficult, but the investment that I have announced today, alongside the investment announced earlier in this and the last financial year by the Chancellor, provides the funding to enable chief constables to raise officer numbers to record levels by the end of the settlement period. That significant boost for police recruitment will also help the service to achieve the targets that I have set the police forces to improve the recruitment and retention of more black and Asian officers.

As I have already told the House, in the Metropolitan and City police areas, which have both suffered particular recruitment problems, a £3,329 increase in the London allowance for new recruits and for those who joined after 1994 was brought into force on 1 July this year. However, if we are to get the best from our police officers, as well as funding more police officers, we must ensure that they are properly equipped with the most up-to-date technology.

A key part of that drive is to provide the police with more reliable, better-quality radio and data communications. The new public safety radio communications system--PSRCS--given the go-ahead by me in December, will give officers in rural and urban areas alike fast secure digital communications and access to local and national databases, saving them time and improving their safety. As a national system, it will also provide effective communications between individual forces.

Funding for the new system for this financial year from the capital modernisation fund was announced last September, but I accept that the service needs reassurance about the medium-term funding for that system as well. I am therefore glad to tell the House that the Government are making provision to meet the costs of the new PSRCS. That will amount to around £500 million over the three years of the settlement.

In addition to meeting the core costs of the system, which will be paid centrally by the Home Office, this funding will provide for expenditure by police forces on local service requirements, known as menu costs, and installation and equipment costs. I know that the service will accept that, as a result of this investment in the police, the public will expect improved outputs.

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Research evidence and our own common sense tell us that increasing the likelihood of bringing criminals to justice is key to reducing offending and reoffending. However, in the 1980s and early 1990s the number of offenders convicted fell by a third, while crime doubled.

We are determined to improve detection, especially of serious and of persistent offenders. An important new target for the whole of the criminal justice system, set out in yesterday's White Paper, is therefore to increase the number and proportion of recorded crimes for which an offender is brought to justice. To help achieve this, we are making additional investment in the DNA database, in the number of scenes of crime officers, and in information technology systems, better to link up parts of the criminal justice system.

Our plans also include a substantial investment allowing the Crown Prosecution Service to integrate with its criminal justice system partners and play its full part in improving the performance of the criminal justice system as a whole. Cross-criminal justice system working will be helped by the 2.5 per cent. annual real-terms increases for the courts.

The settlement will also enable us to do more to help victims. It introduces for the first time a joint criminal justice system reserve of £100 million for 2001-02; £200 million for 2002-03; and £225 million for 2003-04. The Lord Chancellor, the Attorney-General and I will together manage this fund. The reserve will provide us with much greater flexibility and will mean that we will be able to respond effectively to new pressures on the system as they arise.

Let me come on to wider issues. A key part of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was to establish crime reduction partnerships in every district of England and Wales, to ensure that local authorities and other local agencies worked better to support the police in the fight against crime and disorder. A total of 376 partnerships are now established.

To reinforce the partnerships' work we have, since the 1998 comprehensive spending review, invested significant resources under the Government's crime reduction programme. This includes £150 million on the biggest- ever expansion in closed circuit television; £60 million on securing two million homes in 400 high crime areas to prevent domestic burglary; and £35 million on targeted policing initiatives, including the Cardiff scheme to reduce alcohol-related violence.

This targeted approach has already paid dividends, with domestic burglary across England and Wales down by 24 per cent. since April 1997 to its lowest level for a decade, and a 17 per cent. reduction in vehicle crime over the same period.

Over the coming three years, we will be investing £300 million a year on dedicated programmes to reduce crime, targeting, among other things, vehicle crime, domestic burglary, robbery, and violent crime more generally. This £300 million will also be used to tackle drug abuse and drug-related offending, and to improve the way in which we deal with young offenders.

The youth justice system in place when we took office in May 1997 scarcely deserved that name. It was a shambles, and we are significantly reforming it. We are also delivering on our pledge to halve the time that it takes to deal with persistent young offenders, from the wholly unacceptable 142 days--20 weeks--that we inherited.

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The latest figures show that by March this year, the average time was already down more than seven weeks to 94 days.

As the House is well aware, the approach of other public services has an important influence on levels of crime and disorder. Truancy from schools, substance abuse and poor housing design all affect the environment in which crime breeds. Violent crime imposes great costs on the national health service. All relevant Departments therefore now have crime reduction targets. Extra resources are being provided to support crime reduction initiatives in the main programmes of other Government Departments, especially Health, Education and Employment, and the Environment, Transport and the Regions. However, behind much local crime and disorder is more organised crime--highly sophisticated or high-volume crime being run by a relatively small number of criminals.

In June, I announced the Government's plans to confiscate the assets of such criminals. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor's settlement yesterday provides for the funding of a dedicated national confiscation agency, and £15 million, £18 million and £21 million over the settlement period to pay for that agency.

I turn to prisons and probation. The effective punishment of offenders is a key part of our strategy to reduce crime. We have already implemented minimum sentences for drug dealers, burglars and serious sexual and violent offenders; we have brought in other tough provisions against sex offenders; and, with the Bill currently before Parliament, we are strengthening community punishments.

The settlement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor yesterday provides for an additional £240 million, £380 million and £470 million for prisons and probation. This will increase capacity, boost the "what works" programme to reduce offending, and support the modernisation of the probation service. A new building programme for the Prison Service and other arrangements will provide 2,660 additional places on top of the 1,400 new prison places that will be brought into place next year.

As the House is aware, the statistics for the latest recorded crime levels for England and Wales showed a 3.8 per cent. increase in the period March last year to March this year. I am the first to accept that more needs to be done to tackle the problems which can undermine our communities and wreck people's lives.

We have put in place a comprehensive strategy to bring sustained, long-term benefits in crime reduction, and to buck the long-term trend in crime.

Overall recorded crime is still 6 per cent. lower today than it was when we came to office. Where the police and others have targeted those crimes which affect people most, we have seen important successes. Our programme announced today lays out arrangements to build on that success.

The major investment that I have outlined will ensure that the police are better funded and better equipped than they have ever been before, and that all sections of the community and all other public services give the police proper support in the fight against crime. I commend the plans to the House.

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