Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




1.  Good morning, Sir John, Mr Blair and Mr Luck. As you can see, the wheel has come full circle and I am back where I was three years ago,

  (Sir John Stevens) Indeed.

  Chairman: This is just a one-off session, not part of any particular inquiry, though we will be looking at the Police Reform Bill shortly, and no doubt some of the things you have to say we shall take into account when we reach some conclusions about that. Can we start with some questions about police numbers, which I am sure is a subject dear to your heart. Mrs Prentice is going to start the ball rolling.

Bridget Prentice

2.  Sir John, you are running a recruitment programme at the moment; how is that going, what are the numbers like?

  (Sir John Stevens) It is going very well indeed. When I took over as Commissioner two years ago we had 25,450 officers in the Metropolitan Police, as distinct from seven years prior to that, when there 28,500; and I think you will remember that I talked about a crisis, in terms of recruiting. That has now changed; we were, at that stage, taking in between 60 and 80 a month, we are now up to 300 a month. We have now, this year, 960 more officers than we had when I took over as Commissioner, and we anticipate that in April this year we will be up to 1,000 extra officers, which was promised by the Home Secretary and the Mayor. And the way recruiting is going, we are taking in 300 a month at the moment, it is going extremely well and it is good news.

3.  Retention then; tell me about retention?

  (Sir John Stevens) We have had a massive problem with retention. That was changed quite radically, to an extent by the free travel, which came from the previous Home Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, and also the increase in London pay. At the present time, the figures for the first two months of this year are that we have taken in 150 officers outside London, but have lost 360. The real problem arises in our experience; we know that we are taking in a lot of officers, which is extremely important and we welcome that, but our level of experienced officers is declining, and we think, in some boroughs, round about the middle of this year, we will have probably between 30-40 per cent of probationers in those boroughs, which is a problem, but it is a problem we welcome because we need the extra uniforms on the street, which everybody recognises, and I am sure everyone in this room recognises. Where we do have a problem, and this is one of the issues that we really welcome in the reform programme, is the business of holding onto officers who have got 30 years' experience and more. Someone who has got to the age of 49 or 50 and still has the appetite for what is a very demanding job, and his health, or her health, we must hold onto; and the part of the reform programme which talks about rewarding people to stay on beyond their 30 years is absolutely essential to us. Unless we hold onto our experienced traffic officers, our firearms officers, in particular our senior investigating officers, where we have got a particular problem, where we had to bring people back from retirement to deal with the problems that we had got post Lawrence, on the murder investigations, unless we hold onto those people we are going to be in big difficulty, in terms of experience, judgement and, at the end of the day, maturity.

4.  And do you think officers would be keen to do that?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes, I do. I believe that a package that comes out and allows people to be rewarded for staying on beyond the 30 years, rather than, as it is at the moment, predicated to leave after 30 years, because that is how the pension arrangements are organised, will be a massive help; and, for us in London, it is essential that we hold onto this experience, I cannot stress that more.

5.  I am not going to go down the path of the pensions, for the moment, at least, because I know what a minefield that is. I am concerned though, for example, that, borough by borough, can you say whether we are seeing a significant increase in numbers, knowing that my own borough, Lewisham, has actually lost some; so be warned that I am coming from that angle?

  (Sir John Stevens) The RAF formula that has been created, which caused a little bit of concern, means that no-one loses; but, as these new officers come in, we have made the promise to the Mayor, and to London really, I have made that personal promise, that all these additional 1,000 officers go to boroughs. Now that will gradually build up as the boroughs, in fact, increase. When we start talking about the initiatives which have to be taken, in terms of street crime, which you will remember we took about three weeks ago, in terms of 500 officers back onto the streets, driving into the initiatives in relation to that; and we will have to increase the amount of officers we have got on Trident, probably by 60, because of the increase in gun crime and the so-called "black on black" shootings. But what we must make sure, which I really have absolutely signed up to, is that we do not reduce the amount of officers on boroughs, come what may, we cannot afford to do that. I believe that they went down to a minimum, below a minimum, of what was acceptable, two years ago. So everything is predicated on the boroughs being built up, but at the same time making sure that our centralised squads, to deal with the drug problem, the youth problem, and some of the things that have had a lot of publicity in the last two to three weeks, and certainly in the last three or four days, we deliver on that; murder, gun crime, drugs, terrorism.

6.  Just let me follow up that question, on the basis of the terrorism. Putting officers back out to deal with street crime, which you announced about three weeks ago, how likely is that to be a permanent issue, how much of it now is, are we over the response to September 11?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes; there are two sides to that question, I think. The response to September 11 will always be there, because we have actually had to have, at the very least, 300 officers round the centre of London, in terms of our firearm capability, and the like. This is another aspect of the reform programme; this is very, very important to us. Officers who are in the centre of London, patrolling, eyes and ears, if you like, for suspect packages, and the like, one, do not like that duty, secondly, just as importantly, if not more importantly, I would argue, they are fully-trained police officers who should be out on the street investigating crime and ensuring the streets are safe, in all its aspects. Now, if we can get 300-500, or even 700, auxiliaries in the centre of London, as eyes and ears, just as you have the security officers here, who do a superb job, they will allow us to free up those officers back into the boroughs and do the job which they are trained for. And you can take it from me that officers in yellow jackets, standing on street corners, walking up and down Whitehall, do not like it; go up and speak to some of them. They do not like it, they are trained to do a far more sophisticated job. So the reform programme, to us, and we are at the leading edge of this and we have been asking for this now, certainly I have, for about two years, since I have been Commissioner, we need the auxiliaries and we need the flexibility to deal with the things that we know we need to deliver for London.

7.  We will come back to the auxiliaries later, I think. Can I just turn for the moment to what the cost of policing London has been, as a result of September 11, can you put a figure on that?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes; and I will look to my Financial Director in a minute. The resources needed to police London, certainly for the first three months, we asked for an extra £22 million. We have actually put in a request to the Home Office in relation to the increase in the Anti-Terrorist Branch, which will be something in the region of 420 officers, and it has been an increase, but the actual details of it, if I might now ask Mr Luck to deal with that.
  (Mr Luck) Indeed, if I may, Chair. To 23 December, the Met had spent £12.8 million on the various operations post September 11, and indeed we have been granted £22 million to see us through to the end of this financial year. And, as the Commissioner has said, there is a bid in with the Home Office, and we had been hoping to hear something in March, I gather now, the Chancellor's announcement, that is delayed until the middle of April, which might give us a small problem in bridging between the end of this financial year and really what needs perhaps to be permanent funding of some sort of arrangement year on year.

8.  You have answered, more or less, the other question I was going to ask about. So you are waiting for the Budget, to see whether that is—and you have now put in a permanent bid?

  (Mr Luck) We have, indeed, and we expect to hear something, although we have been given no indication, as yet.

9.  Can I just move on, again on numbers and officers. You have been running a campaign to recruit more Special Constables.

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes.

10.  How is that going?

  (Sir John Stevens) Very well. We have had a very successful campaign. We had a target of having 960, if I remember the exact figure, round about 960, this year, we are slightly below that, but it has been very successful. Where it has been extremely successful is in the recruitment of ethnic minorities, and we have got something like 40 per cent joining now, the Special Constabulary at the moment is 30 per cent ethnic minorities, but the people joining are about 40 per cent, which is very interesting. We have got now, in recruiting, 11-12 per cent coming into the training school, ethnic minorities, and we all know we need more of those; and we will certainly meet our target of 5 per cent at the end of the year, which is still pitifully small. So I think special constables are extremely important, not just in terms of what they do on the street but allowing people perhaps just to feel the water about what the Police Service is like. Now, in addition to that, to specials, we have got some volunteer cadets, which are 490, at the moment, we are trying to increase those, and our research has shown that, anyone who stays in there for at least a year, 50 per cent of those will come and join the regular force.

11.  Fifty per cent of the volunteer cadets?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes.

12.  What ages are they; are they youngsters?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes, they are youngsters, they are up to the age of 18 and 19, and, of those, 40 per cent are ethnic minorities; so it is very interesting and very encouraging. But the specials are doing a superb job, and we need more of them.

13.  What percentage, do you know, of the specials ever become regular officers?

  (Sir John Stevens) I do not know exactly, but it is something approaching between 20 and 40 per cent of people who join the specials; again, they come and see what the regular force is. I think, with the specials, we want to be absolutely sure that, yes, it is a way of joining the force, but what we are looking for is this additional expertise that specials bring, so we have solicitors, accountants, we do not have too many MPs, I have to say.

14.  Is there a role for MPs as a special constable?

  (Sir John Stevens) Absolutely, I will sign you up now. What we are looking for is this extra experience, which helps us to get on with the job we are doing. And I think the Special Constabulary is something we have really got to encourage people to come in and join, as we must encourage them to join the regular force.

15.  How much time do specials spend then?

  (Sir John Stevens) It varies. There are some specials, one or two who were commended recently, who spend hundreds of hours a year, where there are others who do not do so much; but we have a minimum number of hours which we ask people to do a month. But some specials do an immense amount of work, and it is incredible what effort they put into it, bearing in mind, of course, they do not get paid, at the moment.

16.  Just turning now to my final questions. We have heard quite a lot recently about public service reform, and you have touched on it yourself, in your opening remarks. Are we spending too much time talking about absolute numbers in the Police, and should we not be thinking more about whether, in fact, that deters you from doing some of the more innovative stuff that you would want to do? Or, indeed, for example, you have not mentioned civilians within the police force?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think it is a very complex question. There is no doubt about it, unless you have actually got the numbers on the streets, unless you have got that police presence in a blue uniform then people will not feel reassured. I do believe that the number that we went down to, two years ago, was far too low, in terms of a policing presence on the streets of London, and publicly said so, and steps were taken by Government to ensure that that was rectified, and we are now getting the benefits of all of that. But I think there has to be a balance between what we do in terms of patrolling, as distinct from what we do in terms of our intelligence-gathering in some of our more specialised squads, and Trident and some of the work that we are doing on the Murder Squads now is a typical example of that. One of our problems at the moment is also the recruiting of essential support staff, the civilian side of things, in terms of the Metropolitan Police, and we are short in that respect. But the Metropolitan Police Authority have agreed to pay people more, so that we can get a better quality of staff, and I believe we can do better, if we pay them more probably than they are getting now; they are at the very, very low end of what should be paid in the public sector, the lowest paid of anyone in London, I think the research showed. So it is a mixture of things. But we must remember that technology will help us do the job, as well as having that uniformed presence on the street, which everybody wants; and you will know, from your own constituency, that people want to see police officers on the street, and so do I.

17.  And, indeed, so does my borough commander, who does not want to have his officers in the control room, conducting things from the centre, when you could have civilians in there, doing that?

  (Sir John Stevens) I totally agree with that. One of the biggest problems has been, and in this position, like all our positions, you have to make some very difficult decisions, and you have to live with those, the business of terrorism, where, in the initial month, or so, everybody was extremely nervous, not least of which Canary Wharf and other places, where we just had to get our policing presence in the centre of London. Now that had a tremendous knock-on effect on the boroughs, as you will know; now we are trying to get that sorted out. And, again, going back to the reform programme, the auxiliaries will help on that, provided they are part of the extended police family and come under the control, I think, of the Police Service.


18.  Can I just check, Sir John, the starting pay of a constable now is, what, £23,800; what was it five years ago, "ish?

  (Sir John Stevens) I could tell you what it was 40 years ago, Chairman.
  (Mr Blair) I think, surely, the main difference has been the grant last year of an additional £3,200 to officers who were, we describe as, post the Sheehy settlement; that is the big difference. There is a £6,000 pay lead in London now, in comparison with all forces, and about £4,500 in comparison with the ring of forces around London.

19.  I see. So that has helped you solve the recruitment problem?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think, in addition, Chairman, if I may, which has also helped us solve it, is, in fact, the free travel for 70 miles outside London. And I think one of the reasons we are now picking up officers from outside London, which we never really did to any extent before, is that.

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