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Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): I welcome the proposal for neighbourhood policing teams. As my right hon. Friend knows, they have been successful in the Barnsley area. He may also know that in South Yorkshire we have a problem with the communication centre, which I understand is based in his constituency. Will he do what he can to improve the situation? Will he ensure that it is not repeated elsewhere when he introduces minimum standards for call handling?
Mr. Blunkett: I entirely take the point. Thankfully the centre is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), but I think we have all suffered as a result of the tremendous hiccup that occurred when the new facility was brought into play. Despite the best intentions, there has been a major problem. We must avoid a repetition of that as new technology is introduced throughout the country.
The point raises a wider issuethe need for expertise to be shared locally and regionally in regard to activity that has not been seen as a core police function in the past, and in which senior officers have no historic expertise. We must do that to ensure that people receive the service that they need, but above all to ensure that the police themselves are not frustrated by what lies between the public and their own role as enforcement agencies. They have been as angry and upset about what that means to them as the public have been about the service they have been receiving.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is the Home Secretary aware that, as a result of his policies, the Norfolk constabulary is spending roughly half a million pounds on the diversity agenda? Does that make sense? Is it money well spent, especially in a county where ethnic minorities represent 1 per cent. of the population and where there have been no instances of police discrimination?
Yes, it does. Diversity takes many forms, and is intended to reflect the wider community, not just ethnicity. A vital synergy is involved in getting the reflection of the community right in the forces. We need diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religion and gender; we also need to deliver services better to the local community. Of course that must be tailored to the community's specific needs, but to suggest that spending resources on improving diversity is a waste of money is
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to demonstrate that, regrettably, Conservative Members live way back in the pastand will remain there if they do not understand the difference between 21st-century Britain and the 18th-century Britain in which the Tory party was born.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): I welcome the transformation that has taken place in community policing over the past few years, particularly in my constituency, where the police now use e-mail lists to keep residents informed of what is happening. But given his plan to increase local authorities' powers in regard to community safety, will my right hon. Friend advise those of us who must deal with Liberal-Democrat controlled authorities, Liberal Democrats who do not support the antisocial behaviour legislation and Liberal Democrat councillors who have stated publicly that they have no confidence in the police?
Mr. Blunkett: The new trigger powers mean power for local people. As in the case of ombudsman services, it will be necessary to use elected representatives as a filter. If people found that their local councillors were unable to co-operate with them in the improvement of service, they could of course turn to the ballot box to ensure that their future representatives did just that.
Mr. Blunkett: The agency will drive best practice. It will bring together the National Centre for Policing Excellence and Centrex, the centre for training excellence. [Interruption.] It will bring together the relevant functions of the Police Information Technology Organisation, and will allow collaboration in slimming down the administration required to perform those functions while also focusing attention on improved service on the ground. Far from mumbling about it, the main Opposition should surely welcome that rationalisation, given that they are always going on about rationalising and cutting bureaucracy. Once we have taken that step, we might actually get some credit for it.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The people of the Rhondda are delighted to have five community safety officers, and they will be even more delighted when they get the additional 33 whom, according to my calculations, the spreading of 25,000 such officers across 659 constituencies will provide. But they are particularly concerned that when they telephone the police, their call often seems to disappear into the wide blue yonder and they never hear from anybody again. Is it not important to allow local people to choose for themselves whether their call is an urgent, 999 call, or one that could be dealt with through a visit the next day or even later in the week? Should we not have another telephone number for the police?
We should have a three-digit back-up number, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) outlined, in future we
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should use e-mail to report incidents and to report back on the action to be taken. In Lancashire, once a clear system of reporting back was established and people were then confident that the promise made would be fulfilled, there was a 10 per cent. improvement in confidence in the police. I would like to see that replicated across the country.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): In the next couple of weeks, chief constables and police authorities will have to deal with settlements that some would call challenging but most would call inadequate. The Home Secretary has a reputation for driving through national initiatives that do not carry with them sufficient central funding, which leads to an increased burden on council tax payers. Will he confirm today that his proposals will be fully funded, and that the poorest in society will not carry the biggest burden for police services?
Mr. Blunkett: I do not think that the poorest in society do carry the burden for funding police services. I obviously cannot announce what the lift will be, but it certainly will not be at the level predicted by the police authorities themselves. What is absolutely clear is that the resources that we are making available will enable the continuing development of the service. Yes, we will fully fund those areas in which we are responsible directly, just as we are providing 100 per cent. funding over the next 12 months for 2,000 additional community support officers, and for the additional CSOs who will be part of the new national policing fund, which I will announce later.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for community support officers and street patrols to have the power to require information fromand, where necessary, to detainmembers of the public while the police are called? For example, how can Clapham Junction's street patrolsadly, Wandsworth council is going to disband it in March, when Government funding runs outdeal with offences such as those committed by graffiti artists and fly-tippers if it does not have the power to require information?
Mr. Blunkett: Those who are designated police community support officers will obviously have fixed penalty notice powers available to them as of now, and as I have said, the power to detain will be a matter for chief police officers to decide. But I deplore the fact that Wandsworth council is pulling the plug on the resources that are available to continue a scheme that I know, having been in the locality, remains a great success. I appeal to local authorities to work in partnership with the police to maintain those resources, and to continue the excellent work of pursuing community safety as a common goal for everyone at local level.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con):
The Secretary of State did not even attempt to address the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), so may I try a different tack? How many officers will it take to run the national policing improvement agency?
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Mr. Blunkett: Substantially fewer than currently operate the National Centre for Policing Excellence, Centrex and the Police Information Technology Organisation; indeed, that is the purpose of putting the agencies together. The reason we do not have a figure is that we are reconfiguring the service[Interruption.] The boys in short trousers, as of recent months, always want to predict that amalgamation, collaboration and rationalisation will somehow be a disaster, but most people in business and in the community know that putting these organisations together will slim down overheads and remove unnecessary administration, thereby enabling the spending of additional resources on front-line policing.
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