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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): We are putting victims and witnesses at the heart of the criminal justice system. The "No Witness, No Justice" project provides support for witnesses through a local partnership between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. That will include a witness care unit in every area of England and Wales by March 2005.
Vera Baird: The "No Witness, No Justice" scheme is very good. It is primarily about providing information about the case and getting rid of any obstacles that stop people coming to court. However, there is more to getting people to court than transport and child care. It is often about criminally injured victims needing specialist support from domestic violence advocates or rape crisis services, for example. There are real concerns now that the police and the CPS are starting to see witness care as a monopoly and are discouraging specialist referrals. Will my hon. Friend ensure that all witness care units adopt the approach taken by my own in Cleveland, which is to set up a directorate of help groups and actively take responsibility for facilitating specialist contact where it is needed?
Paul Goggins: I always take the advice of my hon. and learned Friend in these matters, because she is very close to the agencies in her constituency that deal with them. Victim support is also an essential ingredient in the partnership that we are seeking to develop between the voluntary sector, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. I can confirm that there will be three witness care units in my hon. and learned Friend's criminal justice area, the first opening in Hartlepool on 31 January, the second at Middlesbrough Crown court in May and the third at Middlesbrough magistrates court in October. Her comments about the importance of the specialist help that is sometimes required will be taken seriously by those agencies. It is essential to provide appropriate support so that witnesses can come to court and ensure that criminals are convicted.
Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)
(Lab): Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate all the people who have helped to set up the new justice centre in Nuneaton where the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and the courts have come together under one roof? Having done that, will he also encourage the CPS to be a little more positive in ensuring that cases are brought to court, because victims of crime often feel that they have been left out?
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Paul Goggins: The central emphasis of our policy is to put the victim at the heart of the system. I commend the agencies in Nuneaton, which are clearly working together effectively to ensure that witnesses and victims are given support. Up and down the country, not least in Liverpool, where a community justice centre opened only a few days ago, we are seeing justice related much more to the communities where people live and where the offences about which we are so concerned take place. As we see partnerships developing between local communities and agencies, we will see greater justice being delivered.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): The efficiency savings recommended across Government by Sir Peter Gershon's efficiency review equated to an average of around 2.5 per cent. per annum cumulatively. In assisting Sir Peter, the Home Office proposed a target of increasing value for money by £1.97 million, which is roughly 3 per cent. a year cumulatively. The target provides a challenging but realistic ambition for the Department and the police service to increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which key public services are delivered.
Jim Knight: My constituents are keen to see a greater proportion of money spent on front-line services, such as an increase in police community support officers. Does the Minister agree that there is a limit to how far that process can go and that if the Conservative party was allowed to impose its £20 billion cuts
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): We have secured and will maintain record numbers of police officers. There are now around 140,000 officers in England and Wales. There will be at least 5,500 community support officers by next March. The neighbourhood policing fund will help increase the number of CSOs to 24,000 by 2008.
On 4 January, 24 police probationary constables will start their training in Cleveland police. That is in addition to the extra 228 police officers that Cleveland has had since 1997. Their training will be different from most because it will be locally based, on the streets and in their local communities, rather than provided through the more traditional residential method. What will the Minister do to ensure that that
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approach continues after their training so that the public see, and are reassured by, the increased number of police provided by the Government?
Ms Blears: I am delighted to welcome the 24 new constables who will start to police my hon. Friend's area from January. The fact that they will undergo community-based training means that they will work with local people from day one rather than going into weeks and weeks of residential training. In developing our new style of neighbourhood policing for the long-term future of the country, I am absolutely determined that we get police officers, community support officers and wardens working with local people and doing joint tasking and co-ordinating. They will direct their activities towards the priorities that local people set, which is why, in the national policing plan, we made tackling antisocial behaviour and other low-level crimes one of our top priorities. Those are the things that local people want us to do.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Will the Minister give an assurance that funding for police constables and community support officers is entirely separate, and that the increase in the number of community support officers is not going to have an adverse impact on the number of police constables who can be trained?
The hon. Lady will know that I and other Ministers have gone on record time and again to say that the record number of police officers in this country will be in addition to the community support officers whom we are now developing. There is absolutely no case of community support officers being recruited at the expense of police officers. They have different jobs to do; they complement each other; they work together; they are a strong partnership. We are committed to
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maintaining record numbers of police officers and ensuring that we have more visibility and accessibilitythe things that local people want to build safer communities.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): We have completely reformed the youth justice system with a new structure, innovative new sentences and investment in early intervention. This approach is already bearing fruit, with the rate of reconvictions of juvenile offenders falling by 6 per cent. between 1997 and 2002.
Mr. Pike: Does my hon. Friend agree that, while we are moving in the right direction, there is still a long way to go? Far too many young offenders are reconvicted. Some of the figures are appalling in terms of the number of offences committed. Will he make it an absolute priority to provide education and training to young people so that they can get proper employment when they reach the right age and do not have to commit crimes to live?
Paul Goggins: Education and training are critical in trying to reduce rates of reoffending. Lancashire Connexions is working closely with youth offending teams in Lancashire, in Blackburn, Darwen and Blackpool, in order to ensure that after young people come out of young offenders institutions, they get back on track and back into work. It is essential that we see that as a priority, and we will continue to do so.
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