Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-82)


12 DECEMBER 2006

  Q80  Gwyn Prosser: Home Secretary, you have made a number of references this morning to neighbourhood policing, which is very popular with the public but it does rely heavily on the treatment of community support officers. Why was the Home Office's target, and now manifesto promise, to recruit 24,000 CSOs by 2008 dropped?

  John Reid: Mr Prosser, I, like you and the public, think that neighbourhood policing is one of the best things that has happened in recent years in the police, and I would not make any changes unless it was around a prediction that neighbourhood policing will be delivered. It has rolled out very well in the Met and it has rolled out throughout England and we will keep to our dates on that. What happened was that we have been told that neighbourhood policing can be delivered with a lower level of PCSOs than was originally envisaged when we made the promise. That coincided with a request from police services, from ACPO and police chiefs, to have more flexibility over how they used the resources rather than constant targets from the centre in terms of outcome. So, in response to that, we said, provided they could deliver neighbourhood policing, we would give them a degree of flexibility on PCSOs that was not initially there and, indeed, rather than retaining all of the money that would have been allocated for that, we left, I think, £35 million of that money still available to police services. So the central point was that PCSOs were a means to providing neighbourhood policing and policing it in the scale and timescale we originally envisaged. That is now being delivered on the timescale and in the reality we wanted, but the police say they can deliver that without the higher number of PCSOs and they want a degree of flexibility that was not, therefore, there in the beginning to use the extra resources the way they see fit.

  Q81  Gwyn Prosser: We understand that the new target of 16,000 new PCSOs by the end of next year is also in danger of being missed. What do you say to the Police Constable of Kent, for instance, who tells me that the recent cut in community support officer recruitment is severely going to impede his ability to roll out neighbourhood policing across the county?

  John Reid: On your first point I will write to you if I have got this wrong, but certainly we still have a target for 16,000. No one has alerted me that this is in significant danger of not being met in the timescale. As I say, I will write to you, Chairman, if that is wrong. The cost of the increase from 16,000 to 24,000, the monies provided for that were £105 million. When we have dropped the target, we have taken £70 million back but retained £35 million, which will be available to police over and above the money that was originally made available for the 16,000. We are still committed to that, we are still informed that neighbourhood policing will be rolled out as we expected by the dates that we expected it, and if there is any difference to that, I will certainly write to you, Mr Prosser, but that is not my understanding of it. We should be able to deliver neighbourhood policing teams in every area by April 2008. Over 7,000 PCSOs have already been recruited by September of this year and although, as I said, we reduced the anticipated funding, we have not reduced it completely above the grant for the 16,000, we have left £35 million in there, and basically of that 35 million, I think, from memory, more than half of it went to the Met because they have already rolled out effectively neighbourhood policing. Neighbourhood policing is a success story, and I do not think anyone should diminish that. We have retained the target 16,000 and, as far as I am aware, we are going to hit that.

  Gwyn Prosser: I will take up the issue of Kent in particular perhaps privately in correspondence.

  Q82  Chairman: Home Secretary, can I thank you and your team very much today. Apologies to members who had unanswered questions. Can I say, in extending now, at least to end of the meeting if not the beginning, a merry Christmas to yourself and your officials. I would also like to put on record the fact that, despite sometimes the way in which we inevitably raise questions about the Home Office in these and other sessions, in the course of year this Committee meets a huge number of people who are either directly employed by the Home Office or funded by them through different services. We are far more often impressed by the quality, dedication and commitment of those staff than we are worried by lack of ability and lack of commitment. At the end of the year I would like to put that on the record and thank you for appearing here today.

  John Reid: That is very kind of you, Chairman. Thank you very much indeed on behalf of my colleagues and me.

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