Previous Section Index Home Page

10 Jan 2008 : Column 167WH—continued

We are all turning our minds to such technological solutions in the 21st century, but it all comes back to the issue in the report: funding. Members from all parts of the House have talked this afternoon about affordability. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East pointed out in the report that there will be no extra money for doing extra and more challenging work in the next decade.
10 Jan 2008 : Column 168WH
There will certainly be more for the police to do, and they will need the tools to do it, but many of those tools are expensive.

Another area in which police bureaucracy and time-wasting can be reduced is mobile working—palm-held computers, BlackBerrys and so on. In my earlier intervention on the right hon. Gentleman, I, too, noted with interest the prime ministerial announcement on the subject at the Labour party conference, and I scratched my head and wondered how big the roll-out would be. If the general intention is for every response officer to have mobile working capability—I am not sure whether it is, so perhaps the Minister could clarify the matter—when will it be achieved and what is the price tag? Will it be affordable within the comprehensive spending review limits for the next three years and beyond? I somehow doubt it.

I am not trying, and have no desire, to kick the Minister around on the issue, but we need a grown-up debate about the affordability of such expensive technological solutions. Whether it is new kit in the station for filling in MG—manual of guidance—forms, or new kit for filling in electronically what Ronnie Flanagan hopes will be a national suite of standardised case forms with minimum reporting requirements to streamline and universalise a common standard and enshrine best practice, it all costs money, and we need a debate about it. The report throws up such questions, and we have not been honest enough about the costs of such solutions.

I shall provide one example of a pointless form. I have done a time-and-motion study at a station. The procedure did not require form-filling in days gone by; the police managed quite well. My example relates to the procedure for intercepting communications—basic surveillance. Officers are being taken off front-line duties, not in all cases, but their time is being tied up, in order to populate the RIPA—Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000—forms, known in the trade as the “grim RIPA”. The time spent filling in those forms is disproportionate to the ends that they achieve.

To undertake surveillance, for example, on a suspected cocaine dealer in a bar, the following RIPA requirements would have to be met: an application form to authorise the procedure—four pages; an intelligence schedule—two pages; an authority form—two pages, with each page having to be hand signed; a review form—five pages; and for surveillance lasting more than five months, a renewal form—five pages. When the police decide to cancel an operation involving a suspected drug dealer, there is a six-page cancellation form. A review of the RIPA regime in 2006 by the Association of Chief Police Officers found that there were unnecessary forms, training was piecemeal and different guidance was being given to different forces.

That is a good example of how the pendulum has swung away from a paperless to a bureaucratic process.

Another example is the covert human intelligence source, which in normal language is what we call a snitch or an informant—a police grass. Under this Government, they now have to be registered by the police. What was once a completely form-free process is now form-intensive. Formalising the relationship between the police and informants obviously provides safeguards for both, and that will be the Government’s defence. However, we hear that the process of applying, registering
10 Jan 2008 : Column 169WH
and tasking an informant can involve a total of 16 different forms. For one operation with an informant, 41 pages of forms needed to be filled out—that comes from a Nottingham case study. If the informant is subsequently asked to undertake further work, more copies of several forms are required.

That information is not just the result of an inquiry undertaken by a redoubtable shadow Minister of State—that is me. The situation was picked up by the Police Superintendents Association, which wrote to the Home Office about two and a half years ago flagging up the disproportionate application of RIPA. A series of recommendations were put to the then police Minister, who is now Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As I understand it, no change has been made to how RIPA is operated. Will the Minister share his thoughts on that? Does he think that there is a problem, or does he think that the PSA’s concerns have disappeared like mist? I think not.

Getting the police back on to the streets, which I think we all understand is vital, must involve a radical review of the forms, RIPA or otherwise. It will involve more mobile working, which I have mentioned, and the more regular use of video links, which, of course, must be piloted and evaluated. We must also consider proposals that are up and running, and alive and well, in New York city, such as what is referred to in Government circles as “short-term holding facilities”. Where there is a large volume of crime, such as at a large shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, if a response officer needs to collar a large number of shoplifters, it too often involves long treks back to the police station. If there were what I call a mobile jail—some tabloid newspapers have called it a “retail jail”, and I think that a large cage in Selfridges was the example cited—a suspect could be apprehended and a swab, photo ID and fingerprints could be taken. There would still be a custody officer of some description there, and there would certainly be a cut in travelling time. Such solutions need to be not just talked about—I know that something along those lines appeared in the March 2007 consultation paper that the Minister issued—but got on with.

Mr. Graham Stuart rose—

Mr. Ruffley: Talking of getting on with it, I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend once again.

Mr. Stuart: We need to tackle unnecessary forms, but I wonder whether a change in culture and attitude are also required. Perhaps the Minister will respond to that.

Mr. McNulty: Not to you I won’t.

Mr. Stuart: The Minister is even more grudging and miserable than usual.

The principle is that we should trust police officers more and not use a form-based system to check up on everything that they do. We should have a system that punishes those who break the rules or behave inappropriately. Fundamentally, we need to reverse the
10 Jan 2008 : Column 170WH
Government’s position of not trusting front-line police officers to be honest, decent people who want to do the right thing.

Mr. Ruffley: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Police officers are professionals and, as with those in other areas of public service—doctors, nurses, teachers and so on—we should trust the professionals. That means returning more discretion to the police, as he rightly points out.

We have heard contributions on police productivity. Recommendation 3 in the report states:

The Home Office responded:

Of course, there is truth in that for many Departments, particularly complicated ones. Health issues are at least as complicated as the police service, and I remember spending much of my time when I was a member of the Treasury Committee trying to get my head around productivity measures in the health service. It was fiendishly difficult and it is no less difficult in the police service, but that does not mean that we should not keep on working and trying. It is an important intellectual endeavour with a real point behind it.

The substantial increase in police resources in the past few years does not appear, either to me or according to the report, to have delivered a corresponding increase in outputs. To the man or woman in the street, that would be safer streets, less violent crime, lower crime generally and less fear of crime. Despite the Government’s saying in their response to the report that measuring productivity is difficult, they have measured it quite a bit in their own way. In 2003, the Office for National Statistics suggested that a weighted measure of crimes successfully investigated by the police should be used to measure productivity. In 2005, the Government’s Atkinson review—it was instigated by the Treasury, as I recall—recommended a wide range of performance data to assess productivity, including the police performance assessment framework and our dear old friend without which no debate would be complete: public service agreements, from which come the dreaded PSA targets.

The Government have introduced a complicated method of measuring police performance involving progress against key performance indicators, reoffending rates and judgments about the inputs required to achieve particular outputs. They have commissioned endless outside research on police effectiveness, and one example that is always worth thumbing through for those interested is “Measurement of output and productivity for the criminal justice system and wider public order and safety: A conceptual framework for the National Accounts”, which is an online report of 19 May 2005. I can tell those who have not yet looked at it what a scintillating read it is.

The police performance assessment framework, which is currently operating but will be amended on an ongoing basis, it seems, is the current performance management framework. It is intended to get a handle on police performance and thus productivity. PPAF consists of far too many quantitative performance indicators, which are combined to produce headline performance scores
10 Jan 2008 : Column 171WH
on tackling crime; serious crime and public protection; satisfaction and fairness; resources and efficiency; the implementation of neighbourhood policing; and local priorities.

The problems with PPAF are legion, and, at base, it seems to measure the wrong things and too much. Even just the collection of the data that officers and enforcers have to send to the centre wastes too much police time. Let me give an example: the practice of attempting to measure senior officers under the framework for qualities such as leadership and training, development, and organisational learning. There is no doubt that they are important factors for any organisation, but should they be assessed centrally? Those indirect performance indicators do not reflect what the public are most concerned about: better crime prevention. They are interested in the absence of crime and in better detection rates for the crimes that are committed. Assessing police performance on factors that can be instrumental to achieving the good goals of policing, such as training, rather than simply assessing them against those goals is at the heart of the matter. We should not have spurious targets on the quality of training. If we are to have targets, let us focus on a small number of core objectives, one of which should be addressing basic crime.

A force can succeed on several performance indicators without doing what it wants to do, and many senior officers have written about that in the past few months. The most recent big PPAF document, which was published before Christmas, put Surrey at the top of the league table for the performance of constabularies. One might expect the chief constable of that constabulary to be cheered at having come top of the class, but not a bit of it. He said:

That is why the framework does not work. Even the chief constable of Surrey, who succeeded under that regime, thinks that the system is flawed. We need a seismic change of course—a serious slashing of pointless indicators, not timid tinkering. The new assessment framework, which we expect in April, is an opportunity for Ministers to carry out that serious slashing of pointless indicators once and for all. It is an opportunity to get on with things and to give the police a simplified framework in which they want to operate.

Before I conclude, I shall touch on two issues that have been raised in this important and interesting debate. Will the Minister answer the implied question asked by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East about funding? On average, 21.5 per cent. of police spend comes from the precept. Is that likely to change? Is that too high an average? Will the forecasts that the Minister’s officials will no doubt provide him with for next few years suggest that the figure will rise above 21.5 per cent. in the comprehensive spending review? It would be helpful if he told us his forecasts for average precepts as a percentage of police spend because we are all interested in that.

My next question has been raised by many officers in constabularies across the country, and I know that the Minister is doing important work on this issue. In the wake of the failed forced regional mergers, it is Government policy to have better collaboration among forces. I
10 Jan 2008 : Column 172WH
think that we all, including the Minister, agree that we need to speed up the pace of collaboration. Forces that fit neatly together, probably on a regional basis, because that is a logical fit, should be encouraged to collaborate more on IT procurement, for example, and to collaborate better on air capability, roads, serious organised crime—level 2—and all protective services—[Interruption.]

The Minister has been chuntering to himself. I do not know whether he is chuntering about something that I have said, or doing so because he is still upset by the powerful comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart).

Mr. McNulty: It was about his ignorance, not his comments.

Mr. Ruffley: I am glad that the Minister is not chuntering at me because I am trying to be constructive. He has had to pick up the pieces from the failed merger policy, and his response has been that there should be better collaboration. Will he indicate, as it is pertinent to the report, what kind of economies of scale and efficiency savings he sees being delivered in the next three years as a result of faster, deeper collaboration? Across which services in which parts of the country will that collaboration occur? I have indicated the kinds of areas in which collaboration could quite easily be speeded up—procurement is the obvious one, but I have listed others. Are there wins to be made that will be such that the spend that the taxpayer puts in will go further? I know that he works hard on this, and I would be keen to hear any figures that he can put on savings over the next three years as a result of the greater collaboration for which he is pressing.

This has been a useful debate on an excellent report. It is a point of departure for the right hon. Member for Leicester, East as he begins, in February, important cross-party work on policing in the 21st century. This is a vital time for all politicians. It is a time when crime is too high, although it can be reduced, so there should be no complacency from Ministers about crime levels. It is also a time when we have a pretty good idea that the threats and challenges to British society, and therefore the police, are likely to grow, particularly in the context of terrorism. Fighting terrorism successfully will involve more than specialist cadres within the British police service; it will involve all the police being ever vigilant in the work that they do to look after British citizens up and down the country, day in, day out. The time for police reform is now, and I am delighted that we seem to have such a large measure of interest in this most important of policy areas.

4.38 pm

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on his accession to the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I very much look forward to working with him. I regret his demise as a part-time constituent of mine, given that he serves his constituents in the east midlands so well. As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) said in his closing comments, the report is as good a prelude as
10 Jan 2008 : Column 173WH
any to my right hon. Friend’s wider report on police in the 21st century. I know that he will do his job in an extremely diligent fashion.

I also welcome the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) to his new role. Who knows? If the polls had been open for an extra day, the much vaunted 1,200 votes that came in after 5 pm may have been hanging chads in his favour rather than his colleague’s. I am sure that he will bring some real energy, if not, by his own admission, expertise to home affairs. While I am on the subject of welcomes and departures, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills on all that he did during his time as Chairman of the Select Committee—he did it in adept and expert fashion—and on his elevation to DIUS, or whatever the Department is called.

The thrust of the report and, to be fair, our reply, is that there are significant improvements but there is scope for further improvement. That is absolutely right—it is right on an entirely non-party basis, because if what we are doing now in policing mirrors exactly what we were doing five years ago, let alone 10 years ago, collectively we are in trouble. The strength—and one of the downsides of what we do in policing is its complexity, but that also makes it interesting—of policing is its dynamism and ever-changing nature. I agree with the rather limited view that the time for police reform is now, if our police are to do the job that they should be doing in five years’ time. Police reform, I am afraid, is rather like what Mao called for: an ongoing and permanent revolution just to keep up with what is happening in society.

I take seriously the report’s views about leadership at a local level rather than just the chief constable level. I do not offer this as an alibi, but some of the many issues around cream buns, slices of cucumber and so on—I am referring to the question of the police having to get involved in so-called crimes that are nothing of the sort, but which cause people difficulty—are, as the superintendents half-agreed with me at their recent conference, as much to do with the risk-averse nature of local leadership that Ronnie Flanagan spoke about rather than things imposed from chief constable level or from my desk. I have not imposed anything at all from my desk in the past 18 months, other than, clearly, a stern will to get on with the job.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) for quoting, as others did, his chief constable, Dr. Timothy Brain, who said, when the settlement for this next period was made, that it was fair but that it would still be challenging. That is right, and I have made no bones about this being a tight settlement period. I have said—and I will come back to the point about collaboration—that over the next three years things will be tight, not least, to be fair, because there have been strong efficiencies by police authorities and forces over recent years. However, there is more that they could do.

Next Section Index Home Page