Select Committee on Home Affairs Seventh Report

1  Introduction

Q 1  Outline of the Committee's inquiry

1. In January 2008 the Home Affairs Committee announced its intention to conduct a wide-ranging inquiry to consider how expectations of the police service in England and Wales in the 21st century have changed and the resources the police have to meet these expectations, taking into account in particular:
  • What the public expects of the police, how Chief Constables determine priorities and the role of the Home Office in setting priorities;
  • The effect of heightened concerns about terrorism, immigration, gun and knife crime, identity fraud, the growth in cyber-crime and the Olympics;
  • Public involvement in local policing;
  • Roles of and relationships between Police Constables (PCs) and Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and the different ways in which police forces deploy staff;
  • Use of technology to enable police officers to return to the beat;
  • Definition of 'front-line policing';
  • Police funding and the efficiency with which the various police forces deploy the financial resources available; and
  • Difficulties in recruitment and retention, including quality of applicants and staff retained.

2. During our inquiry we held nine oral evidence sessions with 42 witnesses in total and considered 40 written submissions. A list of those who gave evidence is annexed. We wanted to hear a wide range of views and experiences from those working at all levels of the police service across England and Wales. To this end we took formal evidence in Reading, held seminars in Newark and Monmouth, and visited Colchester, Burton, Stockport and Manchester.

Background to the Committee's inquiry

3. In a white paper published in 2001, Policing a new century: a blueprint for reform, the Government set out its intentions to address high crime levels and low detection rates, increase public confidence in the police and make the service more responsive to local needs through a programme of police reform.[1] This work has resulted in changes to the membership and powers of police authorities; the introduction of neighbourhood policing, accompanied by the appointment of new police community support officers; the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to improve handling of complaints against the police, and a National Policing Improvement Agency to drive good practice throughout the service; and a greater role for the Home Secretary to intervene over poor performance. The merging of local forces into larger regional structures has also been considered, and abandoned.

4. However, these measures have not addressed the concerns of the public or police forces themselves, and many of the original questions posed in the 2001 white paper remain unresolved. Despite British Crime Survey statistics showing a steady fall in crime levels, which are down 45% since 1995, 65% of people interviewed for the 2007/08 survey thought crime in the country had increased in the last two years. Public dissatisfaction with the police is high: only 53% of people thought that the police in their area did an excellent or good job in 2007/08.[2]

5. Police representatives have argued against the current system of Government targets as ineffective in driving police performance, and what they view as excessive interference from the centre to the detriment of local autonomy. The Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers have called for a Royal Commission to ensure a more fundamental review of how policing is organised and delivered. The last Royal Commission on Policing sat in the early 1960s, and the context of policing has changed dramatically in the intervening years.

6. We concurred on the need for a broader examination of policing in the 21st century. In the course of the last two Parliaments, the Home Affairs Committee has held inquiries into the police reform agenda and police funding, as well as considering relevant police activity during inquiries into anti-social behaviour, counter-terrorism and domestic violence. However, none of our predecessor Committees has ever held a wide-ranging inquiry into the state of policing in England and Wales. Our Report, while it does not deal with every aspect of policing, is an attempt to draw together the evidence on what were put to us as the main challenges of policing in the 21st century.

7. Our inquiry coincided with the publication of two major policy documents on policing: Sir Ronnie Flanagan's Review of Policing and a Government Green Paper, From the Neighbourhood to the National: Policing our Communities Together. We respond to their conclusions in our Report, in the context of the evidence we received during our inquiry. We hope that this evidence will inform the continuing debate on policing in the 21st century and expect the Government to take full account of our recommendations as part of its programme of police reform.

1   Home Office, Policing a new century: a blueprint for reform, December 2001 Back

2   Home Office, Crime in England and Wales, 2007/08, July 2008 Back

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Prepared 10 November 2008