Police Finances - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 98-167)

Rt Hon Ed Balls, MP

11 January 2011

Q98   Chair: Mr Balls, thank you for coming to give evidence. I'm sorry to keep you waiting, we were having such a good time with the chief constables.

Ed Balls: Good morning, Mr Chairman.

Chair: Can I start with one of the points—obviously you didn't hear their evidence—about the fact that both the chief constables in evidence to us said that they were going to have losses in police numbers but they think that they can provide a different service. Do you believe that the forces are properly prepared for the scale of the proposals that the Government has introduced?

Ed Balls: Well, our chief constables are professionals and public servants, and they know they have a duty to use the resources they have to do their best to keep the public safe. I have not met a chief constable in the last few months who is anything other than determined to do their best with the resources they have. But I do think they've been put into a very, very difficult situation by the nature of the challenge they face. I think that every force was preparing for budget reductions, and we had the HMIC report in July that was part of the process of thinking through the preparations. But my sense is that forces around the country and chief constables were taken aback both by the scale of the cuts in police budgets relative to other public services. Relative to defence, health or education, the police have been hit much harder. Secondly, by the front-end loaded nature of the reductions, the fact is that the biggest reductions are in the first two years.

Q99   Chair: We will come to that in a second. We had a figure of 20,000 from the Police Federation—the number of police officers that they thought they would be lost. Do you have a figure for this Committee?

Ed Balls: We don't have a figure yet that is comparable with the Police Federation 20,000. The KPMG 18,000 were projections of what they thought might happen over the next four years. My team in the House of Commons have looked at all the on-the-record public statements so far from chief constables and from police authorities. Some police authorities and chief constables have looked one year ahead. Some have looked across the whole of the four years. So far 16 out of 43 forces have made public statements. That's about a third of forces—slightly more than a third—and so far the numbers are announced job reductions of 14,482 employees across the 16 forces who have publicly stated, of which 6,257 would be uniformed warranted police officers.

  I think it would be fair to say that is broadly in line with what you would expect if you were going to get to between 18,000 and 20,000 across 43 forces; 6,257 would be about what you'd expect at this stage. Obviously we'll hear from the other police forces in the coming weeks.

Q100   Chair: Indeed. You were a leading member of the last Government—some would say you were the last Government because of your time in the Treasury and indeed in your relationship with the Prime Minister. There is an argument that perhaps the last Government gave the police too much money, as a result of which some police stations are kept open when they only have a couple of callers. Shouldn't this process have started earlier, the monitoring of what was happening to all this money?

Ed Balls: I think that every Government at every stage tries hard to get the best value for money out of extra resources, and if you go back to 2004—the Gershon Review into efficiency in public money, and in some areas of public service quite substantial job reductions, that was across every Government Department looking to drive efficiency through the system. The 2009 police White Paper identified a next phase for those savings.

  I was reading the HMIC report from July and it says clearly that we've seen falling crime over the last decade alongside rising police officer numbers, and I think that there is an important relationship. You can't give the public the reassurance they want about safety in their communities and tackle low level crime and antisocial behaviour and focus on organised crime and counter-terrorism without resources. The fact that we had record levels of police officers I think is a great source of pride, which is directly causally linked to the fall in crime.

Q101   Mr Clappison: So far in your evidence you've given us a commentary on what's been going on, which is a classical Opposition thing to do. Can you give us a global sense of what you would do differently yourself? Would you spend more or less money? And if you're looking for savings where would you look for them? What would you do?

Ed Balls: I presumed, Mr Chairman, that the reason you invited me along as an Opposition spokesperson was to provide comments on the decisions the Government is making, and obviously that is my first responsibility. But given that we were in government recently and we have set out plans, it's a legitimate question for Mr Clappison to ask. The fact is that we set out slightly more than a year ago our plans to safeguard the numbers of frontline police officers, police officers on the beat, while making savings. And the savings we talked about were broadly in line with the July 2010 HMIC report, which says very clearly you can make 11% savings over a four-year period without having an impact on the quality of policing. My point is that the coalition have gone for not 11% but 20% front-ended over the first two years and it is that early impact that makes it—every chief constable I speak to will say the same thing—impossible to maintain the quality of policing given those cuts. We wouldn't have done cuts on that scale and that pace, definitely not.

Q102   Mr Clappison: So you're telling us you would have spent more money now on the police than the coalition are spending. You wouldn't have cut that budget?

Ed Balls: We would unequivocally be spending more money now than the coalition on policing, yes.

Q103   Mr Winnick: As the Opposition Spokesman for Home Affairs, do you think it is fair that in the Government reduction regarding the police force all the regions have been treated the same?

Ed Balls: Well, as a West Yorkshire MP, I think no. It seems to me that for the large metropolitan areas like West Yorkshire, Manchester or Birmingham, there's a double hit, because not only is policing being hit disproportionately hard in public spending cuts relative to other public services—much harder than education or health—but within the overall map of police forces around the country, the large forces that have traditionally been more dependent upon the police grant and less on council tax are disproportionately hit by a flat rate application of the cut across all forces. So that is a double unfairness.

  I sort of understand the difficulty for the Government though. They've moved very quickly with these cuts. They wanted to start them very fast and it was obviously hard for them to consult and come up with a more complex formula. I was in Birmingham on Friday listening to the chief constable. In the West Midlands they feel very aggrieved that they are being so disproportionately hit; it would have been hard in the time available to do something more complicated.

  I have to say though—you think hard before you say this as an Opposition spokesperson—that I think the coalition has got policing wrong in the spending review, and I do think that it will be very hard to deliver the coalition's objectives to keep the public safe, given the challenges we face with this pattern of budget cuts. And I do think there's a case for going back and looking at it again, reopening the spending review. If you were to do that one thing you might look at is the allocation of resources across forces.

Q104   Mr Winnick: I'm just wondering if you accept that the West Midlands, which needless to say includes far more than Birmingham, with the greatest of respect to Birmingham, is in a particularly unique situation. I just wonder if you accept that. The argument being that it relies more on Government grants, for all kinds of historical reasons, than other regions.

Ed Balls: That is right. If you look at the list, taking out the City of London, the West Midlands is the most reliant upon Government grant, Surrey is the least reliant, and if you look at the most reliant it includes West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Northumbria and West Midlands. Those are the six who are most reliant upon Government grant, and therefore hardest hit by a flat-rate application of the cut.

  The meeting was in Birmingham, but our discussion was on every part of the West Midlands.

Mr Winnick: I am sure. I don't question that for a moment.

Q105   Mr Burley: Given that, do you have any ideas how you would change the structure of police funding to address what appears to be an anomaly in terms of the central grant versus what is raised locally among all forces?

Ed Balls: The reality is we have a national funding formula that has been damped for a number of years—its overall effect has been mitigated—and that suggests that you haven't got it fully right. The same thing has been true in education for many years as well. The truth is it's much easier to cope with an imperfect funding formula in a world of rising budgets. The trouble is when you suddenly face 20%, 6%, 8% over two years, in those circumstances those tensions and those anomalies suddenly become much more acute.

Q106   Mr Burley: Would you change therefore the way the funding is allocated?

Ed Balls: As I said, I think it would be sensible for the Home Secretary to suggest to the Chancellor or the Prime Minister that they look again at the issue of police funding. I think the quantum is wrong, I think the timing's wrong, and I think if you are doing that, one thing you might look at as well is the fairness of the allocation.

  But it's very hard to do that if you are rushing in a rather reckless manner to get your cuts in early, and that's, I'm afraid, what's happened. So I do think there is a case for looking at it.

Q107   Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Balls, we heard from the two chief constables earlier, that they started to make preparations for cuts two years ago. Can I ask what instructions or outcomes your Government at the time asked them to deliver two years ago?

Ed Balls: In a rather sort of different way to the way things have been done in recent months, we published a White Paper for discussion about how to approach these issues around funding. There was a White Paper published in the autumn of last year, which set out a £1.3 billion saving that covered changes in stop and search procedures, more centralised procurement, changes in overtime. And there was a discussion going on. The problem is not simply that this time, this year, there's not been a White Paper, it's that in a people business—I'm sure that the chief constables have said to you that in a business where you have 80% of the expenditure on people it's very hard to deliver front-end loaded cuts in a way that delivers systems improvement. It's people who go.

Q108   Lorraine Fullbrook: My point is about the timing. They started two years ago. Specifically what instructions did your Government give them two years ago?

Ed Balls: We published a White Paper, which I presume you'll have seen. But it was published in the autumn of last year and it set out a £1.3 billion saving, which could be made over a numbers of years, consistent with not needing to reduce the numbers of police officers. There's a whole chapter—chapter 5 of the report—on improving efficiency and capability and cutting bureaucracy, and it reflects many of the similar themes that you then see in the July HMIC report. But it's obviously on a different scale and quantum to what we're seeing now.

Q109   Lorraine Fullbrook: Can I continue with that? You said that your White Paper was to support so that police officers at the front line weren't cut, but in April of this year, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, who was then the Home Secretary, admitted that Labour would not have been able to guarantee police numbers.

Ed Balls: If you go back to the precise statement he was making at that time, what he said was, and he's right about this, every chief constable makes their own decisions and therefore it's not possible for central Government to guarantee what every chief constable will do. There may have been chief constables in some parts of the country who decided that rather than making difficult decisions about process or about procurement, they would decide instead to do the easier thing, which is to lay off police officers. So you couldn't make a guarantee but what is also, I think, clear and correct and right is that the scale of savings we were asking, which was lower, but also over a longer period of time, could and should have delivered and, in my view, would have been delivered without a reduction in uniformed police officers.

Q110   Dr Huppert: Mr Balls, you just said that chief constables may wish to lay off police officers. You may have missed some earlier discussion in the Committee. As we understand it—as we were told by the Police Federation—there is no way of laying off police officers. They are completely protected for the first 30 years. There is then regulation A19 after that. Are you suggesting it should be possible to lay off police officers? Do you support regulation A19 as the only way of removing police officers in the interests of efficiency?

Ed Balls: I'm afraid that the police officers I speak to talk about A19 as a form of laying off experienced police officers. The 6,257 will not be in the beat, so far announced; the vast majority of them will come from recruitment freezes of which are pretty much universal now—other than, I think, Surrey—across the country, but there will be some use of A19 powers. I have to say, I think it is perverse that the only way in which you can remove a police officer is by picking on a whole group, not just individuals, of the most experienced officers. There is a wider debate about laying off more generally, but I have to say that I think our country has been served well over many decades by having an independence in our policing, which includes not having the power for politicians to lay off police officers, and in the context of elected police commissioners I think adding in a power to lay off police officers would be very unfortunate.

Q111   Dr Huppert: Do you think that it shouldn't be possible to make police officers redundant if they have served less than 30 years or if they've served for more than 30 years, and that it should be effectively a job for life?

Ed Balls: I just said the opposite of that actually.

Q112   Dr Huppert: So you would agree with the ability to make police officers redundant.

Ed Balls: Sorry, I apologise, I think I misunderstood your point. I think we have been served well over many years by a system where you do not have the power to remove warranted police officers through lay-off and redundancies. I think it would be a very big step to change that. I don't see any sign of that and I think I'd be worried about it, especially in the context of elected police commissioners, and I think that the use of the A19 power is, as our chief constable said in West Yorkshire, a blunt instrument not intended for this purpose and which will have very perverse effects.

Q113   Dr Huppert: Mr Balls, if you don't think it should be possible to make redundant police officers who have done less than 30 years and you don't think it should be possible to make redundant police officers who have done more than 30 years, you're arguing that it should be impossible to make police officers redundant at all at any stage. Is that right?

Ed Balls: To be quite honest, the only reason we're having this conversation, Dr Huppert, is because your coalition is wanting so drastically to reduce the number of police officers. It is only in that context that the challenge arises. I said in answer to Ms Fullbrook that I didn't think we should be reducing police officers, full stop, so in the world I would rather inhabit this wouldn't be an issue.

Q114   Dr Huppert: But you said it might happen under the previous Government. That is what Ms Fullbrook's question was all about.

Ed Balls: No, in the case of the former Home Secretary, he said he couldn't guarantee that individual chief constables would keep their overall number of police officers because he couldn't guarantee that some forces might not either have a recruitment freeze or use an A19 power. But the point is, under our plans that would not be necessary. As you've heard from the chief constables and the Police Federation, under the new plans we have it is, I'm afraid, absolutely necessary and unavoidable that we see substantial—

Chair: Can I just bring in Mr Burley? He's bursting to come in.

Q115   Mr Burley: On this point, you said in Cannock Chase that the police would have to operate in a tougher financial climate, and that would be true under any party.

Ed Balls: Yes.

Mr Burley: If we were under your party are you saying that even though there would be a tougher financial climate your cuts, whatever they would be, would not lead to a single police officer having to be made redundant?

Ed Balls: I think I've already answered that question, to be honest, Mr Chairman, but I will again. We set out in the White Paper in the autumn of 2009 £1.3 billion worth of savings that, as the HMIC then showed this July, made over a four-year period could have been delivered without a direct impact on our policing capability, and I think we could have done that without losing uniformed police officers. But it would have been tougher. It would have been tougher, we would have lost some non-uniformed staff obviously. There would be more savings in budgets on procurement and less use of overtime, so it would have been a tougher financial climate but it would not have been a 20% cut.

Q116   Mr Burley: You are happy to lose civilian staff and the PCSO numbers, just not police officer numbers, is that right?

Ed Balls: I think that if you are—

Chair: Can we have a quick answer, we need to move on.

Ed Balls: If you're going to reduce the bureaucracy, as we set out in the autumn of 2009, if you're to make savings in your procurement process and have more streamlined processes, it will mean that you will lose some non-uniformed back office staff. What we've seen, interestingly, in the last few months is this new concept called "making savings in the middle office". I think the middle office is a code for warranted police officers, and I don't think our White Paper would have required reductions in middle office uniformed police officers, although, as the Home Secretary has said, in a devolved system you can't make a guarantee because those are the individual decisions of chief constables.

Q117   Steve McCabe: Given the time you've been in this post, are there any obvious savings that you would recommend that the police should act on?

Ed Balls: I think that savings have already been made in process; for example, through changes in stop and search recording. Overtime savings we identified. The July report from HMIC pointed to savings that can be made by looking at the shift pattern—the shift system—and that must be something that any sensible Government would look at following the HMIC recommendation. There's no doubt as well that on the procurement side there are savings to be made. People can chat, discuss in principle, that it would be a good idea for forces to share equipment like helicopters, or jointly procure cars, uniforms or equipment, but the question is whether it ever happens, and I think that the thing that we had set out in the autumn of 2009 was basically mandating that.

Q118   Chair: Why did the previous Government not produce a catalogue where people could choose what to buy after they'd negotiated the best deal possible? Why did the previous Government allow 43 forces to buy the same piece of equipment from 43 different suppliers?

Ed Balls: As I understand it, and I was reading this earlier, in chapter 5 of the excellent police White Paper a table on page 84 we set out a national approach to procurement.

Q119   Chair: Remind me of the date of publication of that White Paper.

Ed Balls: I think it was November 2009.

Q120   Chair: Bit late after such a long period in government, wasn't it?

Ed Balls: If what you're saying, Mr Vaz, is that we were insufficiently centralist in our approach to public service reform and allowed too much local decision-making and discretion, on this point I think you're right.

Q121   Dr Huppert: Leaving aside the political arguments we've had before about the savings, given that police forces do now have to make savings, what do you think they ought to prioritise?

Ed Balls: I'm very happy to leave aside all those political arguments as well. I was tempted to mention 3,000 more police officers but I held back because I thought that would have been unfair to colleagues in the context. I think this is a tough one because if you listen to some of the rhetoric around visible policing and, as I set out in a letter to the HMIC, the way in which I think their report has been abused, you would think that the only policing that matters is the policing people see. There is no doubt that in my constituency people care about seeing police in the streets, they probably care about having police stations open as well, but they care about police on the streets.

  Our Chief Constable in West Yorkshire has made a commitment to keep our neighbourhood policing teams for the full four years. I think in Greater Manchester the Chief Constable has made a commitment to one year. When we met the Chief Constable in the West Midlands he was talking about four years. But obviously if you're going to make savings on this scale and you're to keep your visible neighbourhood policing, you have to look for savings elsewhere. I don't think any sensible chief constable would be wanting to cut counter-terrorism resourcing, but the public want to know that organised crime is being dealt with even if they're not watching it.

  You then get into specialist units—forced marriages, child protection, a range of different functions, antisocial behaviour—where it may not be visible but it's quite important. I think the risk we will run, and we have seen this in the case of CEOP—

Q122   Chair: If you could give a quick answer because we do have another witness. Brief answer.

Ed Balls: My fear is that a focus on visible policing will mean that a lot of very important specialist units working on the hard end crime will see cuts which will be disproportionate.

Q123   Dr Huppert: Mr Balls, so far you are saying that everything should be prioritised. Maybe I can ask the question the other way. Are there any things that you think are less important or are you going to say that everything is essential?

Ed Balls: As I said, our policing White Paper made £1.3 billion worth of savings without having to say that attacking forced marriage, or child protection or organised crime or counter-terrorism or neighbourhood policing is less of an issue. I don't know how it is in your constituency, but in my constituency people think tackling those things is a first duty of Government, and I'm not going to start saying that action on child protection is somehow less important than neighbourhood policing. The trouble is—

Q124   Dr Huppert: But is there anything that's of less importance and anything that's of greater importance?

Ed Balls: I think that the public want both to be reassured by visible policing and to know that organised and serious crime are being tackled. In a world in which you have a 20% budget cut you then have to start saying, "Well, outside neighbourhood policing or counter-terrorism, other aspects of organised or serious crime will become less of a priority". I think that is a very undesirable road to walk down.

Chair: Lorraine Fullbrook has a very brief supplementary.

Q125   Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Balls, since 2009, this White Paper, what estimate has the shadow Home Office—that is, you and your team—made on savings that can be made on collaboration, for example, IT, procurement of vehicles, uniforms and so on? What estimate have you made for savings since 2009?

Ed Balls: I think the best estimates are set out in that White Paper and they were—

Q126   Lorraine Fullbrook: Which was in 2009. But now, since you've been in opposition, what estimates have been made on collaboration and savings?

Ed Balls: Estimates were made in 2009. In July 2010 the HMIC, who have the expertise, basically set out similar levels of savings to 2009. So I think, to be honest they—

Q127   Lorraine Fullbrook: Have you done no work in your shadow Department since you've been looking at this?

Ed Balls: I think to be honest, the HMIC report of July 2010 is a pretty good report and I think that would be—

Chair: I think we must move on. I think the answer is no, Ms Fullbrook.

Q128   Lorraine Fullbrook: You said earlier that collaboration can produce savings. So since 2009, have you made any estimates of savings that could be made as of today's economic circumstances?

Ed Balls: I would make three points. First of all, the July report is a good report. Secondly, the NPIA were on the case delivering those savings until their work was blighted. Thirdly, I fear that elected police commissioners will take us exactly away from the kind of cross-force collaboration that was central to those procurement savings.

Lorraine Fullbrook: Shall I take it as a no?

Chair: Ms Fullbrook, can I ask you to hang on a second? We do have another witness and it is very important that we limit our questions. Can we be as brief as possible, Mr Balls? I know you used to be Education Select Committee, but the Home Affairs Committee is much more pithy in its questions, as Mr Burley will demonstrate.

Q129   Mr Burley: Just returning to that HMIC report; to help you out I suggest to you that it is a more important use of police time to be available on patrol than filling in paperwork. What that report shows—forget the child protection and the forced marriages elements you mentioned—was that more police time, as a percentage of their day, is spent filling in forms, 16%, as opposed to being available on the beat, 11%, the figure you quoted. I put it to you that it would be better if we get to a situation where those figures were reversed and the police spent more time being available on patrol and less time doing paperwork and bureaucracy. Isn't the point of the 11% figure, and why it is so damning, that they are spending less time on patrol?

Chair: That is not a good example of a very brief question, but we will get a brief answer.

Ed Balls: I have to say, Mr Vaz, in the Education Select Committee they always required us to attend for two and a half hours and therefore long answers were essential to fill the time. This is obviously a different and more efficient world.

  The reason I take issue with the 11% number is because the 11% number excludes 50% of uniformed police time, which is not in neighbourhoods but is organised crime. The second one—

  Mr Burley: On the paperwork—

Chair: Mr Burley, would you wait for Mr Balls to give his answer, then you can ask him about it.

Ed Balls: It also excludes people who are off shift, so the idea that the 11% equates to 89% of wasted time and bureaucracy is a slur on the police, and I think the way the statistic has been used by Ministers is very unfair. But of course I think that individual forces—look, consistent with, and this is an important point, my constituents don't just want people arrested. They want them charged and prosecuted and imprisoned if they've committed a serious offence, and that does mean that you have to take proper records and stand up in court, but should we find ways to be more efficient? Of course we should. I know this is an area you used to work in and you're now bringing your own strategy to shine.

Q130   Mr Burley: Can I ask a very short simple question? Do you think it would be better if police spent more time on patrol than they do on paperwork?

Ed Balls: I think that is too simplistic a question for me to give a sensible answer.

Q131   Mr Burley: So you don't? You don't have a view on a police officer's day and their shift of seven hours, seven and a half hours, you don't have a view on whether it would be better for the public that they spent more of their time on patrol or more of their time filling in forms; you don't have a view on that as Shadow Secretary?

Ed Balls: Of course I want the police out on the streets, keeping people safe. I also want to know that when they arrest somebody they then do the questioning properly and we get it to court and they then get convicted.

Q132   Mr Burley: It's a proud legacy of your Government that police now spend more time filling in forms than they do on patrol? That's a proud legacy?

Ed Balls: I think you have to be very careful about this because if you take the work, for example, happening in the Yeates murder investigation, I would say that the vast bulk of uniformed police time at the moment is not happening on the streets. It's happening in detailed forensic work in order to make connections and track down a criminal. I think the idea, in a simplistic way, you diss that kind of police work is a mistake.

Chair: Mr Burley, can we hold on. Can we move on to Mr Reckless? We need to conclude this session. I know we're all having a great time but Mr Reckless has a question on mergers.

Q133   Mark Reckless: Not on mergers, but historically—

Ed Balls: I'm happy to do a question on mergers, if you want.

Q134   Mark Reckless: No, we'll leave mergers aside, if we may. Historically it's been the left that has pressed to put the police under democratic control. In the modern era this cause has been taken up by Jack Straw and by Ken Livingstone. More recently your deputy said, "Only direct election, based on geographical constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public, which is critical". Is there not a danger that by going back on that tradition that you're leading yourself into something of a cul-de-sac? Once these commissioners are elected are you not going to find yourself in the same situation that my party found itself, with respect to, say, the Scottish Parliament and a directly elected Mayor in London?

Ed Balls: I think from your question you're putting Jack Straw on the left. Is that right?

Q135   Mark Reckless: Would you disagree?

Ed Balls: I'm not sure what Jack would think of that. The principle of elected politicians having proper oversight of the police consistent with police operational independence is a principle that has been part of our oversight policing for many decades and which I support. That's what police authorities do. The reason why the chief constables and many outside observers—pretty much everybody other than a small number of think tanks—are sceptical about the reform is not the principle of election, it's the principle of an individual, one individual, with a direct election mandate having the power to intervene over such a wide area. And I think that that approach to police accountability is deeply flawed and will threaten the independence of operational policing, lead to less democratic accountability and representation and, if you were to ask me about mergers, I think it will lead to less rational allocation of resources and less collaboration across police forces because all the incentive will be for the individual to bring things back to money being spent in their area on things that people see.

Q136   Mark Reckless: You say that you support elected politicians having proper oversight of the police, yet you seem to be going into the last ditch to defend police authorities, half of which are not elected.

Ed Balls: No, what I said was we had a tradition over many decades of a combination of elected politicians and independent members who have come together in a collective. I'm not saying that the current system is perfect by any means. I would like to see deeper accountability at the local—BCU and neighbourhood—level. My argument is that taking things to force-wide accountability with power vested in one individual is a very flawed approach to democratic oversight. I don't think that it can be made to work effectively.

Q137   Mark Reckless: Would a Labour Government overturn that and go back to something more similar to the current position?

Ed Balls: As you know, we voted against the Second Reading. We'll be arguing very hard in the Committee to persuade you to change your minds and we'll propose amendments that will take us in a more rational direction, and then we'll see where we are.

Q138   Nicola Blackwood: You've expressed concern, Mr Balls, about the impact of the cuts on specialist units. Can I ask if you believe it's possible to make savings in counter-terrorism without putting the public at risk?

Ed Balls: Yes.

Q139   Nicola Blackwood: Could you elaborate on how?

Ed Balls: Yes. I think that the discussions I've had and the briefings, as a result of the HMIC work, that looked at the duplication of capacity at the central level between operational control in the Met leadership, and the sort of bureaucracy and resource that sits under ACPO TAM, is an area ripe for some rationalisation and some saving. You don't need to duplicate those functions. Whether it's possible to do that and achieve a 10% reduction in counter-terrorism funding I have to say I have some doubts about that, and my fear is that it will lead to a reduction in capability around the country, but we'll see. But there's definitely some savings to be made and I think the HMIC report was a good report on that.

Q140   Nicola Blackwood: You've acknowledged that there needs to be some kind of successor regime to control orders. Can I ask how you see that playing out? What areas of control orders would you be happy to live without, for example?

Ed Balls: What I said is that I think we should proceed consensually, if at all possible; we should proceed on the basis of the evidence. I've obviously had discussions with experts, but I said to the Home Secretary that I'll wait to come to judgment until I see the report. I'm hoping that the Home Secretary will give me advance sight of the report, in advance of her statement, whenever that is. But until we see the detail it's very hard to reach definitive judgments.

  What I've said is that if the police and security services felt that it was possible through a combination of travel restrictions, equipment restrictions and greater surveillance to make changes to the control order regime around house arrest, if the evidence supports that I will support that too. But I have to say there is a very important debate, which hasn't even begun yet, about the cost of that, because every conversation I've had with the experts and with Lord Carlile suggests that the kind of expenditure you would need to have on surveillance, given the danger and the risk from these individuals, is very, very substantial. If you were to ask me, "Could you find that within a 10% cut in the counter-terrorism budget?" Absolutely unequivocally, no way. The only way to make that kind of control order regime work—or post-control order regime work—in the final review will be a substantial extra injection of resourcing into counter-terrorism. If that isn't there I think that will raise very substantial questions about whether or not risks are being run in the new regime.

Q141   Chair: Thank you. You mentioned Jack Straw earlier in an exchange with Mark Reckless. Do you agree with the comments he made over the weekend concerning child abuse cases?

Ed Balls: No, to be honest, Mr Vaz. I represent a different constituency from both yourself and Jack Straw, but I've also had quite a few years' experience dealing in a very detailed way with child protection issues across the range of child protection, including making very many individual decisions about individuals and their access to children. I have never seen myself a pattern based upon race either around who the victims are of child abuse or the perpetrators. To suggest that there was a cultural issue didn't accord with my view of this issue. I think this is an issue which is a worry to children of all races and perpetrated by adults—men and women—of all races.

Q142   Chair: Do you agree this is now a matter for CEOP to look into since they are an agency that is designed to protect children?

Ed Balls: Well, I think it's an irony that the importance of the particular and specialist work CEOP does should be highlighted on the very weekend that the former head of CEOP chose to highlight how damaging it would be to have CEOP abolished. It goes back to the point about specialist units. It is very hard to have a specialist cross-discipline focus on an issue if that is being done as part of a much broader and general remit. The reason why many people around the world admire CEOP, and the reason why many experts in the child protection world are concerned about CEOP becoming defunct and part of the new National Crime Agency, is that however professional the people are in the successor regime there will be a loss of focus by losing that direct mandate. The reality of child protection is that people who harm and damage our children are sophisticated and move very quickly, and you need a particular set of skills and focus to keep up, and that is what CEOP has done. I am very worried about the abolition of CEOP. This is exactly the kind of case where you need a CEOP on the case.

Chair: I think the Government would argue that it's not being abolished but merged into the new organisation that is being created. But we've noted your comments. Thank you very much for giving evidence. We're most grateful.

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