Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
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 pointsobviously you didn't hear their evidenceabout
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
Federationthe 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 forcesslightly more than a thirdand 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 Governmentsome 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
2004the 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
itevery chief constable I speak to will say the same thingimpossible
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
Ed Balls: We would
unequivocally be spending more money now than the coalition on
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 servicesmuch
harder than education or healthbut 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 thoughyou think hard before
you say this as an Opposition spokespersonthat 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
Ed Balls: The reality
is we have a national funding formula that has been damped for
a number of yearsits overall effect has been mitigatedand
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
businessI'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 chapterchapter 5 of the reporton 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 itas we were told by
the Police Federationthere 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
nowother than, I think, Surreyacross 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 patternthe shift systemand
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
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 unitsforced
marriages, child protection, a range of different functions, antisocial
behaviourwhere 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
Q122 Chair: If you
could give a quick answer because we do have another witness.
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
Chair: Lorraine Fullbrook
has a very brief supplementary.
Q125 Lorraine Fullbrook:
Mr Balls, since 2009, this White Paper, what estimate has the
shadow Home Officethat is, you and your teammade
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 showsforget
the child protection and the forced marriages elements you mentionedwas
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
Mr Burley: On the
Chair: Mr Burley, would
you wait for Mr Balls to give his answer, then you can ask him
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 forceslook,
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
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
observerspretty much everybody other than a small number
of think tanksare 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
localBCU and neighbourhoodlevel. 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
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,
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
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
workor post-control order regime workin 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 adultsmen and
womenof 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.