Police Finances - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 143-167)

Paul McKeever

11 January 2011

Q143   Chair: Mr Brake, my apologies for keeping you waiting so long. Things have changed since you were last on the Home Affairs Committee and we stuck to time.

Tom Brake: Indeed, I'm on the wrong side of the table, Chair.

Q144   Chair: Indeed, I'm perhaps getting very lax in my old age, but welcome back, in a different capacity. We're here to explore your party's views on the changes that have been proposed to police funding as part of our inquiry into police funding. Do you think there will be a reduced range of activities that the police will have to undertake as a result of the coalition's proposals? You didn't hear the evidence obviously of the two chief constables. They said there would be changes, but they maintain that they can keep the service going. Do you think police officers will be doing less?

Tom Brake: Well, I think the public's expectation will be that the police will continue to deliver the same range of activities, whether it's dealing with antisocial behaviour or dealing with child protection issues. What I think may change is perhaps the way some of these police activities are funded, and therefore I welcome the fact that in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, for instance, that it's going to be possible to levy a night levy on businesses that are perhaps causing a disproportionate percentage of problems in town centres. So I welcome that.

  If I can just give perhaps one other example, in my constituency there has been a particular large oil company—I'm not going to name names—which has required a disproportionate amount of police time dealing with drive-outs at one of their garages where, in my view, it can't be beyond the wit of that particular company, which is highly profitable, to find a way and means of internally dealing with that issue rather than requiring large amounts of police time to deal with it.

Q145   Chair: The Liberal Democrat party has always been very keen on having more bobbies on the beat, and I'm sure if we examine some of your literature that's what you call for. Does it worry you that the chief constables are now talking about a reduction in actual police numbers? Is that a concern to you?

Tom Brake: It is a concern. Clearly I think everyone around your table would agree that having more officers patrolling, more officers available is a good thing, but I think at the same time that it is quite possible, bearing in mind I think the figure that Mr Burley quoted earlier of the 11% of officer time that's spent visibly patrolling, for the police to organise themselves in such a way that there are more officers—more than the 11%. Therefore even within, I would hope, perhaps a smaller manpower that they would still be able to deliver the same, if not indeed an improved presence on our streets.

Q146   Chair: I went with you when you were on the Committee to Carshalton Police Station—it may have been Sutton Police Station, I can't remember.

Tom Brake: Sutton.

Q147   Chair: If you went to one of those police stations after these proposals were implemented would you see fewer officers involved in the kinds of things that we witnessed and we were very pleased to see?

Tom Brake: I am pleased to say that they've secured a number of additional officers as part of an arrangement within the Met within London, but in the next few months it is possible that, for instance, the arrangements for the safer neighbourhood teams, with the one sergeant, two police constables and three community support officers, it wouldn't surprise me if those are reviewed and, for instance, there may be now a case for perhaps one sergeant managing two ward teams. I suspect that is the sort of change that we will see. So, broadly speaking, people will see the same presence—police constables, community support officers patrolling—but perhaps with fewer senior officers in control of those individual teams.

Q148   Mr Burley: Just on the issue you raised of, if you like, companies being more responsible for the costs that police incur, something that has always confused me is why more burden isn't placed on football clubs to pay for the costs of policing the games? I live in Fulham and we see every Saturday huge numbers of officers and horses drafted in to police a match at clearly great cost to the police and extraction of officers from elsewhere in London. Given the amount of money that premiership football clubs make surely now, in this climate, is the time to ask them, perhaps, to start to pay more towards the policing of their profit-making enterprises on a Saturday afternoon.

Tom Brake: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman.

Q149   Mark Reckless: Mr Brake, the Liberal Democrats have a strong tradition of local accountability and democracy, and I just wondered what your thoughts were on the oversight panels and how they'll link in with the elected police commissioners? Would you see them as holding to account, in a sort of ex-post critique, what the commissioner is doing or do you think they can work with the commissioner to ensure that district and BCU level of accountability?

Tom Brake: Mr Reckless, are you talking in relation to the crime panels?

Mark Reckless: Correct.

Tom Brake: My view of the crime panels is that they will have a fundamental role to scrutinise what the elected police commissioner is doing. I would have liked to have seen the arrangements piloted. I think it would have been helpful perhaps to have seen in a small number of different parts of the country different policing arrangements, different sizes—rural versus urban, for instance—and to have had those arrangements piloted so that we could see that the panels are able to scrutinise effectively, while at the same time not being able to block the activities of the elected police commissioner. That is the very difficult balance that has got to be achieved between the two.

Q150   Mark Reckless: Would it be possible for them to help the commissioner to scrutinise the force?

Tom Brake: Yes, that undoubtedly will be one of their roles and I think another very important role for them will be to ensure that the issues of each locality are properly taken on board by the elected police commissioner because that, I believe, presents one of the biggest challenges to elected police commissioners. They will be dealing with, in some cases, very large areas, urban, rural, and suburban, with very different policing needs, and the elected police commissioner, this single person, will have to be kept well appraised of what is happening in all of those different areas, and there I think the panel has a very important role to play.

Q151   Mark Reckless: And with possible provision for two co-opted members, would you see scope for them helping to reflect the political balance and voting strength across a force area and perhaps give a more proportionate outlook to these panels?

Tom Brake: It is down to the elected police commissioner and the panel to make those decisions. I think having proper district or regional representation on the panel will help to address that because that may reflect the political balance across that particular area.

Q152   Lorraine Fullbrook: Can I ask, Mr Brake, have you and your committee identified any back office savings that you believe could be made?

Tom Brake: Thank you, Madam Fullbrook. I'm likely to receive the same barrage I think as did Ed Balls earlier, in that we are quite dependent on the report that the HMIC has produced, which is very clear in identifying a number of administrative changes and mergers that can be achieved in the back office, whether it is IT functions or human resources functions, and my committee would certainly expect those to be proceeding apace. There is a separate issue, I suppose, in terms of force mergers and what savings might be derived from that source. Clearly, that is a very difficult political issue, in that historically force mergers have been opposed by politicians.

  If there was ever going to be a time when politicians would perhaps understand the reasons why force mergers may be required, I think now is the time. I think there may well be a case for presenting an argument that identifies what savings might be derived, for instance, through that route as opposed to what savings might have to be derived by reducing the number of frontline officers. I think we can then have a debate about that and I suspect that most people will plump for having more frontline officers.

Q153   Lorraine Fullbrook: Would you be satisfied with collaboration of police forces rather than mergers? From personal experience, I have the Lancashire headquarters in my constituency of South Ribble, and I fought a campaign against the merger of Lancashire and Cumbria. A huge part of that was the start-up cost of a merger, which within 12 weeks had gone from £2 million to £24 million, not to mention the council tax disparity. Would you be satisfied with collaboration of police forces?

Tom Brake: I'm not seeking and nor is the Government to impose any force mergers. If there is a call for it locally—

Q154   Lorraine Fullbrook: I was asking a personal question here.

Tom Brake: If there is support for it then, yes, I would support it. But at the same time if the demand is to make savings through collaboration, clearly that is welcome as well. In a London context, for instance, where we have 33 borough command units, it would be possible in my view to maintain the individuality of each borough command unit and maintain the relationship between local people, local politicians, the local council and other partners without necessarily having 33 borough commanders. I imagine that is something that the Met are considering as perhaps a way of maintaining frontline services—maintaining the link, the local accountability but perhaps taking out some of those senior management costs.

Q155   Dr Huppert: Mr Brake, when police forces have to make savings they will clearly have to make some sort of prioritisation. Do you have any opinions as to what aspects of their services are more important and which are less important?

Tom Brake: Yes, that was an interesting exchange earlier. In terms of what police forces should prioritise, there are a couple of things I'd like to mention that are internal to the police. The first one, which came out very strongly from the HMIC report, was that very few senior police officers currently believe that there is a need for senior officers to have financial and management skills to address the budget reductions that they are going to have to make. So an internal challenge, I think, for the police is to deal with that, because budget cuts—the collaboration that's been talked about; that sort of back office saving—that's not something that happens by itself. It happens because people are willing to take the tough decisions, are willing to knock heads together and to make things happen. So I think that is an internal challenge for the police.

  In terms of what the police should prioritise, I am strongly committed to the principle of local panels or ward panels deciding at a very local level what their priorities should be, because those are the priorities that the local community wants. I've just come from a meeting with James Brokenshire about neighbourhood watch. Certainly in my area, a neighbourhood watch representative sits on the ward panels, and therefore they and their members have direct input into that process. So that is something that I think should be continued, and I welcome the fact that in the coalition agreement there is a clear steer that these meetings—the borough meetings for the public to have input into that process—are going to be maintained. At the same time, we need to maintain the national priorities that are delivered currently by SOCA, soon to be the National Crime Agency.

  So in terms of priorities I think we're probably, in answer to the earlier question about which tasks the police were going to stop doing, I think my view is they will continue to maintain the same, or should continue to maintain, the same range of activities, but they will have to do more with less, and that again comes down to mergers, collaboration, and amalgamation. Some forces have taken the police who deal with antisocial behaviour issues, and merged them with staff from the local authority who are dealing with the same thing, to get some economies of scale and make sure that there is no overlap between their activities.

Q156   Steve McCabe: Mr Brake, as I understand it you are here in your capacity as the co-chair of the Lib Dem committee on home affairs.

Tom Brake: That's right. Yes.

Q157   Steve McCabe: Can I ask in simple terms, how does the policy of your committee on savings differ from the coalition's policy on savings?

Tom Brake: That's a very interesting question, and one which we are working on the detail of in terms of the answer because clearly, as a party, quite rightly we are committed to the coalition Government and delivering the coalition Government programme. But at the same time, as the Liberal Democrats, we have a different agenda, we have different issues that we want to push, and we are aware that, for instance, the coalition programme is a programme which is agreed, broadly speaking, until the end of 2011, perhaps some way into 2012. Beyond that point, there are additional new policies that the coalition Government will have to agree.

Q158   Steve McCabe: But the CSR goes to 2015, so presumably you've gone beyond 2012.

Tom Brake: But in terms of the coalition programme, Mr McCabe, if you look at what the coalition partners have agreed in terms of the programme they're going to deliver, that runs until, broadly speaking, 2012, and beyond that, we will need to put in place a new range of agreed policies between the two parties. Our committee will be pushing to ensure that there are policies from a Liberal Democrat perspective that we are comfortable with—new policies that we want to see adopted by the coalition Government which will be rolled out from 2012 onwards.

Q159   Chair: You must be very pleased that the coalition Government's agenda on civil liberties is very much a Liberal Democrat agenda—for example, the abolition of control orders, the reduction of the detention period, the closure of Yarl's Wood—not the closure of Yarl's Wood, the prevention of children going to Yarl's Wood. Are you conscious of having that disproportionate influence over the way in which the coalition Government operate?

Tom Brake: Clearly, we're very pleased with what the coalition Government are doing in relation to civil liberties, although in relation to control orders, clearly, we don't know the detail.

Q160   Chair: Have you been consulted about it? Is this something that Ministers would ring you up about, since you are the chairman of this joint committee?

Tom Brake: I have had a number of meetings with the Home Secretary on this issue, so yes, we have been very actively consulted about it and had input into that process.

Q161   Chair: So do you expect them to be abolished?

Tom Brake: I expect control orders to be abolished but I expect in their place an alternative package and measures which, from the civil liberties perspective, and in my view from a security perspective, are going to be more effective than what currently exists.

Q162   Chair: Do you expect the detention period to be reduced to 14 days?

Tom Brake: The Home Secretary is on record saying that she personally wants to reduce it to 14 days, so I am confident the coalition Government will agree that that is going to go down to 14 days.

Q163   Chair: Since most of your civil liberties objectives have been achieved in the first 12 months is there anything left that you'd like the coalition Government to do?

Tom Brake: Well, there's still a lot on the agenda. There are some issues around, for instance, fingerprinting of children in schools. There are issues to do with CCTV. There are a number of other issues where I think we can identify common ground that both partners in the coalition Government would want to push.

Q164   Chair: Are you satisfied that you are carrying your majority partner in all these? It's not just the smaller partner trying to run the Government's civil liberties agenda?

Tom Brake: Civil liberties are not just a Liberal Democrat issue. If you consider the number of senior Conservative MPs who are in the same position in supporting the changes, whether it's David Davis, Kenneth Clarke, Dominic Grieve, and indeed new Members such as Dominic Raab, these are Members who have expressed very strong views about control orders and the need to get rid of them. So I don't see this as being a particularly Liberal Democrat policy agenda. It's more one for the coalition as a whole.

Q165   Chair: When you were sitting on this Committee, you were instrumental in getting the Committee to look at the G20 protest because you were part of the protests.

Tom Brake: I was an observer, Chair, at the protest.

Q166   Chair: Of course—a very distinguished observer. In fact, the issue of undercover police officers was raised by you in the Committee during one of the sessions, so are you surprised at the turn of events regarding Mr Kennedy and the fact that he was an undercover officer for so long and suddenly he's giving evidence for the defence.

Tom Brake: I'm surprised that he's done a U-turn in terms of which party to support in the case, but I'm not surprised that there are undercover officers acting in that way. What we found at the G20 inquiry was that having been given initial assurances by Bob Broadhurst in front of this Committee that there were no undercover officers active at the G20 during the demonstrations. Subsequently, we found out that the City of London had 25 officers deployed on that day, or those two days, and what we now find out is that—and this is perhaps even more concerning—this particular officer who was working undercover, as I understand it, had been seconded to ACPO, or to an agency that worked for ACPO, yet the lead officer for public protest or policing of public protests, Sue Sim, is on record saying that undercover officers should not be deployed at events like the G20. Yet we have someone working, seconded to an ACPO-related organisation, who is doing exactly that. So I think it's time for ACPO to do what they haven't done yet, which is to publish some guidance on what they think it's appropriate for undercover officers to do when they are active at a public demonstration undercover.

Chair: I'll be writing to the commissioner to clarify the comments he made to our predecessor Committee following the questions that you raise.

Q167   Mr Winnick: Of all the Back Benchers on the Liberal Democrat side, I can't help noticing that you seem to be the most enthusiastic of the Government's supporters, and I'm just wondering if there's a sort of growing love-in where possibly by the next election you will be fighting on a joint programme.

Tom Brake: I don't think there's any prospect of that whatsoever. And I can finish my answer there.

Mr Winnick: Duly noted.

Chair: Mr Brake, thank you very much for giving evidence. We are most grateful. I am sorry again that you were kept waiting so long to give evidence to us. Thank you very much.

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