HC Deb 05 February 2001 vol 362 cc657-9
9. Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire)

What research he has undertaken into the correlation between the funding of police forces and their success in controlling the levels of crime and disorder. [147095]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

As tables that are on the record in the Official Report show, changes in the number of officers alongside changes in crime at force level over a period in the 1990s indicate little correlation between the two.

However, the Audit Commission reported in March of last year that there is no consistent link between increases in spending and improvements in performance. Some forces with among the best records in reducing crime have had below-average increases in funding during these years. Police numbers and funding are of course important, but as important is how effectively the resources are used.

Mr. Pickthall

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, because it is important to understand that there is no direct, easy correlation between spending on police and success in fighting crime and disorder. It is as much a question of good management, good targeting and good prioritising by chief constables. Does he agree that some of the disparities between forces in this regard are striking? How can the Home Office ensure that the poorest performers are brought up to the standards of the best, such as Lancashire and Cumbria?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is entirely right that the disparities in performance are striking, even when we compare like with like as closely as possible. We are doing that with the crime statistics; grouping basic command units in crime and reduction partnership areas into what are called statistical families, which show the striking differences in performance. They also show striking differences in the use of resources. Some forces which have had average or below-average increases in funding in the past six years have increased police numbers. In other forces, the chief constables have decided to spend the money on other things. It is crucial that performance data are made available and that there is measurement and not ignorance, so the public in each area can judge the performance of their force and their police area compared with others and so forces are held properly accountable at an operational level.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

With great respect, I must take issue with the Home Secretary's comments in regard to my part of London. Surely if police numbers fall, if the time that officers have on the beat reduces and if morale is low, those ingredients are responsible for an increase in serious crime. Does not that make it more difficult for the police force in question to maintain the law and keep the peace? Will he look again at the figures, which are having serious and deleterious effects in my part of London?

Mr. Straw

I accept that increased funding and police numbers are important. As the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), has just pointed out, we are increasing funding and police numbers, reversing the decline that started in the early 1990s. Nowhere was that decline sharper than in the Metropolitan police area, where there was a drop of nearly 2,000 officers under the previous Government. With the greatest respect, I do not recall the hon. Gentleman protesting about that at the time. More resources and more police officers are important, but if he looks at the data in the Official Report, he will see striking differences in the performance of otherwise similar police areas, just as there are differences between different police divisions within the Metropolitan police. There is no magic about this. It comes down to a truth that everybody in management in the private and public sectors knows: how one performs at a given level of resources depends on management, leadership and organisation. I am pleased to say that respective performance is now improving, which is why recruitment is going up and morale is rising.

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)

I congratulate Kent police on the 23 per cent. reduction in crime since 1997; in some areas, such as Lorton close, crime has been reduced by 70 per cent. since 1997. Does my right hon. Friend accept that, in part, that may be due to the significant increases in the resources available to Kent police but, more importantly, that it is due to the leadership provided within Kent police, its effective work within the local community and local authority and the measures taken to reduce the causes of crime; the last, perhaps, being the most significant factor of all?

Mr. Straw

I agree entirely. Kent makes my point exactly. It has the best record for crime reduction between 1996–97 and 1999–2000 of any of the country's 43 police forces, even though it was only ninth in terms of changes in police numbers and had around average budget increases. That shows what could be done by other forces with excellent leadership of the kind provided by Sir David Phillips, with well-motivated officers and with the funding that we are now putting in.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Does the Home Secretary accept that, just as it is not right to reward poorly performing police forces, it is equally wrong to penalise those that perform well? Dorset has the second lowest funding per capita in the United Kingdom but, thanks to the inspired leadership of Jane Stichbury, our chief constable, and members of her force, it does remarkably well by targeting certain areas. It has reduced burglary and car theft, but there remains a severe problem with street crime, which is growing, and drug-related crime, because we have drug rehabilitation centres to which people are sent from all over the country.

With yet another very low settlement, we are falling further and further behind. We were managing to maintain standards only by stretching all our resources absolutely to the limit—indeed, to breaking point.

Mr. Straw

Like the hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to the chief constable and all her officers and staff for their very good record. Police numbers in Dorset have increased since March 1997. I understand that the arguments about how the overall money should be allocated within the standard spending assessment are perennial and will go on for ever, but it should be noted that we have made special provision for rural forces, including Dorset, and that in the full year it will receive £440,000, a substantial grant, in recognition of the county's rural needs.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

We all want more police on the street, but does not the research into the funding of police authorities show the importance of tackling social exclusion, having more facilities for young people, and a whole variety of measures to combat the causes of crime, in the effort to bring the crime figures down?

Mr. Straw

I agree entirely. I congratulate my hon. Friend, his district council and the local police on all the work that they are undertaking. Of course, it is the case that, if we are to get crime and disorder down, we must attack the underlying and immediate causes as well as incidents of crime when they happen. That is why we are targeting potential young offenders as well as those who have actually committed crimes. We are also joining up the powers of the education authorities and the police so that they can conduct truancy sweeps and ensure that the youngsters are back in school, as well as doing much other work the better to support families and their children at risk.