HC Deb 08 December 2003 vol 415 cc767-8
8. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on police emergency response times. [142092]

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears)

Responsibility for deciding the most appropriate emergency response times should lie with the chief officer in each police force area. However, the vast majority of forces are committed to attending emergency calls within 10 minutes for urban areas and 20 minutes for rural areas.

Mr. Chapman

Although it is right to say that chief constables are best placed to react to local needs, and I accept that some evidence is anecdotal and that Merseyside police, for example, receive 1.2 million calls for assistance each year, I am afraid that the perception of the service is often poor. When a school in my constituency was recently invaded by intimidating and aggressive youths assaulting pupils and causing mayhem, the headmaster dialled 999 and the police arrived 35 minutes later, long after the invaders had skedaddled—and that was an emergency call. When making non-emergency calls, my constituents sometimes cannot get through at all and, in some cases when they do, it takes the police hours to respond.

Is it not time that we considered putting in place appropriate mechanisms and resources, so that responses can be quicker and better feedback can be given to those who call, and that we published a national non-emergency number?

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend has raised some serious issues, and I am aware of his concerns, particularly about Merseyside. I therefore made it my business to speak personally to the chief constable about those issues last week. I know that he is in correspondence with my hon. Friend, particularly on the issue of getting feedback from people about what happened when they called and what the outcome was. The chief constable is piloting an interesting project in Merseyside to make sure that people get proper information.

There is also an issue about whether it is right to categorise calls as emergency, urgent or routine and whether we have the right calls in the right categories. There is work to be done there. However, I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that, in Merseyside, the police answer 80 per cent. of their emergency calls within the 10-minute limit. I am absolutely sure that the chief constable and the force are willing to engage with my hon. Friend and other MPs throughout Merseyside to make sure that local people get the best possible service.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)

Given that police authorities said that they needed a funding increase of over 6 per cent. and the Government are giving them an increase of 3.25 per cent., how on earth are they to have the resources necessary to meet not only the response times that the Minister just described but the much tighter response times that the constituents of all hon. Members would like them to meet? Is it not rather odd that the Government set 31 different performance indicators for the police, interfering in every way in how local police forces are run, yet they do not set one for emergency response times?

Ms Blears

We have to get the facts right. This year's funding allowance rose by 4.2 per cent: there is an across-the-board rise of 3.25 per cent. in the general grant, and on top of that there are specific grants, particularly for the crimefighting fund, which have given us record numbers of police officers, more than we have ever had on the streets before. There are also 2,000 community support officers out there, helping to reassure the public.

That comes on top of absolutely massive increases over the past three years—a 30 per cent. rise in funding for the police, which is a real terms increase of 17 per cent. That can be compared with a real terms increase of 2 per cent. during the Tories' last couple of years in office. That is this Government's record, and it means that we have made available the resources to ensure that the police can deliver on response times, on reassurance, on fighting crime, on reducing burglary and vehicle crime, and on making this country a safer place to live.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that probably the biggest single subject of complaints about policing is response times? Although she is right to point out that we have seen a massive increase in funding, does she, as a Greater Manchester MP like me, agree that it would be right and proper to have an objective standard against which to judge the police? The 10-minute response time should be measured against achievement, and if we could have those results published, police force by police force, division by division, we would be able to hold the police to account in a way that the public would appreciate.

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on performance. He will be aware of the push to drive up the performance standards of Greater Manchester police force. We are trying to reduce the number of best value performance indicators in the police because we want to free up forces to deploy their resources in the right place at the right time. It is important that they respond on time, but what happens as a result of their attending is also crucial. It is all very well to tick the box and say, "We were there in 10 minutes," but I am concerned to find out what happened when they turned up. For example, was the outcome good? Was the right number of officers sent to a fracas, or to the kind of incident that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) outlined?