HC Deb 16 June 2003 vol 407 cc18-20
10. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

What assessment he has made of the effect of community safety wardens on reassuring vulnerable groups in the community about fear of crime. [119020]

11. Ian Lucas (Wrexham)

What steps he is taking to gauge the effect of the introduction of community support officers. [119021]

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

We have received a good deal of anecdotal information from a wide variety of sources, including letters from members of the public, which have told us that community support officers are having a positive effect in our communities by providing a visible and reassuring policing presence. Funding for CSOs includes a requirement for formal evaluation to be undertaken locally. The 27 forces from the first funding round are due to give us their initial findings by the end of September.

Mr. Marsden

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on her arrival in the Home Office, and thank her for the eight CSOs that we currently have in Blackpool and the further five that we are likely to get in the area in the next couple of months. Having recently spent an evening on the beat with my local police, I was particularly impressed by the way in which CSOs were being used to tackle antisocial behaviour in Blackpool, particularly through the confiscation of alcohol. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the crucial roles of CSOs is to reclaim the streets, especially to the benefit of older people and small businesses in the areas affected by antisocial behaviour, so that as a result of their presence there is a much greater sense of community solidarity?

Ms Blears

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his warm welcome to my position. I am delighted that he has taken the initiative to go out with his local force and see for himself the situation on the ground. I am sure that a number of other Members have taken a similar step. My hon. Friend is right that Lancashire, his police area, got 72 community support officers in the first round and another 35 in the second round. As street crime Minister for Lancashire, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the people who have taken up those roles, and I can say that they are making a tremendous impact on their communities. People welcome a strong, visible presence on the streets to make them feel safe, and they know that the Government are determined to make sure that we support people in communities to reclaim our streets and make communities safer.

Ian Lucas

Regrettably, North Wales police was one of the forces that did not apply to supplement the high level of policing already in the area with the addition of community support officers. I know that the funding arrangements favour forces that were wise enough to make applications when the scheme first started. Will the Home Office, and my hon. Friend with her new responsibilities, please reconsider those funding arrangements, to try to encourage the chief constable of North Wales and the North Wales police authority to take larger steps along the route of employing CSOs in the future?

Ms Blears

Yes. My hon. Friend will be aware that there was an application from North Wales police for community support officers, and that they have been targeted in the Rhyl priority policing area. That is the decision of the chief constable. Clearly, there are funds available and we will have further rounds of community support officers. We want to encourage forces throughout the country to consider how they can get CSOs on the ground, helping their police forces to deliver improved community safety for everybody in our communities. I am happy to give my hon. Friend the reassurance that we will try to encourage his area and others to apply.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I warmly congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment and wish her success in executing her responsibilities. Given that there might well be many people around the country, not least within the Aylesbury Vale district council area, of which my Buckingham constituency forms a part, who welcome the idea of community support officers but who face the prospect of being denied such a provision in practice, what assessment has she made within the past 72 hours of the transparency, consistency and objectivity of the criteria for allocation?

Ms Blears

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has undergone something of a conversion. Reading the debate on the Police Reform Bill last year, it was apparent to me that the Opposition were lukewarm about community support officers. Now that they have seen that they are such a success on the ground, they would like to have them everywhere. I can tell him that I will be looking at the allocation criteria.

The Opposition may not have supported CSOs, but they are hugely popular throughout the country. Some of the comments that I have had from the Rhymney area include one from John Vaughn, aged 73, who said: I would say that having the officers patrolling our estate will give us more security, and I think that I will sleep a bit better at night. Elderly residents say that they can now go out in the evenings, which they could not do before. The introduction of CSOs is one of the most successful policies that the Government have implemented. I am delighted to welcome the hon. Gentleman's support.

Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Although community support officers might give people some reassurance, it must be accepted that they have no powers. What most people want is more police on the beat and, to reassure them about crime levels, when they report a crime, they want a policeman to turn up. Often, when people ring the station, it says that there are not enough officers on duty to attend the scene of the crime.

Ms Blears

I also welcome the hon. Lady's conversion. In the past 12 months, police numbers, not community support officer numbers, have risen by 4,337—the largest rise for 27 years, in a 12-month period, in the number of police officers on the ground. It is this Government who have been prepared to put in the resources, together with reform, to ensure that we can provide increased community safety for the people whom we represent.