HL Deb 07 July 2003 vol 651 cc9-12

3 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are proposing to deal with the problem of retaining police officers in forces around London.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we share the concern that forces around London should be able to retain the services of experienced and skilled officers. We have worked closely with chief constables and police authorities in the South East to put in place a range of targeted measures to assist retention. We shall continue to work with forces to monitor the effectiveness of those measures and to consider any further steps that may be necessary.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, I draw his attention to the fact that the retention crisis in the South East is getting worse by the month, and has been worsening for nearly three years. It is of great concern to all chief constables that those leaving forces around London are the experienced, trained officers—firearms officers, experienced detectives and those with long service. The measures that the Government have put in hand have not yet worked. Do they have further proposals in mind to stem the crisis?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that there is a particular problem in the South East. We have long recognised that. The noble Lord asked me a Question some three years ago on this matter. It is for that reason that we have put in place a whole package of targeted retention measures. The happy story for the Thames Valley Police Authority is that in the past few years its numbers have started to rise. It has 135 more officers now than it had in March 1997. The noble Lord makes a good point about experienced officers leaving the service. For that reason we have put in place the 30-plus retirement scheme, which I understand is beginning to bear fruit.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that forces in the South East are in an uncomfortable position? On the one hand, there are the weighting attractions of the Metropolitan Police, and, on the other, the attractions of the lower cost of living of forces outside the South East? Will the Government consider extending the joint equity house purchase scheme that is currently available in the Thames Valley, Surrey and Hertfordshire to forces in Essex, Kent, Bedfordshire, Hampshire and Sussex?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the scheme was introduced only recently—in March this year—and, as I understand it, is proving to be of value. We shall keep this matter carefully under review. If appropriate, Ministers will no doubt want to give careful consideration to extending the scheme to other forces in the South East that have a particular problem with retention.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, are community police officers now an actual force on the ground in London, and, if so, how many are there? In earlier debates we referred to the need for recruits who are not fully trained but who will supplement the numbers.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that under the Police Reform Act we made available schemes for what were described as community support officers. That scheme has had a very successful start within the Metropolitan Police Service area. My understanding is that financial provision was made up to 500 additional police officers in the first instance.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, are the targets being achieved in terms of recruitment among the minority communities? Does he agree that that would go some way to assist in meeting the overall recruitment target for police officers in London?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness's last point. Yes, it makes a considerable contribution to recruitment and to ensuring that we reach the target numbers that we wish to reach for the police service as a whole. Although I do not have the statistics to hand, I know that we are making progress in increasing the numbers of ethnic minority members in the police service. I am happy to make the figures available to the noble Baroness at a later date and share them with other Members of this House.

Lord Elton

My Lords, having observed community support officers on duty on one occasion, my question is: should not some thought be given to making them look more like police officers and less like traffic wardens?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I believe that community support officers are offering a reassuring presence on the streets and are doing fine work. I take the noble Lord's point. The other side of the argument is that people have expressed the view that community support officers are one thing and police officers are another, and that they should not be easily confused.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, can I enlarge the Minister's geographical perspective by saying that the problem also exists in Wiltshire, which the Boundary Commissioners believe to be in the South West rather than in the South East?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am sure that Wiltshire Police Service is busy and active in recruiting new officers. Its statistics for the past two years indicate that they appear to be enjoying an additional number of police officers, in line with most other England and Wales forces?

Baroness Sharples

My Lords is not the issue of retention the most important part of this Question?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, is it very important that we retain experienced police personnel. I made reference earlier to the 30-plus scheme, which is now in its second phase and is proving very successful. As well as bringing in new recruits—and we are hitting and surpassing our targets—we also need to retain experienced police officers who have a great deal to offer the communities that they serve.

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