Neil Parish calls for reduction in police bureaucracy
Neil Parish praises Devon and Cornwall police and calls for a reduction in the amount of bureaucracy surrounding every arrest to ensure we get “value for money” from our police.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I, too, want to quote the phrase “not in living memory”. Not in living memory have any Government inherited such a financial mess as we, this coalition Government, have. We have had to take spending decisions very seriously. Opposition Members have made the point that perhaps we ought to share the responsibility, but the point that should be recognised is that hon. Members all sides would have had to make reductions.
The Opposition paint us as though we do not care about our police forces, but that is wrong. Devon and Cornwall police force does a very good job with excellent officers, but we know full well that we cannot carry on borrowing £1 in every £4 that we spend. We also know that if we do not have a pay freeze for officers, we will have to reduce their numbers even further, because we would not be able to maintain even the current numbers.
We have to grow up and say what the coalition Government are saying: yes, police forces do a great job, but we can afford only a certain amount of money. The Labour party makes much of the fact that it spent huge amounts on new headquarters across the country, but they were not paid for there and then. They are being paid for now, and will be in the future, adding to public expenditure. All those points have to be reinforced, because we could not carry on as we had been.
It is right—my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) made this point—that it is down to the chief constables and police authorities in local areas to make reductions where they see fit. It is also down to the chief constables to ensure that front-line policing is maintained. I went out with my local police officers before the general election, and they said that if they make an arrest, they then have to do seven hours of paperwork. I hope that we are tackling that, and if we are not, I am sure that the Minister will tackle it, because there is no doubt that we can reduce bureaucracy and make much better use of police time. We have to accept that there is not the money in the Exchequer or anywhere else, whoever had got into power, because it was all wasted by the previous Government. That is why we have to take these actions. I would much prefer it if, instead of trying to pull apart what we are sensibly trying to do, the Opposition came to this Chamber with some genuinely concrete proposals for how we can move forward together.
I want to see as many community police officers out on the beat as possible. Indeed, every time the chief constable walked into a police station and found a lot of police officers there, would it not be a good idea—I know that some chief constables are doing this—if he asked why they were there and not out on the beat, policing and catching criminals, which is what we put them there for? There is a great deal more that can be done. There are many great police officers and very good police constables in this country, but we have to find the very best practices to get value for money. In the end, that is what it is about—value for money. The last Government were not about value for money; they were about throwing money around. Some of it went to the right places and some of it to the wrong places. Now we have to pick up the cudgel and make the money we have go further.
I look forward to the police looking at how they spend their budget. I think there is no need for big front-line cuts. If it is looked at dramatically and properly, we can police ourselves in the future very well. Yes, our constituents and the residents of our towns and villages are concerned about policing and crime statistics; they are always conscious of crime. Whatever side of the House we are on, we all know that. What the Government will do is ensure that they put the money in the right places so that policing carries on and we keep the crime statistics where they are and, hopefully, lower them in future, but at a rate that the country can afford, unlike under the last Government.