Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Heald: On that basis, I am prepared to accept that formal consultation will be undertaken, so I need not press the amendment to a Division. However, I stress that we perceive as important the involvement of the front end—the officers who do the job—in a lot of these discussions. It is easy for someone high up in an organisation to think that introducing such training opportunities would be marvellous without bearing it in mind that an officer who could be on the front line may become unavailable because of that training. The officer may not feel that the training meets his needs. The point is made to me sometimes that training is not always as sharp as it might be. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 88 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 89 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 90

Setting of performance targets

Mr. Heald: The clause states that when

    ``an objective has been determined under section 88 and notified to the Authority, the Secretary of State may direct the Authority to establish levels of performance (``performance targets'') to be aimed at in seeking to achieve the objective...A direction given under this section may impose conditions with which the performance targets must conform...The Secretary of State shall arrange for any direction given under this section to be published in such manner as appears to him to be appropriate.''

One of the Opposition's concerns is that there should not be too many performance targets for the police training authority, and that it should not become subject to a huge amount of bureaucracy and too much monitoring.

Mr. Hawkins: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital not to repeat the nonsense that the Government have imposed on police authorities as a whole? He and I have repeatedly raised the issue in the Chamber. As the chief constable in Surrey has repeatedly complained, a sensible analysis is not possible if a police authority such as Surrey is given 58 performance targets by the Government.

Mr. Heald: Performance indicators have their place but there is no doubt that police authorities have been overburdened with performance indicators and targets during recent years. The original figure was as high as 58, although steps have been taken recently to reduce it.

Mr. Hawkins: Belatedly.

Mr. Heald: Yes. There is no doubt that if the system is overloaded with performance targets, the purpose of which may be beneficial, the effect on performance can be damaging, and it can cost a great deal of money in terms of bureaucracy.

On best value, which my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath mentioned, a range of indicators have been greatly criticised. For example, value performance indicator 131, which measures work on case files, is a political best value performance indicator. It is being forced on the police in order to allow Ministers to ensure that the early pledge in Labour's manifesto on young offenders is met. As the Minister will be aware, not only will that not be achieved—

Mr. Charles Clarke: The pledge was to achieve the targets over the course of a five-year Parliament. By March 2002, they will be met.

Mr. Heald: I always enjoy it when the Minister stands up to defend bluffly a position that we all know is totally flawed. Perhaps no one does it better. Anyway, it is certainly good value, although not best value. To call the process best value is an example of new Labour speak. It is certainly not good value for many forces.

The recent best value performance indicators consultation gave rise to a the following response from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions:

    ``There was some criticism of this indicator. The police have argued that performance in this area has more to do with the CPS than with the police. They point out that the indicator is overcomplicated and is not an issue of particular concern to the local community—the true test of Best Value.''

When we consider the sort of performance targets that may be set for the training authority, we must be careful that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. The performance indicator in relation to the police has an obvious political value. However, in terms of the work of the police and achieving an improvement in law and order and the police's ability to do the job on the front line—which everybody wants—it is not helpful to have unnecessary performance indicators that are driven by pledge cards and the like.

The consultation document states:

    ``Policy interests have stressed that we need to raise performance in this area and that, by having the indicator and by HMIC's interest in this... the attention of Chief Constables is focused on it''.

I do not know what you think, Mr. Gale, but I think that ``policy interests'' in this context means Ministers. We want to ensure, as far as is possible, that the setting of performance targets by the Secretary of State is done sparely—what is necessary but no more—so that we do not end up with a great deal of further bureaucracy being imposed on the authority.

I shall give an example of the sort of chaos that the best value regime is causing. Apart from its effect on local authorities, which has been extremely damaging, in the context of the police almost everybody agrees that it has been a bit of a nightmare. I think that the chief constable of Lincolnshire, Richard Childs, was the first to break cover on the subject when he said:

    ``in my force Best Value bureaucracy is costing over''

£4,000 a year—£40,000, rather; no, £400,000.

Mr. Clarke: £4 million.

6.30 pm

Mr. Heald: No, there is no advance on £400,000 a year. Richard Childs said that the police are

    ``in danger of sinking under a sea of targets and measures'' .

That was in his speech last year to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies.

The Police Superintendents Association has called for the number of performance indicators to be further reduced. The Association of Chief Police Officers says that the best value system should be made more manageable, and the Association of Police Authorities says:

    ``We are working hard to get the Home Office to reduce the number of Performance Indicators.''

Those comments all come after the Minister had somewhat reduced the initial indicators. A welter of police authorities and chief constables make similar points. Tony Butler, chief constable of Gloucestershire, has said that best value is costing his force £200,000. He recently said:

    ``do not tie us down with a bureaucratic nightmare which will not mean anything from one force to another''.

Mr. Clarke: On a short point of information, the training authority is not a best value organisation. Obviously, it will be expected to deliver value for money, but it is not a best value organisation. The hon. Gentleman's comparisons with best value situations are not valid for that authority.

Mr. Heald: I do not agree. My point is that in setting performance indicators and targets, the Government may have the best possible intentions, but the result can be a disaster of bureaucracy and over-regulation. Obviously, the best value regime is a good example of that, because under it there are certain principles and performance targets and indicators against which they are measured.

Jackie Ballard: Does the hon. Gentleman recall—I do, because I was a member of a local authority at the time—which Government were in power when performance targets were set for local authorities?

Mr. Heald: I do indeed, and I am proud of that. I am not in the least disconcerted by the hon. Lady's comment. I am proud that we introduced management techniques to local authorities and surprised some of them with what could be achieved. Some Conservative authorities have led the way in using modern management techniques. We introduced some of the principles that we are now discussing, and their effect was beneficial, but—

Mr. Hawkins rose—

Mr. Heald: I shall give way to my hon. Friend and come back to the ``but'' in a minute.

Mr. Hawkins: I want to stress to my hon. Friend that several local authorities—largely, as he says, Conservative local authorities—have made great strides in that regard. What is so damaging, as he rightly points out, is the additional cost of so-called best value. My local authority would say that that is the biggest misnomer in Britain's entire political history: best value has the completely opposite meaning to that of the natural meaning of the words. It is so far from plain English as to be Kafkaesque.

Mr. Heald: I agree with my hon. Friend.

The ``but'' to which I was coming was this: if we produce a bureaucratic system with far too many indicators and far too many people inspecting each other, instead of having a spare, sensible, efficient management system, we end up with the nightmare of best value, which is costing police forces a fortune. That money could be spent on putting officers on the front line, as it would be under our proposals. I do not want to speak at length about all the bureaucracy that Labour is producing. The Minister is nodding.

Mr. Clarke: I beg your pardon?

Mr. Heald: The Minister is nodding, so he must agree that I have been brief so far. The Bill is full of proposed new bureaucracy. Luckily, he has suggested today that two of the clauses will be dropped for that reason.

I shall give an example of what the police world is going through. In 1996-97, 62,172 officers were assigned to patrolling duties. By 1999-2000, that figure had fallen to 61,401, a reduction of 771 officers. An Audit Commission report showed that only 20 per cent. of the public were satisfied with the level of foot patrols, and that less than half the public were satisfied with the level of mobile patrols. Those figures were higher the previous year. One of the many reasons for that fall is the extra paperwork and bureaucracy introduced by the Government.

The Government always say that they are doing the opposite of what they are actually doing. They talk about best value, yet introduce a system that costs a huge sum to implement. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response and to have some assurances from him that the regime to be set up for performance targets will be simple. I hope that he can tell us how many such targets he has in mind and what they are aimed at. I want him to give us some satisfaction that the regime will not be another nightmare of red tape.

 
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