§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
I announced on 20 December 1990 that I had approved 18 additional police posts for South Yorkshire with effect from 1 October 1991, subject to confirmation from the police authority that it is prepared to meet its share of the costs of those posts. Any application that the authority makes for our approval to further establishment increases will be most carefully considered.
§ Mr. Duffy
Will the Home Secretary confirm that those 18 posts did not meet the application of the South Yorkshire police? Given the findings of the Sheffield Star, which I conveyed to him through the post in recent days, about the erosion of the fabric of the South Yorkshire police force, does he agree that those 18 posts do not meet the needs of that police force either? Will he confirm that, during the November inspection, South Yorkshire came out as the least resourced but the most productive of the family of six forces? My hon. Friends and I know what the problem is—it is not the Home Secretary, but the Department of the Environment. Will the right hon. Gentleman seek a firm assurance from the Department of the Environment that it will not allow the capping criteria to prevent the South Yorkshire police from manning up to his standards?
§ Mr. Baker
The South Yorkshire police asked for a further 50 police officers and we allocated a further 18. However, as I said in my main answer, it may be possible to increase that number later in the year. I am concerned that police services are maintained at a proper level. The level of budget of each authority is not my responsibility. With the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, I have set out the criteria according to which the police authorities should set their budgets. In a letter to Councillor Bundred on 18 February, I stated:It is now for each authority to set its budget. In doing so, it should take into account all relevant considerations, including its statutory duties, the approved level of police manpower, the Government's intended capping criteria, the need, as appropriate, for expenditure restraint and the scope for greater efficiency.
§ Mr. Shersby
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if South Yorkshire encounters difficulties over its police manpower, he will be willing to consider whatever representations South Yorkshire police authority may make on that important point?
§ Mr. Baker
I will, of course, undertake to do that. As I have said to the House before, I have provided for an increase in police resources for the country as a whole in the coming year of 700 uniformed police officers and 1,100 civilians. However, I am well aware that hon. Members are interested in their own police forces and I can give my hon. Friend the undertaking for which he has asked.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Is the Home Secretary aware that the South Yorkshire police authority told me on Friday that, far from expanding to meet its new establishment, it will be cutting the number of officers because of poll tax capping? How many other police authorities are similarly afflicted? Will the Home Secretary confirm the estimate given by the 449 chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, that poll tax capping is likely to mean 1,700 fewer police officers than last year?
§ Mr. Baker
That is highly unlikely. It depends on whether the authority is a multi-purpose authority or a single service authority such as South Yorkshire. Within that context, I expect metropolitan police authorities to set their budgets to maintain operational police manpower at the level that I and my predecessors have approved. I do not expect that to be done by moving police officers into posts held by civilians. I expect police officers to pursue vigorously a policy of streamlining administration, cutting out waste and maximising value for money.