Police bidding system ruled out by minister

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

The Government yesterday ruled out controversial proposals to make police forces compete with each other for funds, amid Labour accusations of one of the swiftest ever political U-turns.

David Maclean, the Home Office minister, described as a "non-runner" detailed recommendations by the consultants Price Waterhouse, commissioned by the Home Office to analyse new ways of distributing cash to police in England and Wales.

The accountants proposed a strictly limited bidding system under which forces would submit a case for cash from the overall national budget for "particularly cost-effective or innovative proposals that would not otherwise be affordable, or deal with exceptional one-off policing tasks".

The firm's report, which follows a request by the Association of Chief Police Officers for an independent review of a new police funding formula introduced six months ago, concluded that a bidding system would "lubricate" change and "stimulate efficiency and good practice".

Jack Straw, Shadow Home Secretary, attacked the proposals as a "dangerous Dutch auction" that would increase central control of the police. He said the "top-slicing" of the existing pounds 3.2bn central government grant to forces would mean many police budgets being cut to pay for a few successful bids.

"If just one per cent were top-sliced, police forces would lose pounds 32m currently earmarked for normal running costs, the equivalent of 938 police officers," Mr Straw said.

He warned that a bidding system would provide an "enormous temptation to ministers to tie successful bids into their controversial system of national targets for police forces which themselves have increased Home Office direction over local police".

Mr Straw said the scheme would introduce top-slicing for revenue and running costs, as opposed to capital budgets, for the first time.

He insisted Home Office officials had presented the report to a meeting with police authority finance representatives only last Thursday.

"There was not the least suggestion that this barmy recommendation was about to be ditched," Mr Straw said. "Indeed, why present the report at all if its recommendations were not under active consideration?"

Mr Maclean told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the report was nothing more than one of a series of suggestions that had been "spewing out" of Price Waterhouse.

"The police specifically asked for this report," he said. "But the police don't like it, I don't like it. We are not going to implement it."