Straw to axe costs in Home Office review

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The Independent Online
Immigration controls will be included in a fundamental review of spending by the Home Office to be announced by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary. A leaked document shows it will be the must fundamental review of police, criminal justice and prison services in decades.

The "zero-based" scrutiny is part of the Treasury's review of spending across all Whitehall departments but it could go further by asking far- reaching questions about crime and punishment. Areas to be covered include the prison service, the size of the police grant, asylum processes, the probation service, immigration controls, and the treatment of mentally disordered offenders, the support and service given to victims of crime, the juvenile secure estate, emergency planning and community punishments.

Officials are being ordered to see if there are procedures that can scrapped, scaled down or delivered more cheaply. Alternatives to prison are likely to be pushed forward, opening the Home Secretary to criticism by the Tories that the Government is in danger of giving higher priority to cutting costs than punishment through prison sentences.

The police will be dismayed by the disclosure that the review could put back on the agenda the shift of thousands of tasks to civilians. The Police Federation fought off that plan under the Tories, and will be quick to oppose any attempt to revive it.

The document says the Home Secretary did not intend to publish the list of areas to be covered by the review, when he announced the terms of reference for the review. "Subject to that, we propose to adopt as open a review as is permitted by the timetable," says the internal memorandum. Last night the Home Office said it did not comment on reported leaked documents but a spokesman confirmed Mr Straw was planning to make the announcement "soon".

The findings are to be delivered by officials to ministers by autumn for decisions by March, when the Chancellor delivers his next Budget. The fundamental review across Whitehall is supposed to have an 18-month deadline, but there are signs Gordon Brown may be seeking to make earlier savings.