Howard blows cool on police 'privatisation'

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

The Home Office was accused of a "huge climbdown" yesterday after an 18-month government study concluded that no major police functions should be hived out to the private sector or local authority control.

The Home Office review of the police's role suggests instead that a number of minor activities could be carried out by civilians in the future.

The report, full details of which were disclosed in the Independent last month, also recommends that more crimes, such as car theft, some burglaries, theft and vandalism, should be dealt with on the telephone.

The 26 proposals - none of which are expected to be implemented for about a year - include the escorting of wide loads on motorways; the control of stray dogs; escorting illegal immigrants for deportation; dealing with some forms of noise pollution; and delivering court summonses and issuing warrants.

When the review of police core and ancillary tasks was set up, the police feared the Home Office was attempting to cut costs by removing many of the force's "social service" functions and limiting it to catching criminals.

Yesterday's publication is privately seen as a victory for police negotiations and lobbying. They are delighted that only minor tasks are likely to move from their control, most of which they are pleased to lose.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, yesterday defended the review and denied his department had caved in to pressure from the police. He said: "I do not want and do not intend to turn our police into a hard-faced, narrowly-defined law enforcement agency."

He wanted to "maintain the human and humane face of British policing".

Jack Straw, Labour home affairs spokesman, said yesterday's report was a "huge climbdown by the Government". He added: "This exercise was established by Michael Howard to privatise by the back door large parts of the police service. But the British police are not for sale."

He was concerned about the plans to privatise immigration escorts and give "civilian jailers"powers over immigrants.

Police involvement in finding children missing from local authority-run homes, and informing crime victims of court case results are among other tasks under review.

The review recommends more stringent measures for dealing with false burglar alarms, with the possibility of introducing charges to cover the cost of maintaining keyholder lists.

It also calls for the consideration of moves to make it a legal obligation to include crime prevention measures in new housing developments.

The review was welcomed by John Hoddinott, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who said it "maintains the enduring qualities of British policing". The Police Federation, which represents rank-and- file officers, gave the review a cautious welcome.