Police dismayed at Clarke's plan for league tables

POLICE reacted coolly last night to the Home Secretary's announcement that league tables will be used to show which police forces perform best in such areas as crime detection, response to emergencies and the reduction of complaints.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said that the new competition would lead to fewer police officers on the beat. The Police Federation said that the idea was 'stupid' and would give the public a misleading impression of efficiency.

Announced by Kenneth Clarke at an Audit Commission conference, performance indicators for the police are the Government's latest move to make public services more accountable. They come after league tables for schools and hospitals.

Performance indicators for the police were first mooted by the Audit Commission last year and became part of the Citizen's Charter. But with crime dominating the domestic political agenda, Mr Clarke has seized on them as a chance to be seen to be taking steps to combat the problem and to enforce change on a reluctant force.

The service is facing a radical restructuring, with Mr Clarke studying proposals that could include reducing by half the 43 forces in England and Wales; replacing locally elected members of police authorities with nominees; and centralising funding.

Such root and branch change has prompted unprecedented attack from some senior officers.

It is also causing unusual alliances. Alun Michael, a Labour home affairs spokesman, was calling yesterday, in the Commons debate on crime, for the recruitment of more officers. He warned that offending would increase in the face of a demoralised 'front line'.

In all, 17 indicators will be drawn up by the Audit Commission, in consultation with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Acpo. The results for each force will be advertised in local newspapers by the end of December next year.

Mr Clarke said: 'The police do not want to rouse expectations, fail to deliver and lose public support. It is, therefore, an abiding duty on all of us in society to help the police define their purpose.'

Criticising figures quoted in recent reports in the Independent on low crime detection, Mr Clarke said: 'The figures we have are flawed and it is difficult to place too much reliance on them. Performance indicators will give us all figures we can trust.'

Tony Blair, Labour's spokesman on home affairs, said: 'We should not kid ourselves that the publication of information about policing is a substitute for a proper or coherent policy to fight crime which is woefully lacking at present.'

Challenging the outcry over police clear-up rates, Dr Barrie Irvine, a leading criminologist, argued that rising crime would inevitably produce lower detection rates.

Dr Irvine told a Brighton conference, Shaping the Future of Local Policing: 'As there has been no massive investment in information technology for the investigative process and cash limits have ensured no major increase in manpower, rising crime rates are bound to produce lower detection rates.'

Alan Eastwood, chairman of the Police Federation, said: 'We are fed up with being a political football. We are under the microscope at the moment.'

Charles Pollard, chairman of Acpo's quality of service committee, said the league tables could 'skew grass roots policing away from the bobby on the beat and lead to a more reactive, aggressive style of policing alien to the British people'.

John Major is expected to raise the issue of crime when he speaks at the Conservative Central Council meeting in Harrogate today. The Prime Minister will also develop a theme on unity, with an upbeat message on the economy.

Tories at Harrogate, page 8

Leading article, page 14