David Blunkett has been set an unprecedented target of cutting crime levels by 15 per cent over three years in return for receiving an extra £4.2bn in the spending review.
Much of the Home Secretary's extra money will go on quadrupling the number of civilian police wardens (CSOs) to patrol streets, while prison place numbers will increase by about 1,500. Never before has a Government committed itself to an across-the-board reduction in crime. The closest before was when Tony Blair announced a drive in 2001 to reduce muggings in street crime "hotspots".
More than 5.8 million offences were recorded by police in 2002, although the British Crime Survey estimates the true figure to be 12.3 million; whichever baseline the Home Office uses, it faces a challenge to achieve a 15 per cent reduction. The target, and the above-inflation increase in the Home Office budget, reflects Government fears that its performance on law and order could be its biggest problem at the election.
It will also be seen as the price that Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has extracted in return for a relatively generous spending settlement after bruising negotiations between the Home Office and the Treasury. A Home Office source said yesterday: "The Chancellor has put everyone through the mill ... he has been looking for real and positive results for the money."
He insisted the target could be achieved as crime levels had already fallen by 25 per cent since 1997 and said Mr Blunkett was happy to be judged by his performance against the yardstick. The Home Office budget will rise from £12.7bn this year by £500m in real terms next year, by £1.5bn in 2006-07 and by £2.2bn in 2007-08, representing a cash injection of £4.2bn over the three years and an average 2.7 per cent annual increase.
The number of CSOs will rise from the 5,000 to 20,000 by 2008. Their main role is to deter low-level offending, such as drug-dealing, vandalism and graffiti, that many Labour MPs report is their biggest problem locally. The Home Office has not given a clear commitment to boost the number of police officers, currently standing at a record 138,000. But it argues that the rapid expansion of CSOs will free police time.
With the prison population already at 75,000, some of the extra cash will go on creating another 1,500 places. But it was not clear whether they would be found in extending existing prisons, building new ones. The review will also provide for additional police IT systems to meet the recommendation of the Bichard inquiry into the Soham child murders and extra cash will also be spent on getting offenders off drugs.
The Home Office is also making savings on its immigration budget as the number of asylum-seekers falls. By 2008 it should be spending £450m-a-year less.
Total spending on the three criminal justice departments - the Home Office, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Attorney General's Chambers - will increase by £3.5bn by 2007-2006, compared with this year.
Spending in 1996-97: £6.5bn
Spending in 2002-03: £11.1bn (Increase in spending by 70.8 per cent)
Civil servants: 23,480
Future spending: Receiving an extra £4.2bn over the next three years, with its budget rising from £12.7bn to £14.9bn in 2007-08.
Where the money will go: The number of civilian police wardens will be quadrupled from 5,000 to 20,000 and 1,500 extra prison places will be made. Extra money will be allocated to set up police IT systems following the Soham murder inquiry and on anti-drugs schemes.Reuse content