Opposition accuses Blunkett of flouting campaign rules

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Indy Politics

David Blunkett was accused yesterday of breaching rules that restrict government announcements during election campaigns by unveiling a £340m package to tackle crime.

The Opposition lodged a formal complaint with Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, after the Home Secretary used a Labour Party press conference the day before local authority elections are held, to explain how money allocated in the Budget would be spent.

The plans include £67m to tackle street crime in 10 areas where municipal polls are taking place – London, the West Midlands, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Thames Valley, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Merseyside, and Avon and Somerset. More details were given later in a Home Office press release headlined: "Budget boost to regions for street crime, counter-terrorism, policing and prisons."

The Tories claimed the Home Secretary had flouted the Whitehall rules, which say that governments should avoid "the announcement of sensitive decisions with a local dimension" in the three weeks before local elections. Crime has been one of the main issues in the election campaign.

The Opposition said the Government had cited the period of "purdah" as a reason it could not announce this week whether plans to build a new national stadium at Wembley would go ahead.

David Davis, the Tory chairman, said: "This is a serious breach of the rules about fair elections, which guide such announcements, and it is a misuse of government power."

But an unrepentant Mr Blunkett said: "Because they are not specific to local authority areas and do not have a direct relationship to the local government vote, they are not caught by purdah." Downing Street said: "The Home Office chose not to issue the details to regional press officers because it was conscious of the purdah rules. It is a national issue and a national policy."

Under the announcement, hundreds of civilian security guards employed by the police will be on the streets of London by the end of the year. Scotland Yard has been allocated £15m to spend on the scheme.

The money will pay for 300 to 500 community support officers (CSOs) who will be paid about £18,000 each and will help to patrol the centre of London on anti-terrorism duties.

The Home Office wants to give the officers new powers to search vehicles and bags and detain suspects in the Police Reform Bill, but the House of Lords is blocking the plan.

Until the legislation is passed the CSOs will have only the power of citizen's arrest and will report any suspicious activities to fully qualified officers. The Metropolitan Police believes the civilian officers will help provide extra security and public reassurance at a low cost. Other forces are expected to hire their own support officers and the Home Office has put aside £36m to pay for them.