Theresa May: Police on the beat a priority

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Indy Politics

Putting police back on the streets and slashing bureaucracy are among the Government's top priorities, Home Secretary Theresa May said today.

The Conservative Cabinet member said the new administration wants to put a "clear focus" on allowing police to do their job and get out on the beat.

She added that work will start immediately on establishing elected police commissioners, as well as setting a cap for non-European economic migrants.

Speaking after meeting officers on an estate in Clapham, south-west London, Mrs May said she was delighted with her new role and "very keen to get on with it".

She said: "As a new Government one of our commitments is to enable police to get out more on the streets and do the job they want to be doing and the public want to see them do.

"To do that we want to slash bureaucracy. We are absolutely clear that we want to slash bureaucracy and get more police out on the streets."

Mrs May was following in the tradition of new home secretaries by meeting local police officers and posing for photographs during her first days in post.

She met members of the Latchmere safer neighbourhood team, responsible for an urban area north of Clapham Junction railway station.

Flanked by Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, several officers and a community support officer she toured the Winstanley Estate, notorious for drug dealing and street robberies.

Mrs May declined to state whether her Government could guarantee police numbers will not fall but repeated that cutting paperwork will improve efficiency.

She said the new Government has put dealing with the financial crisis "at its heart" and believes it can respond to the public desire for more officers through more efficient practices.

Speaking about elected commissioners, she added: "We believe it is important to increase accountability for police forces and that is why we will be introducing directly elected police commissioners.

"One thing that is absolutely clear is that it is not to intervene or get in the way of operational independence of the police, but we believe greater accountability is necessary."

Mrs May said senior politicians will not be choosing a "figure out of thin air" for the new immigration cap, one of the Tory's key manifesto commitments.

She said: "There will be a process of looking into the factors we need to take into account."

Speaking about her appointment, she said: "What I am delighted about is that I have been appointed to this job and I am very keen to get on with it. There are significant challenges. There are key commitments."

Mrs May's Labour predecessor, Alan Johnson, met police on an estate in Pimlico, central London, after taking the job in June last year.

Jacqui Smith travelled to a housing estate near her home in Peckham, south-east London, after becoming the first female home secretary amid the London and Glasgow car bomb attacks of July 2007.

Sir Paul said he was pleased to be among the first to congratulate the new Home Secretary on her appointment and said they would meet within a week to discuss pressing issues in detail.

The Scotland Yard chief said he was looking forward to working with Mrs May on challenges including countering terrorism, securing the 2012 Olympics and tackling organised crime.

Asked what his priorities are, Sir Paul said he was "very keen" to see more uniformed officers on the streets despite the "constrained financial future".

He highlighted how the Metropolitan Police have asked officers to patrol alone, putting the equivalent of more than 400 officers on the streets of the capital.

Sir Paul said he would be a "very strange Commissioner" if he said he was happy about getting less money from central Government but officers must live in the "real world".

He said: "We know there is going to be real financial constraint and I have got to work with Government and the Mayor to make best use of what we have got."

Asked about elected police commissioners, Sir Paul said he had had a taste of the potential system through the appointment of London Mayor Boris Johnson.

He said: "They are talking about elected civilian oversight. I think policing is too important to be left to police alone. It must get effective oversight.

"We need people to define the arrangements in which we work, our strategic oversight, how we spend significant amounts of money and, above all, hold me to account."

Sir Paul said it was possible to "work through" concerns about how the elected role would work if politicians guaranteed the operational independence of police officers.