Mark Hughes: A hard act to follow – especially with fewer police

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The Independent Online

The Conservatives have always seen themselves as the party of law and order, so these figures will be a bitter pill to swallow.

Ministers would have hoped that yesterday's statistics might show an increase in crime – allowing them to blame the previous government and giving them some cover if crime goes up in the face of public sector cuts. They didn't, and now the Government has the unenviable task of trying to cut crime which is already at its lowest for nearly 30 years, while at the same time cutting police force budgets. They know it will reflect badly if, after a period of Labour rule in which crime fell by almost half, offences start to rise again under the new Government.

Yesterday they reiterated their belief that crime is too high and must continue to fall. It will be a difficult balancing act. A survey has predicted that 60,000 jobs could be lost at police forces across England and Wales. If forces lose frontline police officers whose primary role is crime prevention, it is easy to see how a rise in crime could follow. Similarly, if fewer resources are available to properly investigate crimes, repeat offenders will not be caught and so will be free to commit more crime.

The Home Secretary says that currently we are getting only a partial picture of the amount of crime in the UK. She is promising to change the way the stats are recorded in order to reveal the full extent of crime.

The British Crime Survey, it would seem, is no longer respected by the Conservatives, despite it being the party that introduced the survey in 1981.

Yet the BCS – a questionnaire of 45,000 people – not only gives a more accurate picture of crime, it also allows us to judge perceptions of crime.

Most people have an inflated fear of crime. The BCS showed that people believe there is a one in six chance of becoming a victim of burglary. In fact it is one in 50.