The department must hire another 6,500 officers by next March to reach the target, which could be hampered by an increasingly competitive employment market and a decline in public trust in policing, according to the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The PAC criticised the programme’s focus so far “on getting people through the door” without setting out how the new officers’ impact on crime will be assessed.
MPs on the powerful committee also expressed concern that the way new recruits are assigned to forces, a process which is “out of date by at least seven years”, does not give the forces what they need to respond to the demands they face.
The PAC highlighted a “pressing need to reform aspects of police culture and make forces more representative of the communities they serve”.
The committee also questioned the capacity of the criminal justice system to handle a rise in criminal prosecutions that could stem from a higher number of officers.
PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier said: “If the Home Office does hit its target of 20,000 new police officers by March 2023, the PAC will be delighted to be able to recognise a programme delivered on time, and see Government learn lessons for other programmes.
“But it appears this success will only be on the narrowest metric of numbers through the door – the process for assigning which force’s door these recruits go through is years out of date and the exercise does not appear to have progressed the urgent need to make forces more representative of the communities they serve.
“If the promises of this recruitment are met, there will be a substantial increase in the number of criminal prosecutions brought before the courts which PAC recently reported are already facing a record and worsening backlog of cases.
“The Home Office and the wider criminal justice system do not yet seem to fully understand the extent of this impact and the serious risk it poses to any promised gains, in terms of cutting crime and increasing public safety, from the increased police numbers.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are pleased to see the committee recognising the success of the manifesto commitment to recruit 20,000 more police officers, with over 13,500 additional officers already recruited in forces across England and Wales.
“We will now review the recommendations provided by the committee and respond in due course.”