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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Extra cash for fighting crime

The Home Office is to get more money to fight crime and deal with asylum-seekers.

The department's annual budget is to rise over the next three years to 13.5bn.

It follows some hard lobbying by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett. who needed to find extra cash for a range of law and order measures.

Some of the money will go to provice an additional 130,000 police officers.

The government is sensitive to criticism over rises in street crime in certain areas.

Beat bobbies

Forces like the Metropolitan Police in London are now targeting robbery "hot spots", but the government needs to demonstrate that it is getting to grips with violent crime.

Street crimes are a particular cause of anxiety among voters, and in addition to catching more offenders, ministers want to see robbery cases going through the court more quickly.

While such initiatives may be welcomed, voters have made it clear they want to see more bobbies on the beat generally...not just in areas with particular problems.

In addition to his recruiting drive, Mr Blunkett wants to push through controversial reforms of the police service.

The plan is to recruit more civilian support staff so that more police officers can be directed to front-line crime fighting.

Terrorist threat

And following the events of September 11, the government cannot afford to relax precautions against terrorism, including the threat from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Announcing the extra cash, the Chanecollor revived an old Labour election cry, pledging to "tackle crime and the causes of crime".

But it is clear that Gordon Brown will expect the Home Office to demonstrate that its measures are cost effective.

The injection of new money will also be used to bring about reforms to the asylum system.

In recent months, an influx of people wanting to start a new life in Britain has placed the system under strain.

In the first quarter of this year, 24,000 asylum seekers and their dependants sought a new life in Britain. In the same period, nearly three thousand asylum seekers were removed from the UK.

With tens of thousands of asylum seekers requiring financial support or accommodation, plus the legal costs of processing asylum applications, it has blown a hole in the Home Office budget.

Prison crisis

The Opposition said recently that costs were "spiralling out of control," and claimed the department was facing a cost overrun of 1-billion.

The Home Office says the time taken to process a typical asylum claim has been cut from 20 months to about a year, and Mr Blunkett is promising to "dramatically cut" costs.

Another headache, not mentioned by the Chancellor but on Mr Blunkett's mind, is the acute shortage of prison places. The inmate population has reached a record level of more than 70,000, and many jails are close to bursting point.

The Home Office wants to fund more prison places, much to the dismay of many penal reformers. The probation union, NAPO, says we are becoming the "bang-up" capital of Europe.

Prisoners have been bussed around the country in search of vacant cells, and the fear is that overcrowding could lead to prison riots.

Disturbances at a number of jails have already caused thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Also on the Home Office agenda are reforms of the court system, which will have to come out of the increased budget.

For all these reasons, Mr Blunkett was banking on a substantial injection of cash from the Chancellor.

And although he has won extra cash for now, it is by no means clear it will be enough to meet the growing demands on criminal justice system.

The government's plans for future spending are published on 15 July

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At the sharp end



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