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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"This is the start of what is to become an extremely acrimonious debate on law and order"
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Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe
"There is precious little increase at all"
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Kevin Morris, Pres. of the Police Superintend. Assoc
"The police is an attractive proposition for many people"
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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Police recruitment jumps by 77%
Police recruits
Recruitment is up but how long will they stay?
Home Secretary Jack Straw has welcomed a 77% rise in police recruitment but conceded that police numbers dropped during Labour's first three years in power.

Mr Straw was speaking as Labour's record on the issue was criticised by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

New police recruits:
increase by region
London - 29.7%
South East - 50.4%
South West - 80.5%
Eastern region - 97.5%
East Midlands - 109.5%
West Midlands - 161.7%
Wales - 71.4%
Yorkshire and the Humber - 168.2%
North West - 87.1%
North East - 95.3%

Overall rise - 77%
Figures released on Monday show that in England and Wales recruitment to police training colleges rose by 77% in the past year, representing the largest boost for many years.

Mr Straw said: "What's happening on police numbers is that they went down from 1993 under the four years of the Conservative government and then they went down under the first three years of this government."

He blamed that on the state of the public finances when the Tories left power and said this forced Labour to limit spending.

"I got agreement from [Chancellor] Gordon Brown 18 months ago that we would put money into the police service to turn recruitment and retention figures around and also to deal with the problem of pay in the metropolitan areas and home counties," Mr Straw said.

The home secretary - who visited the Metropolitan Police service training centre at Hendon on Monday - praised the police forces that had worked to boost their recruitment levels.

Fighting fund

The new recruitment figures relate to the first year of the 450m Crime Fighting Fund introduced by Mr Straw to boost police numbers in England and Wales by 4,000 over three years.

The government had already pledged 5,000 additional officers in 1999 - but opponents said this recruitment would be more than outstripped by officers leaving the service.

The government insists the campaign is so far hitting its target, but the Tories say the increase only serves to make up lost ground.

Jack Straw
Jack Straw unveils promising new figures
Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said the government was comparing the new figures with "an all time low" in police recruitment.

"Having let the numbers of regulars fall and number of specials fall throughout their term of office they now suddenly turn round one month before an election and say 'oh look we've got record numbers'," she said.

The government's record on police numbers also came under attack from Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes, who said Labour deserved no credit for acting so late.

He said an increase in police recruitment was of little comfort to those who had been mugged or victimised by criminals.

"There has been inadequate funding for the police until last year," Mr Hughes said.

Successful campaign

Mr Straw revealed that around 7,000 recruits began police training college courses in 2000-01, compared with about 4,000 the previous year.

The boost follow the launch last summer of the first nationwide police recruitment advertising campaign, featuring celebrities ranging from footballer John Barnes to Falklands veteran Simon Weston.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said he was satisfied with recruitment trends, but suggested personnel numbers in London were still not up to full strength.

He said: "We need an additional 3,000 officers for London.

"If we can get those within the next three to four years, that will make a considerable difference to policing presence in London and it is not before time."

There has been inadequate funding for the police until last year

Simon Hughes
Elsewhere there is concern about retaining officers who complete their training.

Police Federation chairman Fred Broughton said: "We are still losing experienced officers we cannot afford to lose.

"How many of those officers come through the recruitment system is of concern to us.

"We all think it's going to take some time to restore us to the numbers we had six years ago."

Ministers say the increased level of recruitment is reversing a long-term decline in police strength.

But Conservatives say there remains the problem of retaining recruits, as well as tackling bureaucracy issues and low morale.

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See also:

16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Violent crime 'on the increase'
10 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Public losing confidence in police
27 Dec 00 | UK
Police adverts a success
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