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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Move to 'nationalise' police denied
street crime scene
A few areas account for most street crime
The government has denied it is trying to "nationalise" the police under a scheme which requires chiefs to report to ministers about street crime.

Chief constables in 10 areas of the country with the worst street crime records have been asked to report to specially-appointed government ministers.

The briefings on what progress is being made against muggings and street violence are sent to 10 ministers who make up the Street Crime Action Group.

Statistics show 80% of street crime is committed in the 10 areas involved in the group - launched by Home Secretary David Blunkett in February - with more than 78,000 street robberies reported last year.


It has not been us imposing, it has been a consensus

Prime Minister's spokesman
Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin has accused the government of seeking to "nationalise the police forces of England and Wales".

However, the Home Office insists the initiative is not designed to take operational control away from the individual forces.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said the reporting arrangements were not forced on the police, but were agreed at the street crime summits held in Downing Street,

He said: "Any actions in terms of co-ordination have been specifically at the request of the people who have been at these meetings.

"It has not been us imposing, it has been a consensus.

Best practice

"They are supplied in order to monitor what's going on, in order that forces can share best practice."

He added: "The idea that ministers should be involved in talking with local forces was agreed at these meetings.

"Individual ministers do not have the power to instruct or direct local police forces or any other agencies."

Mr Blair has chaired several meetings of the action group, which was set up to target the steep rise in muggings and street violence.

Mr Letwin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "David Blunkett has been trying to legislate to give himself powers to nationalise the police forces in the Police Reform Bill, and we have been trying to block that, so far successfully, in the Lords.


We do not have one national police force; we will not agree to one - by the front door or by the back door

Simon Hughes
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman
"What this indicates is that the government has been trying to find informal means of doing rather similar things.

"And the danger of that is a huge centralised bureaucracy running the police forces rather inefficiently and with some danger in the long run of compromising the tradition of complete operational and political independence of the police forces."

However, a Home Office spokesman said: "Operational independence remains with the police, absolutely. There is no question about that.

"It was agreed early on and collectively at the Street Crime Action Group meetings, at which the police are represented, that forces would submit weekly reports."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said the move was "just unacceptable" as there were "quite enough places for the police to report to".

He added: "The government has huge powers and influence over the police already.

"But we do not have one national police force. We will not agree to one - by the front door or by the back door."

Ministerial visits

Each of the ministers involved in the action group - from John Denham to Lord Falconer in the Home Office, and others in housing, art, education and health - has visited the areas involved.

Their discussions with chief constables have centred on different ways of trying to cut street crime.

The action group has previously floated ideas such as docking child benefit from the parents of truants and the stationing of police officers at school gates at the end of the school day.

A scheme introduced in New York where police chiefs made regular reports on crime patterns led to a dramatic fall in street crime.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Home Office minister John Denham
"We are making sure the whole system works well"
Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin
"Let's let the police forces exercise resources in a way that answers to need"
Rick Naylor of the Police Superintendents Assoc.
"It is quite right that police are held to account for their performance"
See also:

14 Feb 02 | UK Politics
15 Jan 02 | Europe
18 Dec 01 | UK Politics
03 Jul 01 | UK Politics
16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
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