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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Transport police 'cash-starved'
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MPs have raised a series of concerns about the treatment of the BTP
The British Transport Police have been starved of cash - and deprived of the tools they need to do their job on Britain's railways, say MPs.

The Commons transport committee accused the government of being "insufficiently bold" in its handling of the BTP.

The MPs also called for clarification over the force's pension fund which they said could have a deficit of 40m.

Committee chairman Gwyneth Dunwoody said: "It seems ridiculous the British Transport Police is under funded."

'Unwieldy'

In their latest report the select committee say the issue of funding the BTP should be included in a major review of the rail industry.

The MPs were particularly critical of the "unwieldy" way rail operators paid for the force in the wake of disputes that have seen some firms withholding funding.

The needs of the British Transport Police were overlooked at privatisation; the force must not be overlooked again in the government's current rail review
Gwyneth Dunwoody
And they attacked budget cuts that could see a reduction in the number of officers in London.

They also criticised moves by some rail firms to scrap cheap travel for some BTP staff.

"It is vital we have an efficient, effective force to keep our rail system safe," the report concluded.

"The railways are a specialised environment with specialised needs and need a specialised force.

"The force has been rightly expected to demonstrate the same standards and expertise as a county force but it has been left under funded and without all the tools it needs to carry out its task."

Fund disparity?

Ms Dunwoody said: "[BTP] is expected to keep in line with Home Office forces but has no automatic access to funding for the many new initiatives brought forward.

"The needs of the British Transport Police were overlooked at (rail) privatisation; the force must not be overlooked again in the government's current rail review.

Gwyneth Dunwoody
Ms Dunwoody chairs the influential Commons transport committee
"It is time to ask hard questions about the consequences of the rail industry funding railway policing."

On the pension issue, the MPs said they had been shown evidence the scheme might be in deficit to the tune of 40m.

That is despite a previous assurance of former transport minister John Spellar that it was in surplus.

The report said: "If a mistake was made it is hard to imagine one that could be more serious: when the House considers legislation it needs real facts and it needs to have confidence that the information given by ministers is accurate and up to date."

Transport Minister Tony McNulty criticised the committee for not taking evidence from the government, adding that most of the report's findings were already being dealt with.

And although he confirmed that the pension fund was in deficit, he denied a cover-up saying Mr Spellar had been referring to the figures available at the time.

'Surreal'

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "I announced back in March, prior to the committee taking its evidence, that we were, as part of the wider rail review, looking in full at what the BTP force is for, what its capabilities are and should be and how they should be paid for.

"The select committee should have been more aware of that."

Labour's Brian Donohoe, who is a member of the committee and a BTP special constable, said: "It is almost surreal that you have the only truly national force and it's not got the same powers as other police forces.

"You have got to restrict yourself to the premises of a railway station or an underground station or on the trains."

Tory transport spokesman Theresa May meanwhile said she supported the transport committee's call for the BTP's funding to be included in the rail review.

"We all need to know that everything possible is being done to ensure the safety of rail passengers."




SEE ALSO:
New mobile police unit launched
22 Apr 04  |  London
Backbench rebels defeat Blair
08 Jun 04  |  Politics


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