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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK

UK Politics

Tories promise more police

Tories say police numbers have declined alarmingly

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe has committed a future Tory government to increase the number of police officers.

In a speech to the Police Superintendents' Association annual conference, Miss Widdecombe said there had been alarming decline in police numbers under the current government.

There were more than 1,000 fewer officers under Labour, she said.

[ image: Ann Widdecombe says she would at least restore police numbers to previous levels]
Ann Widdecombe says she would at least restore police numbers to previous levels
Miss Widdecombe accused Home Secretary Jack Straw of being tough "on the crimefighters" rather than on crime.

But she insisted her party would change that.

"I am authorised by William Hague and by the shadow chancellor who will have to pay for it," she told the gathering in Chester.

"We believe that so important is the role of the police, and so important is the maintaining of public confidence in the police, that we will make sure when we return to power of increasing police numbers at least back to the numbers they were when we left power.

"We will need some advice from you as to the best way in making recruitment attractive, but we will make sure we also have the resources to do so."

'Ethnic recruiting worthy'

Miss Widdecombe said she believed moves to recruit more officers from ethnic minorities was "very worthy" and particularly important in the inner cities.

[ image: Miss Widdecombe says she wants more officers from ethnic minorities]
Miss Widdecombe says she wants more officers from ethnic minorities
But she added: "When you are not recruiting full stop and you are not retaining, get on top of that problem before you start sophisticating recruitment."

During her speech, Miss Widdecombe referred to the issue of traditional police services being delivered by other bodies, although she stressed this should not be mistaken for privatisation.

"Nobody says 'Dad, I want to join the police force and escort wide loads'.

"They say 'Dad, I want to join the police force to fight crime'."

Miss Widdecombe said the challenge was establishing which traditional police functions could be delivered by other bodies and which must not.

She said forces across the country were facing massive problems as a result of the "government's funding fiasco".

"Between 1979 and 1997 police funding increased on average by over 3% each year. Labour's increases are 0.1% this year and 0.3% next year. I think these figures speak for themselves.

Young offenders

Miss Widdecombe also detailed plans, announced by Tory leader William Hague earlier on Wednesday, to double the number of Secure Training Centres for persistent young offenders to 10.

She outlined the "rewards and penalties" in the system, which would be "hard-edged" but "utterly constructive".

"Rehabilitation has never been a soft, wet, liberal option to me. It's a tool of protection," she added.

Children aged 12 to 15 admitted to the centres to serve a flexible term would gain early release for satisfactory achievement, she said.

To give young offenders the "maximum chance", their record would be wiped clean following two years of good behaviour following release.

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