Daily Mail: Police even more tied up by red tape

Monday, 16 February, 2009

POLICE are spending ever more time on paperwork and even less time on the beat despite repeated promises by ministers to slash red tape, it emerged yesterday.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will today unveil her latest initiative to reduce bureaucracy for officers with a pledge that it will save 260,000 police hours each year.

But figures show the shambles of red tape wasting an estimated seven million police hours every year is getting worse.

The percentage of time spent on paperwork has risen from 18.4 per cent of all officer time in 2005 to 19.7 per cent in 2007. Meanwhile, the time spent on patrol is down from 15.3 per cent to only 13.6 per cent, according to figures unearthed by Conservative police spokesman David Ruffley .

It is the equivalent of little over 65 minutes of an eight-hour shift being spent on patrol, protecting the public.

Even for specialist patrol officers, time spent on paperwork increased from 16.4 per cent in 2005 to 17.1 per cent in 2007, while time on patrol fell from 19.1 per cent to 17.1 per cent.

The figures blow a hole in a series of Labour promises dating back to 2002 when then Home Secretary David Blunkett promised a 'bonfire of the paperwork' to save an alleged 90,000 hours a year.

However, ministers are refusing to release figures for the time officers spent on patrol in 2008, which Mr Ruffley believes is because they are so desperate. The Home Office will provide a figure only for what it calls time spent on 'frontline policing' - a measure which includes time spent on taking witness statements and other paperwork associated with building a case file. Mr Ruffley says this is not a definition acceptable or understood by the public.

The Home Secretary will today publish an interim report on slashing bureaucracy by former Police Federation chairman Jan Berry.

Miss Smith will promise to save 260,000 police hours each year by immediately accepting Mrs Berry's suggestion to scrap a controversial timesheet which makes officers account for all their movements in any given 15-minute period.

But Mr Ruffley said: 'As Jan Berry's report Reducing Bureaucracy is about to be published it is a disgrace that after several years of publishing data on the amount of time that police officers spend on patrol, Home Office ministers now refuse to publish these figures at all. It's a cover-up.'

Ministers appointed the respected Mrs Berry as 'red tape tsar' last year, but one insider described her interim proposals as 'disappointing'. Officers fear it will do little to reduce their mountain of paperwork.

Miss Smith will separately accept recommendations by civil servant Sir David Normington designed to reduce by 50 per cent the amount of data the Home Office requests from the police.

Justifying the decision to release only information about time officers spend on the 'frontline', police minister Vernon Coaker said the time spent on patrol measure 'takes no account of any interaction between police officers and members of the public'.