UK Politics

Theresa May: Police plans defeat 'will be reversed'

Newly-qualified police officers
Image caption Many police forces are freezing recruitment

The government will try to push through plans for directly-elected police commissioners in England and Wales - after they were defeated in the Lords.

Home Secretary Theresa May accused Labour peers of "sheer opportunism" and said the "great majority" of Lib Dem peers had supported it.

But 13 Lib Dem peers instead backed plans for appointed commissioners.

Meanwhile Labour has criticised plans to make long serving officers retire - saying they would not save any money.

The government suffered an unexpected defeat over its police commissioner plans on Wednesday night when peers backed a Lib Dem amendment saying they should be appointed - not elected - by 188 votes to 176.

Elections for the first commissioners, with the power to hire and fire chief constables, are planned for May 2012.

But senior police officers are among those to have raised concerns about the plans - which some have argued could politicise crime fighting.

'Deeply flawed'

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Media captionTheresa May: 'It was sheer opportunism from Labour peers in the House of Lords that went against Labour Party policy'

Mrs May told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that most Lib Dem peers had voted with the government and while they would "listen" to the debate in the Lords, she said: "I expect we will bring it back to the Commons and we will reverse the decision in the Commons because this is a coalition agreement."

She added: "The Labour Party has supported an element of direct election in terms of the oversight of the police. It was sheer opportunism from Labour peers in the House of Lords that went against Labour party policy."

But Labour say the plans are "deeply flawed", "un-British", will jeopardise the police's operational independence and should be ditched altogether.

The coalition's Spending Review set police budget cuts at 20% by 2014-15.

Mrs May was also asked about the Association of Chief Police Officers' claim that 12,000 police officer jobs will go, due to spending cuts.

She said cuts had to be made because of the need to tackle the deficit and said it was "right to look at pay, terms and conditions" of officers because pay made up 80% of police expenditure.

Proposals following a review by Tom Winsor were going through the usual police negotiating process, she said, adding it was important to have a "modern and flexible" police force.

But she said it was possible for forces to make "significant savings" through back and middle office savings without affecting front line services.

Cutting bureaucracy

She said: "People talk a lot about police numbers, as if police numbers are the holy grail. But, actually what matters is what those police are doing. It's about how those police are deployed."

She added: "We want police officers to be crime fighters, not filling in forms."

She said the government was helping cut police bureaucracy and helping forces make savings on things like buying IT systems.

Asked about the 12,000 figure, she said it was up to chief constables to decide how to structure their staff.

But her Labour shadow Yvette Cooper said Mrs May was "in denial" about job cuts and accused the government of taking "unacceptable risks" with public safety.

She also argued that plans to forcibly retire police officers with more than 30 years' service were "ludicrous" because they would not achieve substantial savings for years.

Thirteen of the 43 police authorities in England and Wales intend to use clause A19, compelling some officers with more than 30 years' service to retire, and it is estimated around 2,000 posts will go.

But Labour said other costs like police pensions and the loss of tax and National Insurance payments meant it would not result in substantial savings for ten years.

'Forced retirements'

A constable who takes a lump sum on forced retirement, would cost more than £100,000 in the first year, Ms Cooper said.

"The home secretary is in denial and refusing to accept the obvious," she said.

"It is her own 20% front-loaded cuts to the police that are responsible for 12,500 police officers and thousands more police staff being lost across the country.

"It is her responsibility that thousands of experienced officers are being forced to retire when they want to stay protecting the public and it is her responsibility that these forced retirements cost the taxpayer more not less.

The government says the same procedure existed under Labour, and chief constables take both the "efficiency and effectiveness" of their forces into account before using it.

A Home Office spokesman said: "There are no additional costs to using A19. Hundreds of police officers retire every year after 30 years of service."

Last week Sussex Police said 75 officers with 30 years' service could be forced to retire this year as the force seeks to save £52m by 2015.

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