Gerry Steinberg MPIn the House...

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Reducing Crime: the Home Office working with Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (HC 147-i)

Public Accounts Committee 13 Dec 2004

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Evidence and Memoranda given by Rt. Mr Leigh Lewis CB, Permanent Secretary for Crime, Policing, Counter Terrorism, and Professor Paul Wiles, Chief Scientific Adviser and Director of Research Development and Statistics, Home Office.

Q12 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Mr Lewis, I expect a lot of my colleagues will pick up these points, because a lot of them hit you in the face, do they not? Before I start questioning you on the report itself, is it right that the total amount spent is almost £1 billion?

Mr Lewis: Yes, it is.

Q13 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): How many police on the beat could you have for £1 billion?

Mr Lewis: I am afraid I could not answer that question -----

Q14 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Of course you can! £1 billion - have you -----

Mr Lewis: I am simply not able, I am afraid, to do the mental arithmetic in my head that quickly, so I apologise to you for that, but I will let you have the answer. In a sense, your question is rather suggesting that these are either/ors, and I do not think they are. Of course, this Government believes that having more police officers is extremely important. We have more police officers now in this country than -----

Q15 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): This is not Prime Minister's Question Time, Mr Lewis. I have heard all these statistics before - it is okay. I just want to know how many police £1 billion would pay for on our streets, and I am really surprised you cannot tell me. If you could let us know, I would be very grateful. I am also confused by the report as well because, again, like Prime Minister's Question Time, we get bombarded with statistics. According to this report, the British Crime Survey informed us that crime has fallen since 1995 by 34%, yet the statistic given by the police is that for the same length of time, crime has risen. What is the truth?

Mr Lewis: I can certainly make a stab at answering that question, but I wonder if Professor Wiles, who is our expert in the department on this whole area, might like to take that question.

Professor Wiles: The issue here is how much you are looking at what has happened to overall crime. We have to take account of how much crime the public reports to the police, how much of the crime reported to the police is recorded by the police, and whether both those things change over time. Unless we understand that, then it is difficult to understand the relationship between those two numbers. The British Crime Survey, because it is based on what individuals and households tell us directly has happened to them, are not mediated through the propensity to report or record, undoubtedly gives us a more accurate trend for crime, as it affects households and individuals. I would stress that because, obviously, not all crime is against households and individuals, and adult members of the households, not children. There are limitations, but nevertheless that does give us a better trend line, and that is the first thing. The second thing to remember - and I am sure you are aware of this - is that there have been a couple of things that have happened to police-recorded crime which have changed the amount of crime that is recorded, irrespective of how much crime is actually occurring. The first is that we changed the counting rules quite early in the time of this Government to mean that relatively minor violence was now being recorded in the annual publication of crime statistics, whereas before it had not been - and that is also true of some lesser criminal damage as well. Secondly -----

Q16 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I only have ten minutes, so can you -----

Professor Wiles: Of course, I will try and speed up. Secondly, the Association of Chief Police Officers has put in a new national crime recording standard, which means that the police overall are recording more crime than it did in the past, especially minor violence and criminal damage. You have to take this into account when you are looking at those two figures.

Q17 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I am sorry, but I am still confused.

Professor Wiles: Crime has been going down for a longer period at a steeper rate than in the memory of anybody in this room.

Q18 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So why are the police saying they are getting more and more crimes then?

Professor Wiles: The police are not getting more and more crimes; they are recording more crimes that are being reported to them, and the public are reporting more crime than they used to in the past.

Q19 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I am totally confused, as I say. The police say there are more crimes occurring.

Professor Wiles: The police are recording more crime. Police-recorded crime shows an increase in some categories - and not all categories, by the way - burglary has gone down, even on police-recorded crime, since 1997 by 20% and vehicle crime has gone down 19% on police-recorded crime, since 1997. The categories of police-recorded crime have gone up on the two I identified early on - violence, particularly minor violence, and criminal damage. The British Crime Survey shows that violence is actually going down: more of it is being reported and more of it is being recorded.

Q20 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Right, let us move on. A lot of money has been spent, as the Chairman mentioned at the beginning, but a lot of money appeared to be wasted on administration that could have been spent on the chalk face. He mentioned the sixth point on page 2. He used the same words that are in the report itself, and I have picked those two words out as well as he did. It says: "Partnerships have too often 're-invented the wheel' by not using lessons learned elsewhere." Mr Lewis seemed to disagree with that to a certain extent. However, I do not know how you can disagree with that. You have had this report longer than we have had it, and before this report can be given to us you have to read through the report. If you did not agree with that, you would have said, "I do not accept that point". On the one hand, how can you tell the Chairman, or give the impression that you are arguing against the fact that that is in the report, and on the other hand agree to the report in the first place?

Mr Lewis: If I have given that impression, I have given a false impression because I am not querying the report in any -----

Q21 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So you think there is a lot of money being wasted.

Mr Lewis: No. Can I use my own words to answer your question, please? It is undoubtedly the case that we could and should have done more to reduce the costs of administration of this programme, and to spread good practice more effectively. I accept that entirely. The report says it; we accept it, and we are doing a lot. What I said to the Chairman was that we have actually done a great deal to improve the operation of these programmes - and I set out some of the things we have done. We are now doing more, and more effectively than ever before. I do think actually that it is right to set what is said on page 2 in context because the previous paragraph to that congratulates - not a word that the National Audit Office or the Comptroller and Auditor General uses lightly - the Home Office on the range and diversity of the projects and initiatives it is supporting, and says that there is no doubt that this programme has contributed to the continuing reduction in crime reported by the British Crime Survey. It is therefore right to set what follows in that context.

Q22 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): On page 18 of the report, paragraph 2.5, states that less than 50% of the projects have actually reduced crime. That is a dreadful statistic, is it not?? That seems to me to be a hell of a waste of money going on when you consider that we are spending nearly £1 billion - so half the projects - half a billion pounds are being wasted.

Mr Lewis: First of all, it refers to the fact that it contributed to a "demonstrable" reduction in crime or disorder, i.e., for some of the other 52% it may be that the underlying truth is that they will have contributed to a reduction in crime or disorder, but we cannot demonstrate it. This bottle can be either half full or half empty, as you want to look at it. You are looking at the bottle that is half empty, and I am looking -----

Q23 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): My wife tells me that all the time!

Mr Lewis: Indeed. I am looking at the bottle that is half full, which is that we support it -----

Q24 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): When she goes to buy a new coat, she always tells me I am looking at the bottle half empty!

Mr Lewis: Perhaps I should not have started with this analogy, but I will continue. I think that what we have done here is to support a wide variety of projects and initiatives, in the certain knowledge that when you do that you cannot expect that they are all going to succeed.

Q25 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Let us look at it half full, and 50% of the schemes have been very successful and you have reduced crime. When I read the report I thought they were all very local schemes, parochial schemes. I get the impression that they have been very successful in the first street, but in the second street, half a mile down the road, crimes are still taking place and more crimes will be taking place because of what has happened. The people who have been prevented or stopped from committing crime in the first street, have now moved to the second street a hundred yards down the road and are causing more trouble. How do you know you have not just moved it on a few hundred yards?

Mr Lewis: First of all, not all the projects by any means were targeted on geographical areas; some were targeted on different types of crime and so on. Secondly, that is to not give sufficient weight to the fact that in some key respects the learning we have achieved from these individual projects has contributed to very, very different national programmes and policies. The Prolific Offender Programme, to which I referred earlier in answer to the Chairman's question, I think is a very, very telling example of that, where the work started in Blackpool, under the Tower Project, supported by other programmes here, has led us to roll out a major national programme using the learning generated by that. If that programme is anything like as successful as we hope and expect it to be, it will turn out to have been a huge return on that investment.

Q26 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): The report also says, does it not, that the National Audit Office has done some research on statistics which find that any scheme costing less than £50,000 to bring in was an absolute failure; and yet you continued to fund these schemes. Why did you do that? If there are schemes that are failures because a lot of the resources being put in are not properly thought out and have not been evaluated properly - which, by the way, you go and do according to the report - properly evaluate the schemes - why or how do you let this continue and just waste resources?

Mr Lewis: I think we have learned from our experience over time. In the early days of the programme, when we were very much learning, we did think it was right to let £1,000 bloom and see what the results would be. Of course, government is often criticised, rightly, for only wanting to deal in big government and only wanting to support large programmes and large projects, and not be willing to support individual initiatives by local people which may not have a very large price tag attached to them but which can be very important. I do not think we should be too bashful of the fact that we supported some small projects under this programme as a whole that were not hugely costly. Equally, I do accept the report that the report makes, and which you make in your question, that you have to look that as a balance. If you support too many projects which are too small, it does become very difficult in any systematic way to evaluate them and draw the lesson. That is what we have learnt and so we have moved on to approach this in a different way.

Q27 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): The Chairman has been very generous: normally we have ten minutes and that is it, but he says he is prepared to relax it; but I am not going to exploit his generosity. All I would say is that I had the impression from the report that you did not even evaluate the scheme, so you did not even know whether or not they were successful. All you were keen on doing was doling out money to anybody who came along and said they had a scheme. You did not know if it was going to be a success; you did not know whether it ever was a success; all you were interested in was getting as many schemes as you could off the board and give them the money to get on with it.

Mr Lewis: No, I do not think that is a fair description of what is in the report or of the underlying reality. Professor Wiles heads the part of the Home Office which oversees our evaluation strategy as a whole and may want to comment in more detail but over the last two years alone the Home Office has published some 70 evaluation reports into the different aspects of our crime reduction programme; so that is not the mark of a department that does not believe in evaluation.

Professor Wiles: When the Crime Reduction Programme was initially set up, it was decided that we should spend 10% of each project on evaluation. It rapidly became clear that that was not a sensible strategy. First of all, the cost of evaluation does not necessarily relate to the cost of a programme. For example, it would have been madness to have spent 10% of the CCTV schemes on evaluation because they were big expensive capital schemes and it did not need anything like that to do the evaluation. Similarly, you would have to be careful because you can actually kill small projects by demanding too much from them so that they can be evaluated, or it could make it difficult. What we did try and do was to make sure that for all the projects we were carefully evaluating them in terms of the key crime outcomes. In other words, we were looking at crime figures for the area. We were looking at what you referred to earlier on, which was displacement. We were simply pushing crime around. That was one of the things we were particularly interested in looking at. As the programme has gone on, it has moved from a programme that was very concerned with innovation, to try things to find out if they worked, but as the programme has gone on we have become increasingly clear and focused on what you have been referring to, which is driving down the lessons of what we have learnt and making that the basis for what most people are doing. The balance has shifted from innovation and a lot of evaluation to a small amount of innovation and increasingly trying to get people to follow the good practice that the evaluation produced. That means that increasingly our evaluation has been focusing on those projects where we think there is an area where we know very little and where it would be very useful to know more; where a project seems to be innovative, and therefore especially useful; and where projects have been set up in a way that evaluation can be done, and we can know the results of the project compared to other things going on in an area and other schemes. The evaluation strategy has changed as the project has gone on, in order to match the changes in the programme itself.

Q28 Chairman: There are a couple of points arising from those answers, Professor. What has happened to violent crime in recent years?

Professor Wiles: That is one of those where we go back to the British Crime Survey or recorded crime. The British Crime Survey shows that overall violence since 1997 has gone down by 26%. What is interesting within that is that although overall violence has gone down, particularly domestic violence and acquaintance violence, stranger violence has been going up slightly. Overall the violence has been going down, but stranger violence has been going up within that mix. On police-recorded crime, there has been a significant increase for the two reasons I gave earlier on: we changed the counting rules, which meant that an awful lot more of minor violence has been recorded - and as you will know, almost half of all recorded violence does not involve any injury to anybody - it was that kind of violence that was drawn within the counting rules - and secondly the new national crime recording standard has also meant that the police are recording more of that violence. We have the British Crime Survey showing a reduction, and police-recorded crime going up. I am reasonably confident that overall the increase in police recorded crime is something that changes in counting rules and methods of recording.

Q29 Chairman: So we are living in a less violent society now!

Professor Wiles: Overall, but I would add one rider in exception to that: certain kinds of mercifully rare but nevertheless serious violence have been increasing. Homicide has been going up since the mid 1960s on a gradual increasing trajectory, and that is partly because of where it is together with the increase in stranger violence. Certain other kinds of very serious violence, the ones that may by sheer accident almost become homicides - i.e., medical care was not got there quickly enough - has similarly been going up.

Q30 Chairman: Arising also from Mr Steinberg's question, would you look at page 20, figure 13, which is an example of a project that was not of sufficient size to make a difference? Ashfield Partnership spent £24,000 on improving street lighting and £9,000 on improving the outdoor play areas for young people. Not surprisingly, it does not seem to have had a great deal effect on crime in Ashfield. Do you happen to know how much has been wasted on Ashfield Partnership introducing schemes that are clearly inadequate for the people there?

Professor Wiles: I do not, I am afraid, but can I put a slightly different view on that? First of all, we do have good systematic evidence from looking at a whole range of evaluations here and in other countries that improving street lighting does reduce crime. Spending money on reducing street lighting, even in these small numbers, was not necessarily -----

Q31 Chairman: Can we go back to this question about the extra Bobbies on the beat, or not necessarily on the beat? How about improving the outdoor play area?

Professor Wiles: Again, we have evidence that if you provide the facilities for children so that they are not running around the street, then that can help reduce low levels of crime, particularly antisocial behaviour. I do not think it necessarily follows that these were silly expenditures of money; there was evidence for both of them that it was a sensible thing to do.


Q91 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I worked out that if a copper costs us anything between £50,000 and £100,000 a year you would have on the beat between an extra 10,000 and 20,000 policemen which would be anything between 250 and 500 extra coppers in any police authority area in the country. That would have a significant effect compared to putting some lights up in Ashfield or wherever it was.

Mr Lewis: Thank you for doing the mental arithmetic that I was incapable of doing. I think it is too simplistic to say that we could have used this money and we could have had more police officers. Of course we could but that does not necessarily mean that the impact on crime would have been greater. It might have been less. Most police officers - and I spend an awful lot of my time with police officers - do not think that the whole solution to reducing crime in this country is simply having more police officers. They think there has to be a real involvement in the community. They do believe that things like CCTV, better lighting, alley gating and a whole variety of things such as those are really good.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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