Government meets 20,000 police recruitment target but Met falls behind

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  • April 26, 2023
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ore than 20,000 new police officers have been hired in England and Wales – meeting a Conservative manifesto pledge – but Britain’s biggest police force missed its individual target.

According to provisional Home Office figures, a total of 20,951 extra recruits joined police forces in the past three years, in the wake of a Conservative election manifesto commitment to have 20,000 additional officers in post by March 2023.

Out of 43 forces, the Metropolitan Police was the only one to miss its individual target, falling short by about 1,000. It was tasked with hiring 4,557 new officers but had provisionally recruited only 3,468 in the period.

Seven police forces reported provisional figures that are at least 20% over their recruitment target.

Opponents previously claimed the Government was lagging behind its promise to replace thousands of jobs cut during austerity measures.

The figures suggest the target was reached only after recruitment was ramped up in the weeks just before the deadline.

Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley told MPs of his disappointment at missing the target, indicating the force’s current poor reputation was hampering recruitment.

Speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, he said: “We are 1,000 officers light of our target. I wish we’d hit it, but we haven’t.”

When asked why, he said there was a “range of factors”, adding: “Obviously we are striving to maintain the quality, that’s really important …

“The reputation of the organisation at the moment doesn’t help recruiting, but also the employment market and the pay situation is really challenging.”

Last year, Sir Mark said he was reviewing the force’s recruitment targets after questioning whether it is “wise” to hire thousands of new officers at speed.

It came after inspectors at police watchdog His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said problems at Scotland Yard had been exacerbated by the number of young and inexperienced recruits in the force as a result of the recruitment drive.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed the figures, saying the Government had “delivered” on its promise while Home Secretary Suella Braverman described it as a “historic moment for our country.”

During a speech in Westminster, she said: “(We) should be immensely proud of what we’ve achieved in the last few years.

“Many said we couldn’t do it but this is a police success, a Home Office success and a Conservative government success.”

But Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Conservatives of “taking the country for fools” and having “no grip on law and order”, adding: “They cut 20,000 police officers from our streets.

“Now they expect the public to be grateful for a police replacement programme that still leaves 6,000 fewer police out on the beat and 9,000 fewer officers in real terms compared to the last Labour government as the population has grown.”

The total number of new officers provisionally stood at 18,544 at the end of February, nearly 1,500 short of the target.

The sharp jump in headcount in the weeks leading up to the March 31 deadline represented the “largest month-on-month increase” since the recruitment programme began, the Home Office said.

“The majority of the increase over the latest quarter was seen in the month of March,” it added.

North Yorkshire had recruited 251 new officers as of March 2023 against a target of 194 (29% over) while Thames Valley recruited 784 new officers against a target of 609 (also 29% over).

Devon & Cornwall had a target of 469 and have recruited 600 (28% over); Northamptonshire’s target was 190 and they recruited 237 (25% over); Derbyshire had a target of 283 and recruited 351 (24% over); Avon & Somerset’s target was 456 and they recruited 558 (22% over); and Norfolk had a target of 224 and recruited 269 (20% over).

Concerns have been raised about the quality of vetting procedures and the risk of rogue officers infiltrating the ranks amid the recruitment campaign.

Former chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, previously warned the “sheer magnitude and speed” of the programme “inevitably carries risks”, adding that there is a “heightened danger that people unsuited to policing may get through and be recruited”.

The Home Office has insisted all recruits are subject to a “rigorous” vetting process and must meet national standards in order to be hired.

The department expected to spend £3.6 billion on the recruitment campaign by March, with a total cost of £18.5 billion over the next 10 years, according to Whitehall’s spending watchdog.

In June, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned the surge in additional officers joining police forces would “exacerbate pressure” on a criminal justice system which is “already under strain” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

It also said hiring police community support officers (PCSOs), special constables or police staff to fill the roles could lead to vacancies elsewhere in the service.