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National Audit Office says Uplift is on target and well managed

But it also warns the £3.6bn programme has yet to deliver clear operational gains

Although the Home Office and National Police Chiefs’ Council are reported to be on track to meet the target of recruiting 20,000 new officers, concerns were raised by the official auditor on how the new recruits are being supported and whether claims of their impact on offending were credible.

The NAO review said the programme was on target and well managed with close co-operation between the Home Office Uplift team and forces.

Its core concern was that positive outcomes from the programme are quickly generating problems in other parts of the police and criminal justice system.

Plus feedback from forces has been that the decision to ring fence funding means they don’t have the flexibility to allocate resources.

The NAO revealed that a quarter of new officers who were signed up during the first year of the Programme had previously held roles in policing, such as Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), special constables or civilian staff.

The NAO said: “While this approach supported police forces to reach their recruitment targets comfortably, PCSO and special constable vacancies may now need to be backfilled to increase visible police presence in the community.”

Retention plus the lack of recruitment during the austerity era means forces will increasingly rely on an inexperienced frontline workforce. By 2023-24, 38% of police officers nationally will have less than five years’ experience (compared to 12% in in 2014-15).

All this means there is extra pressure on the PCs and Sergeants tutoring probationers. Tutor burnout is a live issue.

Chiefs told the NAO that tutor constables were 50% or less operationally effective when supporting new recruits, and none believed that tutor constables were able to undertake 100% of their routine activities while supporting new recruits.

The auditor criticised the Home Office for not factoring this in.

The NAO said: “An important part of a new police officer’s training is time spent being mentored by an experienced ‘tutor constable’, to develop their ability to patrol independently. The need to tutor an additional 20,000 officers over three years places pressure on the cohort of experienced officers who undertake this role.”

Its other big warning was direct to the Home Office not to over-spin the impact of the Uplift cohort.

“It takes at least two years for a new officer to complete their studies and training, and it will take time for these new officers to become fully effective in their roles. The Department [Home Office] has acknowledged that new recruits will not be fully effective until at least their third year and has adjusted the benefits it expects from the Programme to account for this.

The reported added: “The Department accepts that the evidence base for the Programme’s business case is limited. For example, it has made assumptions on officer effectiveness but acknowledges there are no data that can be used to validate these.”

Testimonials by students to Police Oracle about struggles with balancing study and frontline experience were borne out by the report.

It said: “They are studying for more than half of their first year, as well as learning how to be police officers. A third of the new recruits undertake three-year courses for their police constable degree apprenticeship and need time away for study and project work in their final year, so cannot be fully deployed until year four.”

Welcoming the report Home Secretary Priti Patel said:  "As we continue our work to recruit the remaining officers as part of this uplift, our Beating Crime Plan will give them the powers they need to stop crimes happening in the first place and keep serious offenders in prison for longer.

“The report is also right to show the work we are doing to ensure our police forces better reflect the communities they serve, with more female officers and officers from diverse backgrounds."

The Home Office said that retention of experienced police officers is a priority for the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council and that "voluntary resignation rates, at two percent, are low compared to other sectors."

It added that the uplift programme has modelled for attrition within its plans to deliver 20,000 additional officers  and  "at a national level rates of attrition are in line with expectations."

Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee is set to start an investigation into the Uplift programme next month.

Its key issues are:

Dame Meg Hillier (Lab), Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “More police doesn’t necessarily mean better policing. There remain challenges, such as ensuring the new recruits get the right training, experience and support to best serve all communities.”

“As my committee has recently highlighted – evaluation is key. The Department must understand how the increase in officers will actually reduce crime, improve community safety and affect an already creaking criminal justice system.”

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