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Conference 2010 - Minister's Speech
LORD FAULKNER'S SPEECH TO THE BRITISH TRANSPORT POLICE FEDERATION'S ANNUAL CONFERENCE, YORK, 3 MARCH 2010
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen.
It's a great pleasure to be here this morning. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for inviting me to address your annual conference. Last year you invited Andrew Adonis to do so. Within a matter of months, he had been promoted to Secretary of State. Appearing at a BTP event is clearly more of a help to a Ministerial career than some might think.
When Andrew Adonis was here last year, he was able to send his best wishes to Ian Johnston who was due, later in the year, to retire after eight distinguished years as the BTP's Chief Constable. It falls to me, perhaps a little belatedly, to welcome Andy Trotter who has followed him. He has been in post for a little over six months but has already, I believe, shown himself to be a worthy successor and I was very pleased to have been able to have a chat with him over a cup of tea in the House of Lords three weeks ago.
You will be used by now to hearing on these occasions about encouraging trends in BTP performance over the past year. I am very pleased to say that it is a tradition that I intend to uphold. First and foremost, notifiable crime continues to fall. In the first half of 2009/10, recorded offences were down nearly 8% compared with the same period last year. Cold statistics seldom make for interesting speeches but that is one worth quoting. It is a tribute to the hard work of every one of you.
There have been other achievements, too. Improved arrangements for call handling mean that 93% of emergency calls are being answered within ten seconds and 95% of non emergency ones within forty seconds. It is hard to overstate the importance of those figures in the reassurance they give to members of the public who need to contact the BTP. Taken together with the fall in recorded offences, they paint a picture of a force which, I believe, is in good shape and which can face the future with confidence.
Of course, your Chairman has set out in his speech some reasons why that optimistic assessment may need to be qualified a little in practice. I don't have the time available to me this morning to respond at length to all the points he has highlighted, much as I would like to. But I do wish to take the opportunity to offer what I hope will be some words of reassurance.
Setting the BTP's budget is, of course, a matter for the British Transport Police Authority. It is not something in which ministers have the power to intervene even if they wanted to. What I can say is that the Chancellor made very clear in his pre-budget statement in December that police numbers were among the things he expected to protect in whatever measures were needed to deal with the budget deficit. The Authority cannot, of course, set a budget for the BTP without reflecting that times have been hard for the train operators who pay for the BTP - as they have for the economy as a whole. But I should be very surprised if the Authority did not want at the same time to reflect the Government's wider determination to ensure that police numbers are protected.
On the BTP's funding, your Chairman gave me plenty of food for thought. And, unlike many who criticise the existing arrangements, he did put forward an alternative - that operators might be charged in proportion to their ticket revenue. On that, I would say only that the BTP Authority are already legally obliged to charge operators in proportion to the amount of BTP effort they actually consume. Whether ticket revenue is a better indicator of that than the existing arrangements is something we would need to consider in any wider-ranging review of the way the BTP is funded.
Then we come to pensions. The good news is that the change in the law was achieved late last year through the Policing and Crime Act. The rather less good news is that it is now less clear that this has delivered the comprehensive solution we had all hoped for. So I cannot tell you today, as I had hoped to, that the problem is now solved. But the assurance I can give you is that we will look very carefully at the force's and the Federation's comments and at what more we can do to deal with what I know has been a long standing and frustrating issue.
Your Chairman particularly mentioned the cost of the Olympics. As some of you will know, the Government is very much aware of the burden the games will place on the BTP. That is why we have agreed that the cost of Olympic policing will be borne not by train operators but by Government itself. And I am sure that you are all as delighted as I am that Ian Johnston is the main man as far as security at the Olympics is concerned.
Turning to terrorism, I am sure you will understand if I do not comment at length on the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to stop and search powers. Perhaps I could say simply that the judgement is one which the government will want to examine closely - I might go so far as to say that we will want to examine it very closely - before deciding how we should react to it.
Finally, I hope I can give you some reassurance on the future of the BTP. Perhaps you would allow me to quote to you the words I used from the Despatch Box in the House of Lords in a debate on the Policing and Crime Bill on 20 October 2009 :-
"I am a huge supporter of the British Transport Police and have taken part in a number of debates where I have defended it - particularly when there have been outside forces at work attempting to diminish its role or abolish it altogether. The fact that the BTP is a highly regarded force and that its recently retired chief constable is regarded as an icon of policing is a measure of how far the force has gone and how far public and parliamentary opinion has moved in its favour."
I followed this with a letter to Lord Bill Bradshaw on 5 November in which I announced that BTP jurisdiction would be considered as part of the forthcoming review of the British Transport Police Authority. This will also look at whether there could be a role for the BTP in future airport security plans.
From this you can see that both the Government generally and I personally remain convinced of the advantages of the BTP as a specialist railway police service. We have no plans to do away with it.
And I should add that I am greatly looking forward to spending the day with your officers on football operations duty on the last Saturday of this month. I remember well how the BTP pioneered the collection of intelligence data in the dark days of crowd violence and football hooliganism back in the eighties and you still perform a vital role in maintaining order on and around the railway when fans are travelling.
In conclusion, I should like to thank you again for inviting me to your conference. I greatly enjoyed last evening's awards ceremony and found it deeply moving. The travelling public are sometimes guilty of taking the day to day policing of the railway for granted. Until, that is, the moment when things go wrong and we need to call on the police to sort things out. That we can do so depends entirely on the everyday commitment and, sometimes, the outstanding bravery of individual BTP officers. So I was delighted to be present at an event which gave us all an opportunity to recognise the extent of that commitment.