The policing minister said he would be “very disappointed” if the Government does not hit its target of hiring 20,000 new police officers in England and Wales.
Chris Philp also admitted he would be disappointed if the new recruits were not any good at their job when he faced questions from MPs on the manifesto pledge.
Opponents previously claimed the Government – which had until the end of March to reach the figure – was lagging behind its 2019 commitment to replace thousands of jobs cut during austerity measures. Home Office data due to be published on Wednesday will confirm whether the milestone has been met.
Asked if the 20,000 target had been reached, he said the figures are “embargoed until 9.30 tomorrow morning, and I’m under strict instructions not to offend the Office for National Statistics by sort of pre-emptively giving an indication.
“I think I said before in the House that I’m very confident we’re on track both to deliver our 20,000, indeed exceed our 20,000 target and in doing so to have record numbers of officers in England and Wales but I can’t offer any kind of confirmation.”
Asked by Conservative committee member Tim Loughton if he would be disappointed if the figures do not show there are an additional 20,000 officers, Mr Philp replied: “Yes, very.”
Mr Loughton added: “How disappointed would you be if those 20,000 officers turned out not actually to be terribly good?”
“Well, I’d be disappointed by that as well”, Mr Philp said, adding: “Now clearly the police have recruited a large number of new officers in recent years who are therefore, by definition, less experienced.
“It’s really important that the sergeants and the inspectors who oversee them, mentor them, give them the support and the training they need.”
Mr Philp said there was a “well-developed training programme” for new police officers, adding: “I’m expecting them, as they get trained up, to have a real impact. I’m expecting them firstly to be visible on our streets to the public, our constituents, can see more police on the streets, particularly in hotspot areas … and I’m expecting them to be spending the time investigating, following up and prosecuting crime as well.
“Those are the actions, the outcomes I’m expecting as a result of this now, it will take a year or two for all of them to get trained up, but that’s what I’m expecting to happen and I’ll be very disappointed if it doesn’t.”
Figures published in January showed more than 3,000 police officers needed to be hired in less than three months in order to meet the target.
As of December, 16,753 officers had been hired as part of the recruitment campaign, meaning 84% of the target has been reached, with 3,247 recruits still needed.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, some police forces had been inviting back failed candidates as part of efforts to meet the target, which fuelled fears of rogue officers infiltrating the ranks.
The Home Office expected to spend £3.6 billion on the recruitment programme 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 recruitment campaign 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.
Meanwhile inspectors from police watchdog His Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said problems at the Metropolitan Police had been exacerbated by the number of young and inexperienced recruits in the force as a result of the recruitment drive.
A month earlier, outgoing chief inspector of constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor repeated warnings that the “sheer magnitude and speed” of the recruitment campaign “inevitably carries risks”, adding that there is a “heightened danger that people unsuited to policing may get through and be recruited”.
In October Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said he was reviewing the force’s recruitment targets after questioning whether it is “wise” to hire thousands of new officers at speed.
Scotland Yard was meant to hire 4,557 extra officers during the recruitment drive.
The Home Office said all recruits are subject to a “rigorous” vetting process and must meet national standards in order to be hired.