If you can see the number 10,000 you can run the Home Office stats division
Here on BOM we try hard to get our facts right, especially when it comes to numbers.
One key fact we've referred to many times is a striking crime statistic: that half of all our crime is committed by just 100,000 persistent offenders. We got it from the excellent David Green of Civitas (see here). And he got it from a Home Office white paper, Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead (2001).
So imagine our shock when following up a reference in a recent report from the Home Affairs Select Committee (blogged here), we found the Home Office itself quoting the figure not as 100,000 but 10,000.
The Home Office site Operational Policing says:
"Home Office research published in 2001 showed that 10,000 offenders (10 per cent of all offenders on the offenders index) in England and Wales are responsible for over half of all crime."
Yet the HO's Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead says:
"Recent research suggests that a small group of hard core, highly persistent offenders, probably no more than 100,000 strong – about ten per cent of all active criminals – may be responsible for half of all crime." (para 1.28)
They can't both be right can they? Or had we somehow got it wrong? Had the Major and I had one too many noggins of his extraordinary Albanian claret one evening and simply bungled the figures? How shaming.
In a blind funk I emailed David Green and asked if he could explain the discrepancy. Very kindly he did: the 10,000 quoted on the Home Office Police site is plain wrong.
So while the HO's policy left hand knows that half our crime is committed by 100,000 persistent offenders, its "operational policing" right hand is working on the basis that it's only 10,000.
No wonder the police detection rate is only about 20%- they think they're only looking for 10,000 hardened criminals, when in fact they should be looking for 100,000. And no wonder we don't have enough prison places, etc etc.
Well, no. Not unbelievable at all.
The fact is the the Home Office has long been functionally innumerate. Staffed largely by BBC socio-arts wibble types, it doesn't really see numbers as being interesting or important.
Just last week, the Public Accounts Committee issued yet another damning report on all the HO numbers that don't add up (blogged here). Recent fiascos include wildly innaccurate counts of released but not deported foreign brigands, duff data on anti-social behaviour, and of course, duff financial accounts.
When last sighted, the Home Office was spending £1.1bn pa of our money on administrating itself. It was employing 22,000 staff to do so.
With that kind of budget, you'd sorta think they could just get one or two employees who weren't completely number blind.
PS For future reference, let's just remember: half the crime is committed by 100,000 persistent offenders (para 1.28, above); "about 20,000 will be in prison at any one time" (para 1.29); and there are one million (!) active criminals in E&W (para 1.28). As David Green argues, by locking up the 80,000 persistent offenders who are not inside at any one time, we could halve crime. Lock 'em up, the Major says.
PPS The HO's incapacity to produce accurate numbers suggests it should hand over all its stats responsibilities to the Office for National Statistics soonest- especially since Brown has promised a more independent ONS. But for some reason not unconnected with the desire of our politicos to "manage" the supersensitive crimes stats, that won't be happening. Once again, our politicos are the block to reform.