Jacqui Smith came to Birmingham carrying a large headline. Her new plans to cut police form-filling, she claimed, would save seven million hours of police time.

Less time spent ticking boxes and filing reports would mean more time on the mean streets of the city.

And the Home Secretary was keen to be seen speaking to the people, strolling past the Sikh temple and chatting with police and community workers in Handsworth.

The warm glow of a brand new policing initiative soon slid into an icy press briefing, however.

When the talk turned to her husband’s letters to a local newspaper, wholeheartedly backing Jacqui Smith (and conveniently omitting the fact she was his wife), she was a little less effusive.

When several journalists pressed her on the ongoing investigations into the Met’s raid on an MP’s home and office, the fixed smile became distinctly frosty.

A silent stare was served to those hacks brave enough to push her further on the Met inquiry.

Forget Stop and Account to deter criminals. That look was enough to scare anyone into obedience.

But certainly the idea of reducing paperwork makes sense.

The Home Office claim that the time saved will be the equivalent of an extra 3,500 police nationwide, and cutting red tape will undoubtedly be popular among voters and police officers themselves.

The new programme is a direct result of Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s review of policing, which he presented to the Home Secretary in February this year.

But now the plan has been unveiled, praised and digested, the real road-test of community policing lies ahead.

Thornhill Road chief superintendent Paul Scarrott, who was involved in the pilot scheme, has backed the system - saying that it will enable police to have more contact with the community by freeing up their time and making their presence felt on the street.

And that cannot be a bad thing.

But in only asking for someone’s ethnicity - rather than taking their full details - the police need to be very aware of the potential for accusations of discrimination.

Officers say that, by recording ethnic group, they can produce statistics about who is being stopped and provide, in Scarrott’s words, a service that prides itself on “fairness, openness and transparency”.

The real test will come over the next weeks and months, as officers start using the new system.

Let’s hope that the police’s New Year resolution, to spend less time in the office and more time on the streets, is one that can be kept.