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Theresa May: Dismantling the big government approach to policing

Rt Hon Theresa May, Sunday, March 6 2011

Theresa May

This morning, we've heard about the Government's important plans to reform the National Health Service and the schools system.  But the public service often overlooked by politicians is the police.  And that is what I want to talk about today.

The best part of my job is meeting the dedicated men and women who make up our police forces.  They do an amazing job.  Policing our streets.  Confronting violent offenders.  Putting themselves in harm's way.  Doing the sort of things every day that we hope we never need to do.

So I want to take this opportunity to say to our country's police officers: thank you for everything you do to fight crime and keep us safe.

But despite the best intentions and efforts of our police men and women, we know that things can and must be done better.

•         Labour recruited a record number of police officers, but because of paperwork only eleven per cent of them are visible and available at any one time to the public.

•         Labour told us not to worry about crime levels, but they refused to let the public know what crimes were taking place on their streets and in their neighbourhoods.

•         And although they admitted that the public didn't have the power to hold the police to account, they said it didn't matter and did nothing.

But when there are nearly 900,000 violent crimes every year, when there are 26,000 victims of crime every day, when just a quarter of the public trust the criminal justice system to protect them, things have to change. And Nick Herbert and I have a comprehensive plan for change.

At the heart of our reforms is the belief that the police must be accountable for what they do, not to the civil servants in the Home Office, but to the communities they serve.  We're making that happen by legislating, right now, for the election of police and crime commissioners, right across England and Wales.

The commissioners will have the power to set the police budget, determine local policing priorities and hire and fire chief constables.  If your commissioner isn't focused on ensuring the police are cutting crime, if they're not working to make your community safer, it's quite simple: vote them out.

But as important as the elections will be, we want this new sense of accountability to exist day in, day out, and not just every four years.

So we will also mandate police forces to hold local beat meetings on a regular basis.

If you're worried about anti-social behaviour in your neighbourhood, if you know there has been a spate of burglaries on your street, attend a beat meeting and take your local police officers to task, face to face.

From May next year, local people will be in charge of local policing.

To make this accountability work, we are giving the public access to the most detailed street-level crime data in the world.  In January, we launched the country's first-ever street-level crime maps.  You might have heard about it.  Like most government websites, it crashed on the first day.  But unlike most government websites, it wasn't because of gremlins in the system, but the sheer demand for the information.  One month after its launch, it has received 380 million hits.

That's 380 million examples of real people, eager to know what is going on in their community, desperately keen to make their streets safer.

Under Labour, they were ignored.  But this government is putting the people back in charge of policing.

Not only will this transparency and accountability make the police more responsive to local needs and more effective at fighting crime, it also means we can - at long last - get the Home Office off police officers' backs.  By creating a system of local, democratic accountability, we can sweep away all the bureaucracy of the old system.  Targets, initiatives, ring-fenced spending.  They will soon all be gone.

I've scrapped the last remaining national police targets, and replaced them with a single objective: to cut crime.  I've dealt with incidents like the Cumbria and Northumbria shootings not with gimmicky initiatives, as would the last government, but by respecting the operational independence of the police.  And from 2013, when police and crime commissioners set their first budgets, I will end the remaining ring-fenced central policing grants.

When I said in my first speech as Home Secretary that I didn't want to run the police, I meant it.  Under Labour, the politicians tried to run the police from Whitehall.  But this government is giving back discretion and responsibility and pride to the police.

I mentioned earlier that just eleven per cent of officers are visible and available to the public at any one time.  That's not to say that the remainder of police time is wasted, but visibility and availability is too low. And it's no wonder, when you consider the welter of paperwork that police officers have to deal with, just to do the routine things that their jobs involve.

That is why we are scrapping the stop and account form, and cutting the reporting requirements for the stop and search form, saving up to 800,000 man hours per year.

It's why we are restoring police discretion over certain charging decisions, saving another 50,000 hours per year.

And it's what the police want us to do. This week I visited the police in Nottingham.  One officer told me he had made an arrest that morning but had had to come back to the station and spend some hours filling in the paperwork when in his words he just wanted to get straight back out there again.

So we're looking at a range of other bits of bureaucracy and paperwork that get in the way of police officers doing what they want to do - getting out onto the streets and keeping us safe.

But it's not just central government that has a responsibility to make sure that budgets are spent efficiently and resources are focused on the frontline.  Local forces have a responsibility to do the same.

I expect them to learn from forces like Kent and Essex, who are rationalising support services and sharing resources.  Or Suffolk and Norfolk, who are saving millions by sharing back office functions.  Or the Metropolitan Police, who through getting more officers to patrol alone and by better matching resources to demand in neighbourhood policing, have increased officer availability by 25 per cent.

And as I've mentioned the Met, we ought to praise not just the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, but Boris Johnson and his deputy, Kit Malthouse.  The way in which they have focused on London's local needs, managed to get more resources onto the frontline, and worked together to cut crime is a blueprint for how police and crime commissioners can work together with chief constables in future.

As the Home Office gets out of the way of policing, it affords us the opportunity to tackle serious and organised crime - something that has for too long been ignored.  According to Sir Paul Stephenson, our current law enforcement response has an effect on only eleven per cent of the six thousand organised crime groups that have been identified.

That is why we will soon publish our proposals to establish a National Crime Agency - a powerful body of operational crime fighters, led by a senior Chief Constable. The NCA should let no organised criminal feel untouchable, it should tolerate no aspect of their criminal behaviour, and it should mean no community will live with the fall out from organised crime, such as the scourge of drugs on our streets.

The case for reform is made all the greater, and all the more urgent, by the fact that the Home Office and the police have to play their part in reducing spending and cutting the deficit we face.

I have already explained how we are dismantling the big government approach to policing - by getting rid of the targets, initiatives, ring-fenced funding, paperwork - but if we are going to protect and improve frontline policing, we will still have to do more.

So we are working with police forces to identify savings that actually go beyond the reduction in the central policing grant in the next four years.  The independent police inspectorate - HMIC - has shown that it's possible to save £1.15 billion if the least efficient forces caught up, not with the best, but just averagely-performing forces.  A further £350 million could be saved by bringing middle and back office functions to the standards of the more efficient forces.  Another £350 million could be saved if we freeze police pay for two years, in line with the rest of the public sector.  And we could save another £350 million if we make greater use of shared procurement and IT systems.

But in an organisation like the police, where three quarters of total spending is on pay, we need to look at the pay structures in place for police officers.  That is why I commissioned Tom Winsor to review police pay and conditions. Not because I want to make savings for the sake of it, but because I want to protect police jobs and I want to keep officers on the streets. And we can only do that if we reform terms and conditions for all officers.

Because it is clear that those terms and conditions are outdated and inflexible. It is clear to everyone in policing that the current system does not allow them to deliver the most effective service to the public. Instead, we need a system that allows modern management practices, maximises deployment to frontline roles and ensures that frontline services are maintained and improved.

The Winsor Review will report on Tuesday.  I know that some will reject in principle the very idea of reviewing pay and conditions, but I remind them that those savings will save the jobs of thousands of police men and women. Officers as well as members of the public would prefer us to look at pay and conditions to save police officers jobs.

I don't yet know what is in the report, but I will study its recommendations carefully.  They will also be subject to consideration by the police negotiating machinery. But let me repeat - if we are to make savings in any organisation where pay is the biggest cost, we must look at the pay bill.

Nobody is pretending that decisions like these will be easy.

And we have an Opposition that - despite doubling the national debt, leaving us with the biggest deficit in our peacetime history, and wrecking our public finances - will play politics at every step of the way, opposing us everywhere but providing no constructive alternatives.

We do not have that luxury of opposition, but nor would we want it.  To govern is to take these tough decisions, and we will not shirk them.

For it is only by taking them that we can make possible our ambitions.  And what I have set out today is indeed ambitious.

•         Overdue action to cut out waste and inefficiency.
•         A ruthless assault on targets and bureaucracy.
•         A restoration of police discretion and independence.
•         A National Crime Agency to get tough on organised crime.
•         The most transparent crime data in the world.
•         And a new model of accountability that puts the people in charge of policing.

A comprehensive plan to reconnect police and the public.

A comprehensive plan to focus police effort.

And above all a comprehensive plan to cut crime.

Rt Hon Theresa May

Theresa is Home Secretary.

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