Policing 2011: Nick Herbert and Tom Winsor call for radical change

Nick HerbertI was the third of three key-note speakers to take to the podium today in a national conference to talk about the changes rippling through the policing world. It’s a measure of the tumult in policing that, in addition to the hundred-plus event attendees (a mix of police, police authority and national local policymakers), the media were out in force. I’m pretty sure they weren’t there to listen to me! The big draws were the first two speakers: Nick Herbert, the Minister for Policing and the architect of many the Coalitions key reforms to policing, and Tom Winsor, the former rail regulator who published the first part of his review into police terms and conditions on Tuesday.

Both keynote speakers were trying to communicate messages that are already in the public domain – and did so eloquently. Nick Herbert underlined the Coalition government’s commitment to both cutting the deficit and reforming the police services. He emphasised that reforms to policing – specifically, the introduction of police and crime commissioners and the creation of a new National Crime Agency (to replace the Serious Organised Crime agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency) – were responses to two problems. First, insufficient responsiveness to local people and local priorities, which he felt was largely due to excessive central government control and regulation over policing practices. Second, weaknesses in tackling serious and organised crime, largely because of police forces’ failures to put in place robust mechanisms for policing crimes across force boundaries. He argued that the Coalition had an electoral mandate for changes, not least because they were trailed in both Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos.

Tom Winsor reiterated that his proposed reforms to police pay would not leave all police officers worse off. Many in frontline roles would see their take home pay rise under his recommendations, which give a pay uplift based on the actual hours worked in unsociable or dangerous contexts. The government has not yet responded to his 300-plus page review but Winsor also highlighted that his recommendations are only the first step in police pay and conditions reform. This was very encouraging for me – as wider structural pay reform is urgently needed. What’s worrying, however, is that the review team is under pressure to complete the second phase of its enquiry with extremely limited staff and in just a couple of months. More time will be needed if Winsor is to grapple successfully with the complex questions he is expected to answer, though the rigour of his first report promises that he will do a good job, given time.

My talk focused on providing a more detailed account of what’s actually changing in policing. The key points of my presentation (CutsInCrime-10Mar2011-TG) were:

  1. While policing will experience an unprecedented amount and pace of change over the next two years, we should not over-state the degree of change. The police service will remain much larger than in 1997, with officer and staff numbers returning to levels seen in 2005.
  2. This era of change will be an era of local change. As I’ve written elsewhere, the degree of change will vary greatly by area, with poor urban areas experiencing the deepest cuts (around 15% in real terms) while areas receive a greater share of police funding from their local authorities will be better off (with cuts potentially being as low as 6-8% in real terms). Other factors will also vary locally. Areas with a high number of police staff will find it easier to meet budget targets, as it is not possible to make officers redundant even on a voluntary basis before their 30 year terms of service are expired. Similarly, police forces will work against different local backdrops. Some local authorities may be cutting deeply in areas related to policing (for example, scrapping neighbourhood wardens, as has happened in several areas, or cutting crime prevention programmes); others won’t.
  3. The cuts will be made not by police and crime commissioners but by current police leaders: police force leadership teams will lead on nitty-gritty decision-making, supported by police authorities. The major cuts will already be decided on before elected commissioners arrive, if they do, in 2012.
  4. Though challenges will vary greatly, there are some national level issues to resolve as quickly as possible. First, around pay. Current uncertainty means that workforce planning is almost impossible for police chiefs so urgent action is needed to clarify what will happen. Second, around ensuring that police force areas collaborate, both to tackle serious criminality and terrorism and to reduce operational and back office costs.

Two panel discussion explored some of these issues in greater depth, with insightful contributions from the panellists: Simon Reed (Police Federation); Roger Baker (a chief constable and part of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, HMIC); Councillor Dave McLuckie (Police Authority Chair for Cleveland Police); Councillor Rob Garnham (Chair, Association of Police Authorities); Jessica de Grazia (former District Attorney, New York); Derek Barnett (President of the Police Superintendents’ Association); Councillor Richard Kemp; Lord Wasserman (a Conservative peer and government crime adviser) and Drusilla Sharpling (HMIC).

A couple of points in particular are worth highlighting. First, the contribution of Dave McLuckie in particular showed just how much situations do vary locally. Cleveland Police Authority has previously taken the radical step of becoming the only force in England and Wales to outsource most of its back-office functions to a private-sector provider. This move is estimated to have saved £50 million, money that was going to put an additional 260 officers (previously performing back office roles) back onto the frontline. Now, these 260 officers won’t be recruited but Cleveland’s earlier reforms have clearly reduced the need for actual job losses in Cleveland. Nonetheless, McLuckie emphasised that compulsory officer retirements had been pushed through in the area for the first time and that it would be difficult to make further savings without affecting police visibility and effectiveness.

Second, a panel discussion of police and crime commissions revealed that opposition (both on the panel and on the conference floor) to the government’s plans is extremely strong. Could it be time for a rethink?

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