Association of Chief Police Officers autumn conference: Home Secretary's speech

Home Secretary's speech to ACPO autumn conference on 23 October 2012.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

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Thank you, Hugh, for that kind introduction.

I’d like to begin by saying well done, and thank you. Two and a half years ago, this government came to office in the midst of a debt crisis. That crisis hasn’t disappeared - dealing with the deficit and getting the economy moving again takes time - but we are making progress, and we’ve eliminated a quarter of the deficit we inherited.

In order to eliminate that deficit, we’ve had to take some difficult decisions.  Among them was the decision to cut central government police spending, in real terms, by twenty per cent over the spending review period.

That wasn’t a popular decision, and a lot of people attacked it. They said it was impossible to cut police budgets without cutting the frontline service.  They said it was impossible to cut spending without crime going up.

Thanks to you, your officers and, I hope, our programme of police reform they were wrong. Police spending is down - we’re playing our part in reducing the deficit - but the frontline service is being maintained, and most importantly crime is down.

That is a great achievement, so thank you for your efforts.

Police reform

So much public attention is focused on the government’s spending cuts that it’s easy to forget how ambitious our police reforms are. Police and crime commissioners, the national crime agency, reforms to police pay, a relentless drive to cut out wasteful spending, more freedom and professional discretion, and the creation of a college of policing.

It all amounts to the most radical changes we’ve seen in policing perhaps since Robert Peel founded the metropolitan police in 1829. And I think that should be very exciting to anybody connected to policing in our country.

Police and crime commissioners

In three weeks and two days, everybody in England and Wales outside London will have the right to vote for police and crime commissioners.

I believe that the commissioners will become a vital - and permanent - part of the policing landscape in this country. I believe that the public should be in charge of how their communities are policed, and while crime maps, beat meetings and neighbourhood policing are all crucial in this respect, the election of police and crime commissioners is the change that will truly give the people their voice.

I know that there has been some scepticism amongst some chief officers about this reform, but I must be clear - commissioners are on their way and they will be here to stay. And while there might be bumps along the way, I expect the responsibilities of police and crime commissioners will grow over time.

Everybody in this room is proud of the history of policing, and of those famous words expressed by Robert Peel: ‘the police are the public and the public are the police.’ And I know that chief officers have always accepted that they should be accountable to the public. You pioneered neighbourhood policing, and your officers practise those Peelian principles every day.

The election of police and crime commissioners is the logical conclusion of that belief in accountability to the public. And I believe the commissioners will bring great advantages to police leaders. Far from antagonising chief officers, it will be in the interests of commissioners to work closely with their chief constables. Far from politicising your work, commissioners will play an important role in supporting and defending the police to the public through the media.

And if you don’t believe me, take a look at London, where Boris Johnson has effectively been the police and crime commissioner since he was first elected.  He doesn’t denigrate the Metropolitan Police, he champions them. He hasn’t caused policing in London to grind to a halt, he’s supported the Met as they’ve cut crime.

There are other advantages too. By introducing democratic accountability at a local level, we are able to dismantle the apparatus of the bureaucratic accountability traditionally imposed on the police from Whitehall.

And by allowing local policing concerns to be managed at the local level, we can focus attention at the national level on serious threats like organised crime, economic crime, child protection and border crime.

The National Crime Agency

That is why we are legislating to create the national crime agency.

Around 30,000 people and 7,500 gangs are involved in organised crime in the UK, at a cost of up to £40 billion to our economy every year. Last year, we launched the first ever cross-government organised crime strategy, so we can bring to bear the full power of the state and its agencies against organised criminals. We’re already seizing more criminal assets than ever before. And next year, the national crime agency will play an important - and visible role - in taking on the organised criminal gangs.

The NCA will own a joined-up criminal intelligence picture and decide on the highest priority criminal targets. It will have its own law enforcement capability, and it will have the power to task the assets of other agencies and forces. I am confident that Keith Bristow will work with chief constables and the heads of other law enforcement agencies to deliver an immediate change in the way we tackle organised crime.

For too long, organised crime - in all its forms - has gone unpunished.  That is something I am determined the national crime agency will change.

Police pay and conditions

The driving logic of our police reforms is to equip police forces and their leaders with everything they need to be successful crime-fighters.  And while our changes to police pay and conditions are obviously designed with efficiency in mind, they are also designed to encourage and reward crime-fighting.

The proposals in the second Winsor report, if they are taken forward, will mean that police forces become better at recognising professional skills, more open to people with outside experience, more flexible, easier to lead, and they will have officers who are in better shape physically. Constables will be able to move to the top of their pay scale quickly, sergeants will get a greater reward for stepping up from constable, and, inspectors will be able to reach their rank more quickly.

But importantly, there are clear benefits for you, in your role as police leaders.  A new performance and award system will allow you to reward the very best contributions shown by your officers. For those on restricted duties, incentives and support to return to full duties will help you to get the most out of your officers.

I know that we don’t all agree on the principle of direct entry, but I believe it will bring a greater diversity of backgrounds and experience to forces. I’m not just talking about the ethnic and gender diversity of officers - it’s also important that we attract people who can bring other experiences and new perspectives to policing.

Of course, these changes are being considered through the police negotiating machinery and I will consider the recommendations that come out of those processes - but the direction of travel is clear. I want to see police forces that are fit, flexible and focused on their mission to cut crime.

Cutting out waste

To focus on that core mission, it’s vital that we do everything we can to root out every bit of wasteful spending that we can. That’s how we can protect the frontline service even as we reduce overall budgets.

In the home office, we’re playing our part. We’re setting up a police ICT company, which will improve police systems and save money in ICT procurement. We’re helping forces to enjoy economies of scale in the purchase of other goods and services. And we’ve been prepared to step in to mandate collaboration between forces too. The creation of the national police air service, for example, will provide a better service for forces across the country at a lower cost to the taxpayer. I would like to thank Alex Marshall for the job he did in leading the work on the air service.

I know that you are also driving out waste and saving money at force level, including by working with other forces, other public sector bodies and with the private sector. For instance, Kent police and Essex police have well established collaboration arrangements including joint directorates for serious crime and for information and communication technology. According to HMIC, Kent will achieve 15% of its required savings during this spending review period from collaboration and Essex will achieve 18%.

More freedom and professional discretion

Another way in which we prioritise crime-fighting and protect frontline services is through the reduction of bureaucracy. Working with ACPO, and Chris Sims and Sara Thornton in particular, we have made good progress in cutting back red tape. So far, if our changes are fully implemented across all forces, we could save up to 4.5 million police hours a year, the equivalent of 2,100 police officers on the streets.

But there’s only so far that kind of approach can take us.  I want us to be bold and imaginative about transforming the way the police works, and the way the wider criminal justice system works, in order to save time and money and to deliver a better service for the public.

I don’t know if you remember the 2010 report by HMIC called ‘stop the drift’, but within that report was a truly terrifying chart detailing all the processes that you have to go through after somebody has been arrested.  We can cut out all the forms we like, but until we think creatively about changing that system, we’re going to go on wasting police time.

One way in which we are already changing the system is by extending police powers to prosecute certain criminal offences, without the involvement of the crown prosecution service. In May, I outlined to the police federation my plans, and I am pleased to say that we are delivering, with thanks in no small part to Jim Barker-McCardle and Neil Rhodes for the work they have done in this area.
We’ve changed the law so police officers can prosecute offences when the defendant doesn’t turn up in court or enter a plea by post, or where a driver pleads exceptional hardship to avoid a driving disqualification. We estimate that this will save time and cut out duplication in up to 150,000 cases every year.

But I want to go further, and today I can tell you that we will grant the police new powers to prosecute a wider range of uncontested offences. So we will soon place before arliament new legislation to allow the police to prosecute new offences, including driving without due care and attention and criminal damage of up to £5,000. Together, these changes mean that the police can lead over half of all prosecutions in the magistrates’ courts - an increase of just over 90,000 cases each year.

The changes will be tested in nine police force areas first, but I am clear that this is something that will happen across the whole country: we’re piloting to find the best model of delivering the change, not whether we should deliver the change.

Criminal damage is a good example of how the new powers will work in practice. It’s a high-volume crime that causes real harm to communities. At the moment, police do all the work to detect and investigate the crime and prepare the case for prosecution, but then they have to hand the case over to the CPS, even when it is straightforward, uncontested and everybody knows a magistrate will deal with it in a matter of minutes.

Meanwhile, the victim is left to wonder where the case has got to, or even whether it will be resolved at all. And the criminal is often back on the streets committing the same crimes.

So our changes will deliver better outcomes for victims, faster justice for criminals, more professional discretion for the police and savings for the taxpayer.

I don’t want us to stop there.  I want to work with ACPO, the CPS and the attorney general to examine whether we can go further on police-led prosecutions. And I want to challenge everybody here today to take a look at the wider criminal justice system and think about how else we can deliver transformative change that works for the police and the public.

The College of Policing

This kind of thinking will be an important part of the work done by the new college of policing, which I want to establish in order to drive the professionalism of policing, examine the evidence of what works in policing, and inculcate a culture of crime-fighting across all ranks.

The college may not be as high-profile as some of our other police reforms, but it will be a crucial part of the new policing landscape, and it will have an important role in changing policing for the better.

For the first time, we will have an institution with an exclusive focus on police professionalism. Its only priority will be to ensure that your officers and staff are given the information, advice, training and support that they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

That support will be comprehensive. As well as providing professional practice standards, policy and guidance it will set the professional development framework for training, assessment and promotion. It will provide support for officers and staff in their development and practice. And it will promote an evidence base so all forces can learn from the best. 
This is where I believe that the college’s work with universities will be critical.  In the past the evidence base for effective policing has been patchy. It’s good in some areas, but not all. It hasn’t been good enough to cover the range of situations officers and staff may face on a daily basis.

But I don’t want the college to become some ivory tower for academics and wonks. Policing outcomes cannot be determined by people removed from the reality of policing, from those who must take the split-second decisions, from those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. So the college must work with police officers and staff as well as academics to construct an evidence base.

I want police officers and staff publishing papers on policing in the same way that doctors and lawyers do in their professional fields. Good practice will become the hallmark of the college of policing, good practice that is well-researched and evidence-led, and that helps us to get better and better at fighting crime.


The college will also have a role in setting professional standards, and I want to say a few things about the public’s perception of police integrity.

Yesterday, I spoke in the house of commons about the report of the independent panel that looked into the Hillsborough disaster and the aftermath. I think everybody in this room knows that the findings of that report - including the actions of police officers from South Yorkshire police - have done a lot of damage to the public’s trust in the police.

At the same time, a chief constable has recently been dismissed for gross misconduct. A number of senior officers across the country are under investigation for misconduct and even possible criminality. And of course, Lord Justice Leveson will soon publish his report following his inquiry into phone hacking.

I know that the vast majority of police officers have the highest possible standards of honesty and integrity. But we have to take very seriously the risks to public confidence in the police caused by the actions of a minority of officers. You all police your communities with the consent of your fellow citizens - you cannot do so with any success unless you have the trust of your fellow citizens.

I know that ACPO and police forces are working together to strengthen your policies and professional standards. And as I have said, I expect the college of policing to play an important role in the improvement and maintenance of police ethics. Police and crime commissioners will bring greater transparency and local accountability to policing. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary is becoming more independent. And I have already said that I am prepared to give extra resources and new powers to the IPCC.

All of these changes will make a positive difference in terms of public confidence in the police. But as I told the house of commons yesterday, I will return to parliament by the new year with fuller proposals to ensure that the police operate to the highest ethical standards and that the public can have full confidence in police integrity.


It’s disappointing to have to end on such a note, because - as I said earlier - there is a lot to be excited about in policing right now, and there’s a lot to be proud of.

Half way through the parliament, we have made great progress in our programme of police reform. Police and crime commissioners, elected next month. The national crime agency, operational next year. Reforms to police pay, in place with more to come. Wasteful spending, rooted out.  More professional discretion for officers. The college of policing, on its way.

And you, as chief officers, and the police men and women who serve under you, are doing great work. The frontline service is being maintained. The number of neighbourhood police officers is up. Public satisfaction is up. And crime is down.

Two years or so ago, in my first speech to ACPO as home secretary, I told you I was scrapping all national police targets and said I would set the police just one objective - to cut crime. Thanks to you and your officers, despite some very serious challenges, that is what you are delivering.

Thank you.

Published 23 October 2012