There’s a political phrase in current circulation which I happen, rather, to agree with – Better Together.
But while I wholeheartedly agree with the campaign to keep Scotland part of the United Kingdom, the phrase has resonance for this conference too.
Working well together
For those campaigning to maintain the Union understand that separate entities, working well together, can be more than the sum of their parts. They understand that strength comes from a shared purpose; from a shared sense of direction; and from a shared pool of expertise, ideas and creativity.
The same is very much true of policing. As you all know, we have 43 forces operating under independent Police and Crime Commissioners (including the Mayor) and independent Chief Constables, but working together in the national interest. And, as you also know, they are doing very well. They are, broadly, rising to the challenge we set them of doing more with less – recorded crime is down more than 10% under this government, thanks in no small part to their hard work.
But, of course, we must always strive to do better – to carry on that trend of cutting crime for the public; to carry on making every penny of taxpayers’ money work as hard as possible; and to carry on working together in the national interest.
And that’s where we come to collaboration. Policing has always been Better Together, but that is more true now than it has ever been. The financial imperative demands it and the technological revolution facilitates it. Police forces must accept the former and embrace the latter. There is no other choice. This is the future of policing, and, indeed, the future of public services in this country.
I want to make very clear at this stage, though, that collaboration does not mean force mergers. As I have said before, I’m not against them on principle – I just want to see more creative thinking. When people spend their time fixated on that idea it is time that could be better spend on more creative solutions and on how to further embrace the digital revolution for the benefit of policing.
Advances in technology
Advances in technology and the growth of cyberspace are making this an increasingly borderless world. Certainly criminals don’t spend their time thinking about whether they should commit a burglary or do a drug deal in Kent or Essex. And police leaders must think beyond county boundaries too. Nor need thinking be constrained to neighbour forces. Northamptonshire striking up a partnership with Cheshire demonstrates this. And, in perhaps an even more striking example, all forces have worked together to form the National Police Air Service, which will provide better air cover for the country at a reduced cost.
But we also need to see more police forces raising their eyes above the horizon and thinking of collaboration beyond simply other policing partners. We need more police forces to shed misconceptions and make the most of what the private sector has to offer. Lincolnshire Police provides a case in point. Its 10-year partnership with G4S has already saved £5m and is ahead of target. In fact, the force estimates it has exceeded its target by the equivalent of 35 police officers’ time. The partnership with G4S has also seen a 2% saving in the cost of the force’s vehicle fleet and a 4% improvement in 999 call response times. Over the course of the deal, Lincolnshire Police expects to save about £36m.
To those who would say it is better to drive out efficiencies first and then consider working with the private sector, I say - very good. If you have the time and if you have the right capability in place to achieve that. But the private sector can bring pace, innovation and the experience gleaned from work in other sectors to make sure that benefits are realised. The right commercial approach will ensure that benefits are appropriately shared.
I am sure some of you think that when Conservative politicians talk about using the private sector they are doing it out of dogma. The Lincolnshire example shows that is not the case. It is a matter of sheer practical reality. It also has a moral purpose. It is incumbent on all those who spend public money to ensure it is done as parsimoniously as possible. There is no intention to allow private companies to carry out police activities which require warranted powers. Core functions such as patrolling and leading investigations will always be done by sworn police officers.
I don’t want you to stop there, however. And I’m glad to say there are Police and Crime Commissioners around the country who are also ambitious to do more.
Today has shown collaboration in action. You have worked together to share your own learning and to answer on another’s questions. I applaud that.
I am pleased to hear about the amount of collaboration projects that have featured in the precursor police innovation fund and I applaud those PCCs who are looking for opportunities locally to increase public sector efficiency. There are many ways this can be done – for example I recently opened a joint Wiltshire Police and council facility. One of the most intriguing areas is that of blue light collaboration. I know many PCCs have already seen the benefits that can be achieved from integrating police, fire and ambulance services. Talks are ongoing with other government departments about how this would work, but I want to applaud this sort of creative thinking and to encourage more of it in the future.
This speech is not a look-to-the-future aspiration, it is very much a this-should-be-happening-now clarion call. Today you have been able to learn something of each other’s experience. You have had time to think about what more you could do. You have been able to think about how the Police Innovation Fund could help you.
This government has been radical in its thinking. We have introduced democracy into policing for the first time; scrapped targets and ripped up red tape; created a new high-powered specialist agency to tackle organised crime; and introduced the College of Policing to increase professionalism in the force and build a new evidence-based approach to policing. We now need you to follow our lead, to be radical in your approach, to challenge conventions and to come up with fresh and exciting new initiatives. We have changed the face of the country’s policing – now it is your job to do the same.
What really matters for the future is not the fact that you attended this event. What really matters for the future is how you build on what you have seen and heard here. What really matters is what you do to further innovate and collaborate to transform the way policing is provided in your areas – to become Better Together.