Home Secretary's Police Superintendents 2015 speech

Speech given by Home Secretary Theresa May at Police Superintendents Association Annual Conference 2015

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

Thank you, Irene. I am delighted to be back at the Superintendents’ annual conference. Thank you to the association for rearranging their timetable for me to be here.

It is always a pleasure to address the operational leaders of Britain’s police forces.

I know the tremendous job you do managing those on the frontline, while at the same time thinking strategically about how best to tackle crime in our communities.

And I know your dedication to the men and women you lead.

Men and women – like you – who put duty to the communities they serve first and foremost who strive to keep dangerous criminals off our streets and who face great risks as they go about their work and who so often are among the first to respond when terrible and unexpected events occur – just as Sussex Police did working with operational partners following the appalling air crash at Shoreham.

It is such dedication which demonstrates the true spirit of British policing – and I know it is something in which so many of us take enormous pride.

This is the sixth occasion that I have addressed this conference. And today I want to set out how over the next five years we want to make policing better for you, and better for the officers and staff you lead.

And before I do so, I want to address something beyond policing, and beyond Britain.

Because when we look around us today – at events that are unfolding in Europe and further afield – what we see is great uncertainty and instability.

We have seen troubles in the Eurozone and the financial crisis in Greece – a country which is still struggling to get to grips with its economy.

We see appalling conflicts in countries such as Syria and the misery and suffering of so many men, women and children. And this summer we have seen many thousands of people fleeing persecution and seeking sanctuary in other countries.

And when we consider this uncertainty and instability around the world, we see just why long-term stability and sustainable public finances in this country are so important.

Not only so that we put Britain’s finances on a sure and certain footing. But also to ensure that as a strong, stable nation we can play our part in responding to international crises like the unprecedented refugee crisis we see today.

On Monday, the Prime Minister set out the steps this Government is taking in response to this awful human tragedy, and the expansion of our Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme to offer asylum to up to 20,000 Syrians in need of humanitarian protection. This is on top of the 5,000 Syrian men, women and children we have already resettled through our existing schemes.

Britain’s total aid spending in response to Syria is already nearly as much as the rest of Europe combined – and we have now committed to increase this to over £1 billion in total.

To smash the callous organised gangs that trade in human misery, we have established a new organised immigration crime taskforce through the National Crime Agency to be deployed in the UK, the Mediterranean and Africa.

We have taken steps to protect the integrity of our border, provide security to hauliers, and improve traffic flow through ports like Calais, which is not just an issue for Border Force and police in France but, as we saw with Operation Stack, is a challenge for policing in this country as well.

And we are working with the UNHCR in the region to identify vulnerable Syrians who really need our help, rather than signing up to a European quota system which will only encourage more people to put their lives on the line.

The Government has a coherent, sustainable plan to tackle the root causes of these crises and reduce the need to make dangerous journeys, often in the hands of ruthless criminals.

So never let it be said that we are forgoing our moral responsibilities.

And we are only able to take these steps, to fulfil those moral obligations, because we have invested in long-term stability and sustainable public finances at home.

The importance of reform

Because back in 2010, when Britain was on the brink, we took the tough and difficult decisions necessary to bring sustainability to our public finances and bring the deficit down.

Those decisions have been vindicated - the deficit has been reduced by half and economy is back on track. But we cannot stop here. We have set out our plans to eliminate the deficit entirely in this Parliament, and to deliver a surplus for the first time in 15 years.

And just as it has done before, we have been clear that policing must shoulder its fair share in delivering the necessary savings.

I know your achievements in the last Parliament were not always easy. I know that over the past five years it has sometimes been tough. You have experienced big organisational changes, the abolition of institutions, changes to pay and conditions, and the overhaul of outdated systems and technology. And yes, your budgets have fallen.

But we must always remember that police reform has never been just about saving money. Even with financial restraint, we can make policing better - better for you, and better for the public you serve.

That is what I have been working towards for five years, and I am committed to finishing the job of police reform in the next five. And where you come with constructive solutions to help me achieve that goal, as you have before, I will always listen.

Because at the heart of this Government’s reforms to policing is a simple objective: that the men and women of Britain’s police forces have the freedom and discretion to get on with doing what you do best – fighting crime.

What we have achieved

When we look back today I hope you can appreciate just how far we have come.

Thanks to everyone in this hall – and the police officers and staff beyond – crime is down by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.

We abolished reams and reams of unnecessary bureaucracy that got in the way of you doing your jobs - and millions of hours of police time have been saved.

We restored your professional discretion over police-led prosecutions, and time otherwise spent waiting for the CPS can now be used tackling criminals on the streets.

We pledged a proper professional body owned by the police, for the police - and the College of Policing now sets standards, provides training and identifies what works in cutting crime for the benefit of its members.

The introduction of new schemes like Direct Entry and Police Now hopes to open up policing to the brightest and the best from other backgrounds, and new skills and experience are entering policing as a result.

Working with all 43 police forces voluntarily, we have reformed stop and search, so that its use is increasingly intelligence-led, accountable and ensures that police time is not wasted.

Following your calls for action, we have joined up the health and policing response to mental health cases and helped to reduce the use of police cells for Section 136 detentions - reducing police time spent on issues they are not trained for and ensuring vulnerable people receive the care they need.

And in return for this professional responsibility, we introduced greater accountability to the communities you serve. Police forces held to account through beat meetings, crime maps and police and crime commissioners – who are themselves held to account in the most powerful way possible, through the ballot box.

More scrutiny and transparency from a truly independent Inspectorate of Constabulary, and a beefed-up Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate when things go wrong.

Today, operational policing lies not with the Home Office but with you – the professionals. Local chief constables and police and crime commissioners decide how best to run local police forces.

Targets and reducing bureaucracy

The observant among you will have noticed that in the reforms I have just listed I have not yet mentioned targets.

When I became Home Secretary in 2010, I was clear that police officers should be chasing criminals, not targets. So I abolished all national performance targets and gave you a single mission – to cut crime.

Because as I have said before targets don’t fight crime, they hinder the fight against crime. They distort operational reality. They remove independent discretion from police officers. And undue focus on one target can lead to crimes that are not being measured being neglected altogether.

Yet I know that in some places local targets still exist.

This is frustrating for you, and it is frustrating for your officers who want to get on with their job.

That’s why at the Police Federation Conference in May, I announced a comprehensive review of the use of crime and performance targets in every police force in England and Wales, to be led by your President – Irene Curtis.

Irene – I know you have just submitted your final report and I look forward to considering its findings over the coming weeks. But before I do so, I would like to commend the tremendous engagement you undertook to inform its findings. You have done a great job for us.

Responses from the chief constables of all 43 police forces in England and Wales.

Comments from the vast majority of police and crime commissioners.

And more than 6,000 police officers and staff completing an online survey about how local targets affect their day to day professional lives.

I can think of no better example of policing working with the Government to reform policing for the better.

Freeing up police time

So, with your help, we are addressing the target culture that still exists at a local level.

But I know we must do more to give you the freedom you need to get on with the job.

We have already introduced reforms to give the police greater discretion over low-level charging decisions. And we will extend the use of police-led prosecutions to cut the time you spend waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service, and put you in charge of more straightforward, uncontested cases.

We will go further in our work to reduce the amount of time the police spend dealing with people with mental health needs, while ensuring that vulnerable people get the support they need.

The street triage pilots, liaison and diversion, the Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat, and the alternative place of safety we piloted successfully in Sussex – are already making a difference.

Fewer people detained under the Mental Health Act are now being placed in police cells for want of more appropriate places of safety. Last year, such use of police cells fell by a third, and in some forces they were not used at all.

And at the Police Federation Conference in May, I announced that the Government will provide £15 million of new funding to help ensure that no person suffering a mental health crisis – who has committed no crime – is detained in a police cell due to the lack of a suitable alternative.

Because as I have said before, the right place for a person suffering a mental health crisis is a bed, not a police cell. And the right people to look after them are medically trained professionals, not police officers.

The Policing and Criminal Justice Bill will ensure we can go even further. It will include provisions to cut the use of police cells for Section 135 and 136 detentions, reduce the current 72 hour maximum period of detention, and enable more places, other than police cells to be designated as places of safety. And it will build on the changes we have already introduced to ensure that 17 year olds who are detained in police custody are treated as children for all purposes under that Act.

In addition to those measures, we will overhaul the police complaints and disciplinary systems to increase accountability and transparency, and ensure cases are dealt with quickly and effectively, not just for the benefit of the public but also for officers who have done nothing wrong.

And here I would like to thank the Superintendents’ Association for your support in this work.

You came to me with a proposal to enable misconduct hearings to continue after an officer has resigned or retired. I agreed, and we have begun work to change primary legislation to implement your proposal.

And later today at the Ferrers Awards, I will announce further proposals to allow police volunteers and staff to take on greater powers and responsibilities, to free up police time to better concentrate on those core policing tasks that only they can do.

Technology and reducing demand

So where the Government can make changes, we will do so. But I also want to see police forces make the most of the opportunities available to them.

We know that modern technology not only has the potential to dramatically reduce bureaucracy and save police time, but also to improve the way you interact with the public.

South Yorkshire and Humberside police will be investing £4.2 million over two years in new kit and mobile IT solutions, which have the potential to release 300,000 officer hours a year. Cambridgeshire Constabulary predict that their use of tablet and mobile devices will save nearly quarter of a million officer hours a year - in addition to savings of £4 million on supplier spends, £1.3 million on estates and £2 million from joint protective services.

And we know that around the country, body worn video is not just improving evidence gathering and public confidence in the police, but also saving time and reducing demand by encouraging early guilty pleas.

These efficiencies show the opportunities that exist. But it is not just new technology that matters.

When it comes to making financial savings, police forces can do much more on procurement. Too often the market is approached in a fragmented way, with equipment bought in small amounts and to varying specifications. And the result is forces paying wildly different prices for the same goods and services.

Last weekend, the Home Office published data showing some forces paying ten times the amount of others forces for similar items of clothing, and suppliers like Airwave charging forces different prices for the same technology. Since 2010, forces have delivered over £200 million of savings through collaborative procurement - there is no excuse for not going further.

The same is true of ICT, where the Police ICT Company is working to leverage forces’ joint spend to secure the very best deal for the taxpayer, and avoiding the development of expensive bespoke IT unless absolutely necessary. A recent study by the Police ICT Company suggested the savings from better ICT procurement could be in the region of £75 million a year.

We must also work to shift the police response from enforcement to prevention, to stop crimes happening in the first place. The Government is working to develop a modern crime prevention strategy to set out ways to design out crime and work with industry, charities and other public services to reduce the opportunity and incentives to commit crime.

Technology also allows for much better analysis of the information that police forces and their partners already hold, which will ensure more crimes are prevented and a more intelligent response to those that do occur.

Skills and training

Just as modern technology presents new opportunities, changing technology and a changing crime mix also presents new challenges.

So we must ensure that police officers have the skills, training and leadership they need.

This is why College of Policing is so important. As a proper professional body it can identify gaps and develop training, and through force reviews and high quality research it can ensure that policing is informed by best practice.

The College has already developed training to improve cyber capabilities, and over 170,000 training modules have been completed. At the same time, 5,000 officers have now been trained in techniques such as identifying and capturing intelligence from digital sources. And through the recently published Leadership Review, the College is working to ensure senior police leaders are properly equipped with the right skills and experience.

Irene – I know this is something that you have supported in your role on the board of the College.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the tremendous leadership you have shown over the years both in that role and in your leadership of the Supers.

I am aware that this will be your last conference as President of the Police Superintendents’ Association. Congratulations on your 30 years’ service.

I have always appreciated the collaborative approach you have taken to working with Government, and you have always represented the views of this Association well. We haven’t always agreed, but have always sat down and talked through issues.

I wish you all the best for the future.

Efficiency and collaboration

So through freeing up police time, using technology in the right way and equipping policing with the skills and training it needs, we will make policing better for you and for the public.

But as I said at the beginning of my speech, there is no escaping the fact that further efficiencies will need to be found if we are to meet the challenges we face.

I know there are some who will still argue that the only way to deliver savings is by restructuring of the 43 force model in England and Wales.

Last year, at this conference, I set out the flaws in this thinking. I explained that the alleged benefits of restructure – efficiencies, economies of scale, or better capability – can be delivered by collaboration, without the risks and loss of local identity that top-down mergers entail.

In doing so, I set out examples where forces are already showing what is possible. West Mercia and Warwickshire. The East Midlands Strategic Collaboration Framework. Surrey and Sussex. There are many more examples across the country.

I have always said that if forces come to me with a coherent and comprehensive plan to merge forces at local level with local support, I would consider it. That invitation remains open.

But the success of collaboration locally shows that big, top-down restructure is simply not needed. And if you need further proof of the risks, I would urge you to look north of the Border.

There the top-down merger of eight forces into a single force, Police Scotland, was once heralded as the future of policing, but is already facing difficulties.

Despite being first announced in 2011, and formally created in April 2013, there is still no full business case for Police Scotland and the outline business case that has been published suggests that it will take 15 years to deliver the promised savings.

Last week - after a series of high profile issues - the Scottish Government announced a review into the way Police Scotland is governed and held accountable to communities.

And, in an admission that local accountability was lost in the merger and is now having to be restored, the new chief constable has been ordered to attend local “public scrutiny sessions” in the same way local chief constables are held to account in England and Wales.

The evidence is clear. Top-down restructures in policing do not generate the savings they promise. It can cause unnecessary complexity that distracts from the day to day business of fighting crime. And in the process, the most precious element of our system of policing by consent - local accountability – can be lost. Instead, we must go further to drive deeper collaboration, better sharing of back office services and a more intelligent approach to where police capabilities sit to generate savings without the loss of local accountability and identity.

And this collaboration must extend beyond policing to other public services too.

Already police and crime commissioners have shown the benefits of bringing fire and police services together at local level, including through shared back office services, combined buildings or vehicles, and joint response to incidents. For example, in Hampshire the police and fire and rescue services are developing a shared headquarters, a strategic command centre, co-located stations and shared training facilities, delivering annual savings for both services of around £1 million. But there remains more to do to support collaboration and integration. As I said at the Police Federation conference in May, this Government will enable the fire and rescue services to engage in much closer joint working with the police. We will shortly set out proposals for legislation to help local leaders join up services to generate savings, cut crime and reduce fires in their areas.


But I want to end by saying this.

In 2010, as we approached a Spending Review, I was told that police budgets couldn’t be cut.

Academics insisted that crime would rocket. Chief constables told me that public safety would be put at risk and public confidence undermined. The Opposition warned of a “Perfect Storm”. The Police Federation warned of “Christmas for criminals”.

None of that has happened. Our streets, our communities, and our families are safer than they have ever been. Public satisfaction is up, not down. Officers are more likely to be out on the frontline tackling crime than at any time in the modern history of policing.

In recent weeks, as we approach this Spending Review, I have heard this generation of police leaders succumb to the same temptation. I have heard that policing is “on the edge” from senior chief constables. That budget cuts will mean the police no longer fulfilling essential functions. And I have heard suggestions that spending cuts could lead to variations in the level of service and a loss in public confidence.

I am afraid to say that these claims are no different to the calls I heard in 2010, and they serve neither the public, nor the police officers and staff you lead.

I have always been straight with you that budgets will fall further and savings will have to be made in policing as elsewhere in Government. I have always been open that reduced police budgets will likely mean fewer police officers. I have never shied away from pointing out areas where I think efficiencies can still be made. This is the reality for which chief constables and police and crime commissioners have planned, and which the public accepts. We must have a grown-up, frank conversation about what is possible, what is necessary, and – most important of all – where we can make policing better for the public and for the officers and staff who fight crime on our behalf every day and night.

I hope you will work with me, with your police and crime commissioners, and with each other, to make savings where they are possible, to think intelligently about how to deploy the skills and capability – not just the manpower – under your command, and to propose new ways that the police can do things better and more cheaply.

We all know the difficult choices that lie ahead. But it can be done. At the end of it, if we work together, policing can be more effective, more responsive and more efficient than it has ever been before.

Published 9 September 2015