Home Secretary's speech on a new approach to fighting crime

This speech was given by Theresa May at a community safety partnership event on 2 March 2011. This version is as written, not as spoken.

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

I am absolutely delighted that so many people from so many different organisations have been able to come today. You are tied together by one common thread - you are all crucial in cutting crime.

The importance we attach to your work I think is shown by the fact that myself, the policing and criminal justice minister, Nick Herbert, and the minister for crime prevention, James Brokenshire all wanted to speak to you today.

I want to set out this government’s vision for the future of local crime fighting. And I wanted to tell you how we believe Community Safety Partnerships can play a crucial role in that fight.

Across government, we are committed to ending the era of central control, to cutting bureaucracy, and to giving back discretion to the professionals and power back to local people.

In my very first speech as Home Secretary, I told the Police Federation that I’m not interested in running the police.

That principle holds true across all the organisations that impact on crime and community safety. I believe - and this government believes - that the professionals know best, not the politicians.

I will set out what this new approach means for each of the key people and organisations involved in the fight against crime and I will also set out how our new approach can work in practice.

You will find in your delegate pack, and on the Home Office website, a copy of a document - a new approach to fighting crime. This sets out the new approach that I am talking about in more detail. It was written very much with you in mind and so I hope you will look at it.

New principles

I want to make clear to you, first of all, what I have already said to the police: under this government the police will have only one objective - to cut crime.

The Home Office won’t be handing down any more central targets or trying to control the police.

We’re slashing the bureaucracy and stopping all of the interference that got in the way of the police doing their jobs.

Instead, we are putting power back in the hands of the professionals and the public.

That’s why we’re introducing directly elected police and crime commissioners to hold the police to account and to make sure police leaders focus on the concerns of local people.

And that’s why we are returning charging discretion to police officers for more routine offences and allowing them to use innovative community and restorative justice responses if they think that’s appropriate.

We’re backing up that top level accountability and enhanced discretion with a real increase in local transparency.

You will all have seen that we recently launched the most detailed street level crime data anywhere in the world. I think the 310 million hits the website received in its first week shows just what an appetite there is for this sort of information.

Armed with their new crime maps, the public will be able to hold their local neighbourhood policing teams to account at their mandatory beat meetings.

But even with this revolution in accountability and transparency, everyone in this room knows that the police can’t cut crime on their own. They need the help of local authorities, the NHS, probation services, fire and rescue. In short, they need the support of their community safety partners.

Your work has made a big difference so far. And it will make a big difference in future.

I know that many of you have much broader objectives than just cutting crime - and rightly so - but today I want to talk about your role in the fight against crime, because I believe it is absolutely crucial.

Places where crime is tackled effectively are more likely to have thriving economies, healthy citizens and cohesive communities; and keeping communities safe is best achieved by local agencies working together and working with their communities.

Effective partnerships

Let me highlight a couple of examples of where CSPs have been really effective:

In Salford the CSP has been working with new partners like the Security Industry Agency, the UK Border Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions to crack down on security companies run by Organised Criminals.

By bringing these new partners to the table the project was able to arrest the leader of the racket and his girlfriend for alleged benefit fraud, mortgage fraud and possession of cannabis. The company had its SIA accreditation removed and if faces further fines from UKBA for employing illegal immigrants. This success would not have been possible without partners working together.

In Leeds, the CSP has introduced a ‘reducing re-offending board’ to replace two separate Boards with overlapping agendas. By doing this the partnership has increased efficiency, generated significant savings and cut out bureaucracy. Local analysis show a 44% reduction in reconviction rates for the 102 offenders managed through Leeds’ Integrated Offender Management approach.

This is the sort of activity that we want to see more of. We don’t need talking shops; we need CSPs that are dynamic, priority setting, leaders of local action.

I know many of you are already doing just that. At your best, you are invaluable.

Effective partnerships are organised according to local needs, they are responsive to the concerns of their local community and they are action-oriented, not meeting oriented.

I want you to be empowering your front line staff; getting them to tackle problems quickly and effectively.

And I want you to be innovative in your search for solutions. Don’t just involve the traditional partners - think about bringing in the voluntary sector, social landlords and benefit fraud investigators if you need to.

That is the extent of what we ask of CSPs - solve problems, work together, cut crime. It’s as simple as that.

There won’t be any pointless government reporting requirements, PSA targets or unnecessary rules and regulations to get in your way. You won’t have to wait for the Home Office or anyone else in government to tell you what to do - you can just get on and do it. You won’t have to wait for your next meeting to take action - you can just take it.

We want you to look to your communities for advice, not to Whitehall. We want you to ask your communities what their priorities are, not the government.

And in response, we want you to design and commission services that meet the specific needs of your communities, whatever they may be.

Of course, the government will help. We’ll give you the practical support you need. So we’ll recognise and promote good practice - indeed, conferences like today can really help. And we’ll develop new online systems to help you find and share examples of good practice.

Early intervention

The police will remain the ones who catch criminals. Where you can really come into your own is in helping the police to stop crime happening in the first place. We need prevention as well as cure.

Offenders using heroin, crack and cocaine are estimated to commit between a third and a half of all acquisitive crime - that’s why the partnership between the police, health service professionals and others to break the cycle of addiction and offending is so important.

Nearly half of all violent crime is fuelled by alcohol - that’s why we are overhauling the licensing regime, giving local people the chance to challenge the licenses of problem pubs and clubs.

The everyday nuisance, disorder and crime which is sometimes described as ‘anti-social behaviour’ has a huge impact on the quality of life of millions of people across the country. Community Safety Partnerships play a critical role in protecting victims and neighbourhoods - that’s why we have set out proposals to make the tools and powers at your disposal faster, less bureaucratic and more effective.

And around half of all crime is committed by those who are previous offenders and half of all prisoners commit offences within a year of leaving prison - that’s why we need to make prison and rehabilitation work better. Criminals should expect tougher, more effective punishments, with prison being a place to learn the value of hard work and community sentences being robust punishments that force them to repay their debts to society.

At an even earlier stage we need to address the lack of discipline in our schools, the benefit dependency and worklessness in some communities, and the lack of social responsibility in our society.

Not all of these tasks are for the organisations represented here today but many of them are.

We will support your work to prevent crime with a £2bn early intervention grant for local areas.

Public engagement

We also want to get people much more involved in their communities. All those people who logged on to the crime mapping website; all those people who want to join a Neighbourhood Watch scheme - we want to involve them.

So we’ll help the public engage with the police. We’ll require local police to hold regular beat meetings to talk to their communities. We’ll provide a national non-emergency number - 101 - to make it easier to contact the police. We’ll encourage joint patrols between the public and the police. And we’ll encourage people to volunteer in victim support, as a special constable or as a magistrate.

The voluntary sector more broadly will be encouraged to make a contribution to the fight against crime by giving Police and Crime Commissioners the freedom to make specific grants to voluntary organisations that are helping.

Funding challenges

I won’t go over again the reasons why we are having to make the necessary savings that we are, except to say that we simply cannot go on with the biggest budget deficit in the G20, the largest of any major industrialised country, and the highest in Europe, with the sole exception of Ireland.

We are having to make savings across the entire public sector and the police, local authorities and community safety partners are having to play their part.

But with the reforms we are making and a real genuine focus from the police on the frontline, then there’s no reason why we can’t cut crime as we cut costs.

Just this morning I made a speech which spelt out exactly how we will slash bureaucracy; how we will help the police to make savings in the back office, in procurement and in efficiency; and how reforming terms and conditions is so important in protecting police officer jobs. Our priority, and the police’s priority, should be to get officers back on the streets where they want to be and where the public want to see them.

I know you too will have to do more with less and I know that won’t be easy. Your organisations have all had tough spending settlements. You will have to rise to this challenge - you too will have to increase efficiency, cut out waste and prioritise spending on things that really matter. But you know best how to meet this challenge.

That’s why the consolidated Home Office community safety fund - totalling £56.8m in 2011/12 - is non-ringfenced to allow you maximum flexibility in your management of resources.

And when Police and Crime Commissioners are in place, with their democratic accountability, we will give them the maximum control over their resources so they can decide how best to tackle crime at a local level, working alongside local partners.

Top concerns

Crime and community safety will continue to rank as one of people’s top concerns and will remain key to healthy, cohesive, thriving communities.

If your organisations just cut back on community safety, then the costs to the police, the health service, probation, local authorities and society as a whole will be much higher in the long run.

You will need to think very hard about how to make savings while maintaining services. I know some areas have made tough choices already, because they know community safety services are so vital and matter so much to their community.  Local Authorities such as Wrexham and Warrington and areas of West Yorkshire are continuing to work with the police and investing in PCSOs.

Taking a joint approach to local funding decisions will increase your ability to ensure that key services, like these, are protected.

You will also need to cut out the bureaucracy, focus on securing value for money and work together in new and innovative ways.

Effective partnerships are ones that put in place services that make a real difference.

Nowhere is this more important than in the work you all do to protect the public from serious harm. We know that investment in the protection of the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse or intervening early to protect children from harm, can pay for itself many times over. 

Stopping violence against women is a priority for me personally and it is a priority for this government.

That’s why I announced a four year deal for the frontline domestic and sexual abuse services that the Home Office directly funds. And that’s why the Ministry of Justice is providing sustainable funding to support local rape crisis support provision across the country.

We are clear that funding for services like these is vital. I hope you are too.

Initiatives like Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences - now in place on a voluntary basis in over 240 local areas and helping over 45,000 domestic violence victims a year - show what can happen when local professionals get together to protect the most vulnerable.

Other services like integrated offender management can remove duplication and inefficiency. IOM involves local partners jointly prioritising which offenders cause the most harm, and agreeing joint actions.

It is clear that targeted, specialised services like these - together with a strong focus on early intervention - can deliver safer communities and cost savings.

I know that some of you are concerned that agencies will withdraw from partnership working in response to budget cuts. I am clear that this would be a false economy.

In these tough economic times working together is more important, not less. You will need to work across traditional boundaries, think about sharing or merging back office functions, combining frontline services or even sharing buildings. In Bristol, for example, all local Probation staff will be moving into shared premises with the Police in the next 18 months.

To help you, we’re scrapping all of the old reporting requirements you had and we’re going to stop giving you daft instructions about how to run your meetings. We’re getting rid of the PSAs, the LAAs and all the other alphabet soup of targets and reports. We’re removing ringfences and simplifying funding. We’re freeing you up to be less bureaucratic and more about action.

In exchange we want you to focus once more on victims, offenders and public spaces. We trust you to do it.

Public will judge success

The success of our new approach won’t be judged by some complex system of national targets and indicators. Success will be judged by the people you serve - the public - on whether crime has fallen and whether they feel safer in their neighbourhoods. Nothing more and nothing less.

This government is taking an entirely new approach to the fight against crime. Instead of the central diktats, targets and gimmicks we are putting our trust in the professionals and the public. We are enhancing transparency and increasing accountability across government.

Directly elected police and crime commissioners will reconnect the police with the public that they serve.

Crime mapping and beat meetings will allow the public to really hold their local police to account.

And by slashing bureaucracy we’ll allow those officers to get back out on the streets, where they want to be and where the public want to see them.

But the police can’t do it all alone. And that is why community safety partnerships are at the heart of our new approach to cutting crime.

Locally led action is the best way of addressing local problems. The scope of your activities, the reach of your staff and the contacts you have, mean that you can be at the heart of building a better society. 

To do that we need you to drive action in your communities, not just talk about problems.

To help you, we’ll get rid of the ridiculous reports you had to write and we’ll let you get on with doing what you do best.

You do incredible work and incredibly important work.That’s why this government is going to trust you.

Working together we can cut crime and restore the safety of our communities.’


Published 2 March 2011