Home Secretary's speech on police bureaucracy

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Theresa May delivered this speech on police bureaucracy on 9 May 2011. This speech is as written, not as spoken.

Last year in my very first speech as Home Secretary, I offered the police a deal - more freedom to do your work; in exchange for greater accountability to local people.

It is now one year since I made that pledge. Today, I want to update you on what we have done so far; and I want to talk about the next steps in fulfilling that deal.

Progress in Public Accountability

We have made good progress. 

The legislation for Police and Crime Commissioners has passed through the House of Commons and will shortly enter committee stage in the House of Lords.

Police and Crime Commissioners will bring real public accountability to policing.

Unlike invisible police authorities, your commissioner will be somebody you’ve heard of; somebody you’ve voted for; somebody you can hold to account; somebody you can vote out if they don’t help the police to cut crime.

But they will in no way affect the operational independence of the police. 

Commissioners will not manage police forces and they will not be permitted to interfere in the day-to-day work of police officers.

A protocol setting out the relationship between Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables will make this clear - we will publish a draft of the protocol to inform discussion of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill during committee stage in the House of Lords.

Let me be clear - the duty and responsibility of managing a police force will fall squarely on the shoulders of the chief constable - as it always has done. 

Indeed, we are giving chiefs more power to appoint their top teams. If they are going to be the ones held to account for their force’s performance, then they should have genuine responsibility for their force.

The new model of democratic accountability for the police will begin in May next year.

But for neighbourhood police officers we’re making this public accountability happen right now.

We are mandating forces to hold regular neighbourhood beat meetings. 

These meetings will give local people the chance to scrutinise the work of their local police. People will be able to raise their concerns: what are local officers doing about the drug dealing in the local park? What’s happening about the pub where all the trouble is? And the police will have to respond.

Beat meetings will make the new sense of public accountability a day to day reality for people up and down the country. And they’ll make public accountability a day to day reality for tens of thousands of police officers as well.

To make this accountability work, we have already given the public access to the country’s first-ever nationwide street-level crime maps. Armed with this information, people will really be able to hold their officers to account for their performance.

Since launching in January, the police.uk website has received over 410 million hits. 

That just shows the enormous appetite the public have for information about policing and crime in their local area. And it shows just how desperately keen people are to play their part in keeping their communities safe.

These reforms add up to a massive transfer of power from the government, to the people.

They will be in charge, and every police officer - from chief constables, to the officer on the street - will have to answer to them.

For a public service, in a democracy, that is exactly how it should be.

Progress in slashing bureaucracy

But giving power to the people is only half of the deal. This new, democratic accountability means we can do away with the bureaucratic accountability of the past. So we will free the police to do their job. And we’ve made progress here too.

I have said loud and clear that the days of the bureaucrats controlling and managing the police from Whitehall are over. 

The Home Office will no longer scrutinise and supervise police performance and come up endlessly with new schemes and initiatives.

So I’ve responded to incidents like the Cumbria and Northumbria shootings, not with a gun crime summit, or some hasty new legislation, but by respecting the operational independence of the police.

And I’ve responded to the violence at protests in London, not by criticising the police or coming up with some new draconian anti-protest Bill, but by letting the police get on and do their job. Indeed, the police do an excellent job, as we saw again during the Royal Wedding.

I’ve also put in place plans to end the ring-fenced funding which restricts the police’s flexibility. From 2013, when police and crime commissioners will set their first budgets, I will end the ring-fencing of all of the central policing grants that we have not already stopped, save only for counter-terrorism.

And I’ve scrapped the Policing Pledge and confidence target, the PSA targets, the key performance indicators and the Local Area Agreements. I want police officers chasing criminals, not chasing targets. So I’ve given the police just one single objective - to cut crime. 

After years of bureaucratic control from Whitehall, which wrapped the police up in red tape and undermined their professional judgement, the message to the police is clear - this government trusts you to fight crime.

That’s why we have already restored police discretion over certain charging decisions, saving up to 50,000 police hours per year.

That’s why we’ve scrapped the national requirement for the stop and account form, and cut the reporting requirements for stop and search, saving up to an estimated 800,000 police hours per year.

And that’s why we’ve issued new health and safety guidance that supports officers who do the right thing - when police officers put themselves at risk to protect the public, they shouldn’t be worrying about breaching the rules.

We’ve also given a clear signal to our partners across the Criminal Justice System - and this message is getting through.

So Sir Denis’s own organisation - Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary - will now focus on light touch monitoring and inspection and on incentivising local accountability and transparency. They will reduce the burden of inspection on forces by acting as a single gateway.

We’ve worked with the Independent Police Complaints Commission to implement a radical new approach to police complaints.

This will encourage front line supervising officers to deal with most complaints quickly and informally themselves, rather than relying on lengthy bureaucratic procedures that so often fail to satisfy the public. Most of the time people want a simple apology - not a lengthy form to fill in.

And we’ve also started a programme with the Ministry of Justice, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Courts to streamline the processes across the system that generate unnecessary paperwork and waste police time in the station and at court.

Commitment to go further

But this is just the start. I’m determined to go further and faster.

I want to get rid of even more of the grinding bureaucracy that wears officers down and stops them doing their important work.

Dealing with a simple burglary can require 1000 process steps and 70 forms to be completed as a case goes through the Criminal Justice System. That can’t be right.

Today I can announce a raft of reforms that we estimate could save over 2.5 million police hours every year. That’s the equivalent of more than 1,200 police officer posts.

These reforms are a watershed moment in policing. They show that we really mean business in busting bureaucracy.

First, we have restructured the police performance development review process. This move will not only save time, but will also improve police management. And it could save up to 1.5 million police hours per year. 

This month we will launch an ‘assumption of competence’ model. This is based on the simple premise that most trained and experienced police officers and staff are competent and their line manager’s observation will therefore provide most of the management evidence needed.

This shorter and more straightforward PDR process will change a bureaucratic burden into a sharp and meaningful conversation about performance, development and skills.

If this is accepted by all forces we estimate it could cut the time spent on each officer or staff member’s PDR from 10 to 2 hours each year.

We’re also working with the police to streamline other aspects of their HR. For example, until January there were over 35,000 different role profiles - definitions of skills, standards and qualities - for officers and staff across the service. And the role profile for a constable alone could reach up to 70 pages.

The new Policing Professional Framework is drastically reducing the number of profiles and is also simplifying them so that now the role profile of a constable can fit on to one side of A4.

Second, risk management. We need to move away from the tick box, cover your back culture - where the response is rigidly prescribed according to the type of problem reported. And instead we need to adopt a more sensible way of managing risks to the public.

For example, more efficient call-handling, often by staff rather than police officers, and active assessment of risks could mean more effective grading of incidents.

This would see more officers dispatched to the genuine priority incidents; allowing less urgent matters to be resolved by phone, or by an officer attending at a later time. 

Of course, if something is urgent it should be treated as such, but we estimate that a more sophisticated approach to assessing and managing risk could save up to 860,000 hours of police time.

Third, we will champion a simplified crime recording process. As a starting point, this means challenging forces to simplify their own practices, but I don’t want to stop there. 

At my request, the National Statistician is currently reviewing crime statistics. I do not want to pre-empt her report, and indeed she is discussing her emerging findings with experts today, but I specifically want to look at reducing the number of crime categories and merging some similar crime types.

This would help officers when they come to fill out crime reports, saving them time and reducing the amount of data they have to collect for more minor crimes.

We estimate that this could save up to 95,000 hours of police officer time each year.

I am clear that the public need to have transparent and trusted information on crime - and our crime maps have already helped with that - but we need to be smart about how we deliver it.

Fourth, Sara Thornton, the Chief Constable of my own local force Thames Valley, is leading work on behalf of ACPO to review the police service’s doctrine and guidance. This work, which will be completed by March 2012, is likely to reduce over 600 pieces of current guidance to an approved set of fewer than 100. This should lead to significant savings for officers as they will no longer have to read and learn all of this guidance.

But just as important, it will send a clear signal that the professional judgement of individual officers is valued and it is expected. 

This is a great example of a service led contribution to cutting police paperwork. 

But let me make clear, individual forces must not respond to this valuable work by re-inventing 43 versions of the national guidance that has been scrapped - we are not removing these burdens only for them to be reintroduced at local level.

Fifth, we will pilot going even further in restoring charging decisions to police officers, a step we are taking because of the Crown Prosecution Service’s views of the positive and effective ways in which the police have responded to the reforms I announced last year. 

Rising to the challenge, the CPS and the police have worked together to ensure that officers are properly supported and victims are properly protected as we cut back bureaucracy.

And across the country, instead of waiting around in custody suites, officers are already saving time because of the changes we have made.

So now, following discussions with the CPS and the police, we will go further.

We will pilot doubling the number of charges transferred to police officers, giving them responsibility for nearly 80% of charging decisions, including shoplifting cases.

This will save even more officer time, stopping them from having to ring up the Crown Prosecution Service to make the decision for them, or having to bail the offender to come back at a later date.

This dramatic shift would further enhance officers’ discretion and once again demonstrates the trust we put in our police officers. 

If the pilot is successful and is rolled out fully, it could save up to an estimated 40,000 more hours of police officer time.

We are also looking at introducing a range of measure to provide a new, simpler and potentially quicker way of bringing a defendant to court for a prosecution. This includes postal charging and requisitioning. 

For appropriate police bail cases, this will allow officers to send a written charge by post, requiring the defendant to attend court on a specific date to answer the charge, rather than calling the suspect back to the police station for charging. This could save up to another 40,000 police officer hours annually.

Finally, if we’re serious about tackling police bureaucracy, that will also mean looking at some difficult and sensitive areas.

Let me be clear - I will always put public safety first. But some of the processes that have been allowed to grow up do not help the most vulnerable.

Domestic violence is one of my key priorities. That’s why in March we published an Action Plan on tackling Violence Against Women and Girls. That’s why we have provided over £28 million of stable Home Office funding until 2015 for local specialist services. That’s why we have provided £900,000 until 2015 to support national helplines. And that’s why we have implemented legislation for multi-agency Domestic Homicide Reviews after every domestic murder.

I am clear that domestic violence must be taken seriously. In recent years the police have made great strides in how they deal with these crimes, with expert teams of officers who do tremendous work.

But the bureaucratic burden of existing processes too often stop those experts from giving help to all of the victims of this awful crime.

Too often officers have to spend time filling in forms which may not be necessary or double entering data that could and should have been captured just once. 

They can only do so much - they can only help so many victims - when there is so much duplication, double-entry and wider bureaucracy.

By ending these wasteful processes we can free officers to reinvest time and resources in safeguarding those who need help - including those, like domestic abuse victims who are under 18, who may have previously been neglected.

This isn’t about saving money - it’s about delivering a better service to vulnerable people. 

This sort of approach would enhance public protection, not lessen it; it would improve the police response to these crimes, not hamper it.

ACPO have initiated a review of police domestic abuse processes with other relevant organisations. We will work with them to ensure best practice is effectively shared and seized upon by forces. And we will of course be working with NGOs with expertise in this area.

The next step will be to pilot the proposals in a number of police forces. If the pilots are successful, and if these improved measures are then rolled out across the country, they could achieve significant benefits, allowing more police time to be re-invested in those most at risk.

Overall Package

The overall package of reforms I have outlined today is a radical leap forward for policing.

I know Home Secretaries and Policing Ministers have talked about cutting bureaucracy in the past.

But they have not followed it through, and the police have seen more bureaucracy, not less.

The progress we have made in the last year, and the detail of the measures I have announced today shows that we are serious about slashing bureaucracy

As I said, these measures could realise savings of over 2.5 million police hours - or more than 1,200 police officer posts - every year.

They will make a real difference to real police officers in their real work.

Working with the Police

The reforms I have announced today have been developed in close partnership with police professionals. Many of the suggestions stem from work by HMIC and, of course, Jan Berry has previously made excellent suggestions in this area. Chris Sims, the Chief Constable of the West Midlands, is now leading for ACPO on the reducing bureaucracy agenda and he is doing an excellent job. 

Tomorrow, the Policing Minister Nick Herbert will be addressing a joint Home Office/ACPO conference, alongside Chris.
At that conference Nick will be discussing with police officers exactly how we can make these changes happen in every one of our 43 forces.

Because it will be key for the reforms I have outlined to be carried through by individual forces and individual officers at the local level. The potential rewards for the police are enormous, but they must make them happen.

Nick will also be making further new announcements about the wider bureaucracy and efficiency savings we are planning across the Criminal Justice System as a whole. 

This is the great benefit of having a Minister who spans the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice - he can look strategically across the whole system to redesign the processes that waste so much officer time.

Challenge to Chiefs

I have made a clear commitment today that the government is determined to get rid of the unnecessary bureaucracy generated from the centre.

But this commitment must be matched by police forces themselves. 

I have instructed my officials to exhaustively check each and every requirement that the Home Office generates, so that I am satisfied that there is nothing - and I do mean nothing - that my department does which unnecessarily adds to the burden. 

Any police officer that knows of government bureaucracy that we should get rid of should write to me or to Nick Herbert and we will make sure it is looked at.

But a great deal of the day to day bureaucracy that police officers encounter is actually generated by their own force.

So I want police forces across the country to follow our lead. Every single senior police officer should be asking themselves what they personally are doing to rid their officers of red tape. 

If we’ve scrapped a form at national level, then there had better be a really good reason for keeping it at local level. If we’ve done away with a target nationally, then stop chasing it locally. If we’ve got rid of a national regulation, then don’t bring in a local replacement.

That goes for police forces, but it will also apply to Police and Crime Commissioners, Community Safety Partnerships, the Courts, the Crown Prosecution Service, Probation and everyone else in the Criminal Justice System.

Particularly in these tough times, we need to cut out every possible cost and save every possible minute of wasted time.

And that challenge extends beyond bureaucracy. 

Because of the financial crisis left behind by the last government, police forces are having to make savings in their back and middle office functions to protect their frontline crime fighting capabilities.

But this must be done intelligently - there’s no point in a police force cutting its HR function if that just means the burden falls on warranted officers instead - that is not a saving at all. Forces need to remove the burden altogether.

There are examples across the country of chief officers who are already making sensible savings to protect the frontline: in Avon and Somerset they are using outsourcing to make significant savings. Essex and Kent are sharing IT directors. Hampshire and Thames Valley Police are doing the same.

These are all examples of chief officers using their professional judgement to best deploy their resources in the fight against crime.

They didn’t wait for the Home Office to tell them what to do - they got on and did it.

This is the challenge to chief officers. But it’s also an enormous opportunity. 

Because they’ll no longer have the Home Office looking over their shoulder, they will be truly freed to show what they and their forces can do. Because there will be much less paperwork, they’ll be able to get their officers back on the fight against crime.

Changing the Culture

Dealing with police bureaucracy isn’t just about cutting out unnecessary forms - as important as that is. It’s also about redesigning whole systems and whole ways of doing things. That sort of transformative change can come from the bottom up - from forces themselves - as well as from the top down.
But even more than this, it’s about changing the prevailing culture.
When the first response of the previous government to a tragedy was to change the law, have an inquiry, write more guidance, second guess the officers involved - it’s no wonder that we ended up with a tick-box, compliance culture in policing.
Well times have changed.
I know that police officers can only ever judge a situation as they find it. When they confront a violent offender, when they go into a dangerous situation unarmed, when they put their lives on the line to protect the public, police officers have to make split second judgements under the most extreme pressure. If police officers do something wrong then they will always be responsible for their actions, but this government will always back officers who do the right thing.
The police are in the business of stopping tragedies before they happen. And it’s those successes that happen day in, day out that never get reported in the media. But unfortunately, despite the police’s best efforts, sometimes things do go wrong. I understand that and I will never blame the police for making decisions that they believed at the time were right.
We’ve stopped the weary cycle of over-reaction, inquiries, blame, legislation, codes and guidance, and blanket remedial training for all. We will take a different approach - we will trust the police.


So we’re delivering on the deal.

We’re keeping our promise to the police to get the government out of the way of policing, and we’re keeping our promise to the public to put them back in charge.
We’ve done away with the diktats, we’ve scrapped the central targets, and we’re ripping up the red-tape.
We’re giving power back to the people through directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners, beat meetings and crime mapping.
But this is not the end of the road, it’s just the beginning.
We won’t change cultures, attitudes and processes over night. Getting rid of the paperwork is as hard and grinding a task, as actually filling out the pointless forms in the first place.
But I am absolutely determined to see this through.
I will lead, but police Chiefs need to lead too.
I want to see a police force trusted by the public, responsive to their needs; professional, respected and effective.
I want officers out from behind their desks and back on the streets.
I want to see police officers with the discretion to do what they think is right; free from the interference of Whitehall, free to do their job, free to fight crime.
Thank you.’