National security: Nick Herbert's speech to the serious organised crime forum

This speech was given by criminal justice minister Nick Herbert on 23 May 2011. It is as delivered.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Lord Herbert of South Downs CBE PC

‘I am grateful to Professor John Grieve and Neil Stewart Associates for inviting me to speak today.

I would like to start with an apology. I accepted this invitation from Neil Stewarts Associates to speak some time ago, and the timing seemed to be rather fortuitous. I’d hoped that we would have published our new strategy on organised crime and set out more detail about the NCA which we’re going to set up and legislate for, so that this would be a good time to both talk about that new strategy and to answer questions about it.

As things turn out, while publication is imminent it has not happened today and as you know we must publish these things first to Parliament and in the proper manner. And so, what I’m going to say I’m afraid is necessarily high-level, but I still wanted to come along to hear what you have to say and engage in this debate. That is because Serious Organised Crime is a growing concern in this country, and one which this Government is committed to tackling.

I want to try and explain why what we are proposing to do really is different to the way this threat was tackled in the past - I do believe we have an important and coherent agenda for a new approach to tackling serious and organised crime.

I see from the attendee list for today’s event that many of the key figures in the fight against organised crime are present, and I’m very pleased therefore to be discussing these issues with you.

National threats

The security of our country remains the first duty of Government. And one of the first actions as a Government was to establish a new National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister. It looks at the big threats to our country and assesses our response. This is a Government therefore that is focusing its attention where it should properly be. 

Last October we published a National Security Strategy and a wide ranging Strategic Defence and Security Review.  Taken together they set out what we consider the current and future threats to the security of this country to be - and how we should respond to them.

As in other areas, there are tough choices to be made given the budget deficit we inherited. I think it’s important we do have a collective recognition of that.  Those choices must therefore be informed by a hard headed analysis of risks and prioritisation.

In relation to terrorism, with very significant government investment we have seen the development of a strong, increasingly integrated, national police counter terrorism network - working effectively with the Security Service in combating the continuing threat.

By comparison, though, our response to organised crime has lagged behind this threat.  Sir Paul Stephenson highlighted this in his powerful Police Foundation speech last year and the Government has responded accordingly.

Threat from organised crime

I’m conscious that I’m speaking to a knowledgeable audience. You are only too aware of the corrosive impact that organised crime has on individuals, communities, businesses and our economy.

But it is worth pausing to consider and note the scale of that threat.  We estimate that organised crime is costing this country between £20 and £40 bn a year in social and economic costs - it means that it is costing almost as much as paying the interest on our current debt.

The National Security Strategy highlighted a significant increase in organised crime as a key risk to our national security.  It also highlighted cyber crime and the security of our borders as significant concerns - both of which have an organised crime dimension.

But unlike some other national security issues, we are not talking here about some distant threat. You know this only too well. We are talking about daily instances of criminality; about vulnerable people being victimised; about communities being cowed; and law abiding citizens losing out because money is fraudulently going into the pockets of criminals rather than supporting vital public services.

Current response

Thanks to the work being driven by many of you here - and I would like to pay particular tribute to Jon Murphy’s leadership in this area - there have been genuine successes against organised crime targets. We know more about the nature of the problem now and who is involved in committing these crimes. 

The latest law enforcement estimate is that there are about 38,000 people involved in organised crime impacting on the UK, involving around 6,000 groups.

But for all the good work being done by law enforcement agencies and their partners, there is a harsh reality which is this: too many of these criminals have shown themselves to be out of law enforcement’s reach. There are - to borrow a related phrase from a different era - too many ‘untouchable’ criminals. 

Law enforcement has not been properly supported by national Government.  HMIC have said that that our approach has been blighted by a ‘lack of unifying direction’.

I have spoken before about the paradox of policing in recent years. That is that central Government spent too much time interfering in matters which should properly be determined locally, yet paid insufficient attention to national issues, national threats and areas where policing needed to be co-ordinated more strongly on a national basis.  Organised crime is a prime example of this.

So our determination is to reverse this position. The challenge is how to improve our overall response when set against the fiscal position that this country has inherited, and over which we have no choice.

New approach

I have already talked a little about the overall grip that we are showing on national security issues through the National Security Council.

We published, earlier this year, a New Approach to Fighting Crime.  The key elements of this are:

  • First, replacing bureaucratic accountability with local democratic accountability - the election of Police and Crime Commissioners being a manifestation of this. Bernard Hogan-Howe was right to note that despite the recent vote in the House of Lords, the Government does expect that Police and Crime Commissioners will be introduced across the whole of England and Wales, with the first elections taking place in May next year. That is because this policy was written into the coalition agreement.  It is therefore right to expect that this policy will be properly scrutinised and that the issue of checks and balances will be properly addressed. Nevertheless we do intend to go ahead with it and we expect the Commons to reinstate the policy. I want to talk a bit more in due course on the significance of this policy proposal.
  • The second element in our new approach to fighting crime was that of increased transparency. The third element is engaged and active communities. And we see a link between these last two with the launch of the police.uk street-level crime mapping website, which has seen an astonishing 400m + hits since it was launched. This demonstrated the public’s concern about crime in their neighbourhood, and not just low-level volume crime: we know that neighbourhoods are also affected by serious organised crime and its impact.
  • We also set out how we intend to return discretion to professionals and how we want to drive efficiency across the criminal justice system.
  • We talked about a focus on preventing crime happening in the first place.
  • And we referred to the new focus on organised crime.

Now these issues are all interlinked.  I will say a little more about the organised crime aspect in a second.  But our focus on improving our response to that criminality must be seen in a broader context. 

So let me highlight a couple of points:

Value for money

Reducing the budget deficit remains a priority. As I said repeatedly at the Police Federation Conference it is inescapable. The fight against organised crime is subject to the same need to maximise efficiencies as other areas of law enforcement.

Nevertheless I was able recently to announce that we are providing £3m in 2011/12 to support improvements in the national coordination of organised crime policing.  We are also providing £19m in 2011/12 and £18m in 2012/13 to provide specific support for regional organised crime policing capabilities, including Regional Asset Recovery Teams, and I am pleased that this announcement has been welcomed by ACPO.

The local/national balance and our overall police reform programme.

There is a view, I know, that Police and Crime Commissioners will focus only on very local issues, on volume crime, to the detriment of threats which may extend to the national level. Some suggest that they will not focus on issues such as serious and organised crime.

I simply don’t accept this analysis.  Police and Crime Commissioners will be responsible for ensuring the effective delivery of the full range of policing services.

We have an important principle in this country, which is that the chief constables are responsible for the totality of policing in the own force areas. That is the principle of the vertical integration of police forces, and those who hold chief constables to account are therefore responsible (in the case of current Police Authorities and in future Police and Crime Commissioners) for holding that totality of policing to account.

To move away from that principle would be to suggest that there would be somehow a split in both the operation of our police forces and the way they were held to account. I do not detect an appetite either within the profession or indeed in any political debate for that. So let us hold on to that golden thread and recognise that there serious and organised crime runs right down to the neighbourhood policing agenda, just as in our response to terrorism.

And I think we also have to accept that there is be an alternative model which some suggest would give a bigger focus on serious and organised crime, namely the creation of large regional forces. I accept that there are some who perfectly legitimately advocate that as a solution to dealing with these issues. But I simply need to occupy the space of real politick and repeat gently but firmly that there is no possibility of such a policy going through the House of Commons; the last Government had to abandon it in the face of opposition, and that is because there is no public support for it.

Therefore what we have to do, given an acceptance that there are going to be 43 forces in England, is to consider how we ensure that there is a proper focus on national threats (including the issue of serious and organise crime), given that we have that number of forces which are vertically integrated with Chief Constables responsible for the totality of policing in their areas.

And what I want to point out is that we have written into the bill that is currently before parliament some very significant changes that will assist in relation to the proper co-ordination of policing in this area.

First of all the bill contains a new provision - a Strategic Policing Requirement which requires the Home Secretary to set out what, in her view, are the national threats, and the appropriate policing requirements to counter those threats. This is an important element of our overall approach to policing. Organised crime will feature as one such national threat. 

We are working constructively now with ACPO and our other partners on the detail of the Strategic Policing Requirement.  I want to get this right - and be very clear about the practical implications of it for chief officers and for Police and Crime Commissioners.

There will be strong duties on local forces to have regard to the Strategic Policing Requirement - it encapsulates exactly the reversal of the current position, so that in this area there will be stronger local co-ordination because there is a national threat.

But let me be clear about this - the SPR is new but it deals with an existing problem. It is not being introduced because we believe a problem will be created by the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners.

The failure to ‘close the gap’ was caused by the existing model of policing governance.
The SPR is an important part of the package of policing reforms that we are introducing, and to characterise those reforms as simply being the introduction of local democratic accountability is to get only half of the point.

The second important duty that we’re placing upon the local policing bodies is strong duties to collaborate. I recently set out in a speech up in Ryton why we think it is important to drive the agenda of collaboration, not just so as to drive stronger value for money in policing but also so to achieve greater operational effectiveness.

This is an important necessity, given that we are not going to move towards the creation of strategic police forces. It is something which the Inspectorate has identified needs to happen at a far greater pace.

So two statutory requirements are being placed upon local policing bodies: to collaborate and to have the regard to the Strategic Policing Requirement. In these lies the answers to those who believe that in future there will be an excessive focus on the local and on volume crime - there will not, there will be a proper balance, and it is right that there should be.

Focus on organised crime

Let me also say a little more about two elements of how our new focus on organised crime will manifest itself - firstly through a new strategic approach; and secondly through a new operational body - the National Crime Agency.

We have signalled that we will publish as I mentioned a new strategy on organised crime.  There have, I know, been consistent calls for Government to set out a clear approach. 

We will set the unifying direction that HMIC have called for.  In doing so, we want to galvanise the work of all those with a responsibility to combat organised crime.  It is a big community - a range of government departments; a range of law enforcement agencies; their criminal justice partners; our security and intelligence agencies; local partners; business and the private sector.  And the public have a role too.

We want, I think, to emulate what CONTEST has done for our response to international terrorism - though without the level of new funding which that strategy originally enjoyed.  But that strategy is an interesting benchmark.

Alongside an emphasis on hard-edged enforcement, we want to put an emphasis in the strategy on prevention and self protection work.  This is about increasing the risks to criminals and the likelihood of them getting caught; while at the same time reducing vulnerabilities and criminal opportunities.

We will want to talk about the importance of intelligence to our response; about ways to improve our operational capabilities; and how we can best develop our international response to what is a global threat. 

The strategy needs to work from the local to the global level.  The links are clear.  Our national security depends on having safe and secure neighbourhoods.

I see the need for a strong communications effort in all this - to reach out in public messaging terms about the nature of the organised crime threat, and what we are collectively doing about it.

The strategy reflects, again, this Government putting its focus and energy where it properly should be. 

National Crime Agency

The strategy is inextricably linked to the establishment of the new National Crime Agency, the creation of which we signalled last year.  As I mentioned we will shortly publish details about how we see the new Agency operating.  But let me say a few things now.          

As we’ve said - the NCA will spearhead our response to organised crime, will encompass work against child exploitation and improve the security of our borders.  It will harness and exploit the intelligence, analytical and enforcement capabilities and reach of SOCA and other agencies, as well as incorporating those capabilities which rest elsewhere at a national level.  It will build and maintain a comprehensive picture of the threats, harms and risks to the UK from organised criminals and be responsible for ensuring that those criminals are subject to a prioritised level of operational response.

The NCA will be an integral part of the UK law enforcement landscape.  It will be led by a senior Chief Constable and have strong, two-way links with local police forces and other law enforcement agencies. 

Accountable to the Home Secretary, and underpinned by the Strategic Policing Requirement which I have mentioned, the NCA will reinforce the golden thread of policing. It will work with Police and Crime Commissioners, Chief Constables, devolved administrations and others to connect activity from the local to the international - in country, at the border, and overseas.

There are improvements we can make before the NCA comes fully into being.  I support the work which law enforcement leaders are driving through the Organised Crime Partnership Board to improve our knowledge and mapping of the threat; and the coordination of the law enforcement response to it. 

These are critical building blocks as we establish the NCA.  And I want to reiterate that in developing both the organised crime strategy and our proposals for the National Crime Agency we have been in the closest consultation with ACPO and other relevant bodies. This is to ensure that we set out these very significant proposals on a properly grounded basis where we have involved right at the beginning of these ideas the most senior practitioners involved in law enforcement in the country.

 I also mentioned that the proposals for the NCA follow the call by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police for a approach to dealing with Serious and Organised Crime that is significantly different. This is because it involves a national agency actually having a tasking responsibility in relation to Serious and Organised crime, something that we have not seen so far.


As I’ve said - more detail on the issues I’ve covered today will be forthcoming very soon.  So this is just a flavour. But I wanted to reiterate that as a Government, we are committed to fulfilling our national responsibilities to keep this country - and our communities - safe and secure. To fight crime, and that means serious and organised crime too.

Organised criminals - as you well know - are agile and adaptable.  Our collective challenge is to match that. There should be no criminal untouchables.’


Published 23 May 2011