Nick Herbert's speech: Police effectiveness in a changing world

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

Policing and Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert gave this speech on Wednesday 28 September 2011.


My thanks to the Police Foundation for inviting me to speak today at the close of your annual conference. Currently there could not be a more apposite subject for discussion than police effectiveness in a changing world. I would like to contribute to this debate by setting out the challenges I believe an effective police service should meet, and how the government’s reforms support that endeavour. But my focus today will be on the aspects of reform that affect the people who work in policing and, in particular, what this means for police leadership.

The challenges

Despite significant reductions, crime is too still far too high. We know there are particular challenges at either end of the scale. Anti-social behaviour has sometimes seemed too small a matter to tackle head on, but affects the public deeply, while organised crime has been too big and complex to take on fully.

At the same time, the deficit which this government inherited has left us with no choice but to reduce funding to police forces. The daily financial news makes the risks of failing to tackle the deficit ever more clear.

I’m not going to enter here into a discussion about whether police budgets should be cut by £1 billion or £2 billion a year. Nor am I going to humour the sophists who dispute what should be a non-contentious proposition that the core mission of the police is to cut crime.

There are many challenges for the police service, but they are obviously framed by the necessity to reduce crime while budgets fall: cutting crime while cutting costs.

The government’s reforms

The government’s reforms help police forces fight crime by changing the terms of trade externally and internally. Externally, bureaucratic accountability is giving way to democratic accountability, bolstered by a new commitment to transparency. Internally, the bureaucratic approach to police work must yield to a culture which emphasises professional discretion and common sense.

Let me start by highlighting two key structural reforms we have put in place already – crime mapping and police and crime commissioners.

Our crime mapping website, www.police.uk(Opens in a new window), has been a phenomenal success, attracting over 430 million hits since its launch at the beginning of this year. From next May, justice outcomes will be added so that people can see not just the crimes, but how they are dealt with.

The recent passage of the Act to elect police and crime commissioners next year represents another key reform. PCCs will make policing more accountable and I believe more responsive.

These reforms mark a major change in the way that the public and the police will connect with each other. They will strengthen the essential bridge between the police and the people, and give the public a stronger voice while protecting the operational independence of the police. They represent a major shift of power from Whitehall to local communities.

There has been full debate about police and crime commissioners, and Parliament has spoken. Now is the time to focus on transition to the new system and, in the interests of policing, to make the reform a success. In particular, we should see the PCC’s wider responsibilities for community safety as an opportunity to ensure effective local partnerships to prevent crime.

Meanwhile, we are bringing together for the first time the work of all those tackling organised crime in a new strategy, which we set out this summer. Going further, we are creating a powerful new body of operational crime fighters – the National Crime Agency (NCA) – to make the UK a hostile environment for serious and organised criminality.

Just as forces will be accountable to their police and crime commissioner, the NCA will be accountable to the Home Secretary. The NCA will have a culture which is open, collaborative and non-bureaucratic. From the outset, a key NCA objective will be to demonstrate its impact publicly, including to local communities.

So this is a strong and coherent agenda, creating appropriate structures at both force and national levels to address the challenge of reducing crime while cutting costs. These are powerful elements of the first phase of police reform. They reflect our determination to empower the public, boost transparency, create strong accountability and remove bureaucracy.

None of this would have happened if, instead of driving reform, we had set up a Royal Commission or a committee of inquiry. As the independent Inspectorate of Constabulary has made clear, the fiscal challenge is urgent: there is no time for delay. It’s right to seek professional guidance and independent views in specific areas - and we have. But we cannot contract out political leadership or funk the big challenges which must be grasped. And it is little use setting up committees of wise men if you don’t even acknowledge that there’s a problem to be solved.

And let me be clear about how we should approach the changes that are needed. Public service reform must be driven first of all by the interests of the public. The changes we are making to reduce bureaucracy and enhance professional discretion will help the police. This is a positive agenda for them, and I am committed to it. We will consult the professionals and we will listen. But we cannot rely on committees of experts consulting other experts. Our reforms will give the people a voice. And where tough decisons are needed, including changes to ensure a fair deal to the taxpayer and a voice for the consumer, we will take them. The public interest will come first.

Reform and the people in policing

If the important structural changes we are making are the first phase of police reform, we now enter the second phase, focusing on the most valuable asset in policing: its people.

Let’s be clear about our starting position. This country has the most diverse, most academically qualified, and best trained police service we have ever had. The British way is that the police are part of the public and derive their legitimacy from the public – a huge strength. The can do approach of police officers is a strength, too. So is the British model of impartial policing, admired around the world - and with good reason.

These are strong foundations to build on. But they can’t be a reason to conclude that there’s no need for change. Let me identifty four key areas in particular, which I believe point to the need for changing the way in which police forces work.

Challenges and opportunities for police leadership

First, recent events have raised questions which must be answered. Phone-hacking led to resignations at the top of the Met, and has raised serious questions about the relationship between the police and the press. There are troubling issues relating to police conduct in other parts of the country as well. HMIC is doing work on police integrity. But it’s important that we can have a frank debate about the lessons to be learnt, particularly around how openness reinforces integrity and is the ultimate guarantor of the values we need at the top of policing.

In response to rioting, police officers put themselves in harm’s way for the public, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Again, it’s sensible and right to have a debate about tactics in the wake of such events, and HMIC will advise us. This need not mean criticism. Some lessons will be positive, such as the response of the public and of the criminal justice system.

Other police forces around the world are experiencing the new phenomenon of flash mobs using social media to commit crime. The world, as the title of this conference acknowledges, is changing. It simply makes sense to consider how to adapt.

This debate should be conducted without rancour or defensiveness. To recognise the problems, and to consider the changes needed in response, is not destructive criticism of the service. Any healthy organisation and its leaders need challenge and support.

It is the responsibility of politicians to hold public services to account, to ensure proper arrangements for governance, and to ensure that operational leaders are equipped to meet contemporary challenges.

The second driver for change relates to the need to deal with bureaucracy. Bureaucratic control led to front line officers and police leaders responding to Whitehall rather than the public. It defined an era when officer numbers and police spending rose dramatically – but when crime reduction actually slowed compared with preceding years.

I am glad to say that the bureaucratic approach is changing. Just as accountability to the public needs to shift from being bureaucratic to being democratic, we need to see through a corresponding shift in how police officers and staff are allowed to work. This agenda is one which can be immensely empowering to officers and staff, where innovation is encouraged, discretion is allowed and professionals are trusted. But in an era where we take a new view of the assessment and management of risk, new leadership is needed.

The third reason for change relates, again, to resources. Falling budgets mean that there is a requirement for transformation in policing. Police forces need to re-think how they provide their service, protecting but re-shaping frontline service delivery and bearing down ruthlessly on cost in non-essential functions. They need to question the unnecessary deployment of sworn officers, the most expensive police resource, in back and middle office functions rather than in frontline roles. They need to move away from deploying their people in ways which have grown up over time but bear little relation to what the public needs.

Police leaders need to drive the organisational changes and the changes in culture that will enable these better approaches. They need to inspire their officers and staff with relentless focus on crime-fighting. That should not be a difficult or unwelcome message to deliver. Officers and staff joined policing, in the main, inspired to serve the public and fight crime. The problem is that the day-to-day bureaucracy and over emphasis on procedure for its own sake has obscured that aim. We need police leaders who will return to the focus on crime-fighting which the public and police and crime commissioners will certainly demand.

I often hear that, when budgets are falling, government must tell the police what they should stop doing. Let me answer. We don’t run the police or tell officers how to do their job. But I do want forces to stop doing things - stop their officers filling in unnecessary forms, stop inefficient processes, and stop the bureaucracy that wastes police time. And I will do everything I can to support those changes. I don’t want the police to stop providing key services, salami slice provision rather than re-think it, or believe that the answer is to ration demand. And they don’t need to.

We remain in the midst of a poor political debate about policing, where too many politicians and commentators still measure success by the size of inputs and assume that less spending inevitably means poorer service. But it is outcomes that count, and the effective deployment of officers matters at least as much, if not more, than overall numbers. This generation of police leaders must deliver a service that becomes stronger even as it becomes leaner.

The Winsor Review

The fourth requirement for change is that we need a workforce which is structured, rewarded and motivated to respond to modern demands.

The Home Secretary has of course commissioned Tom Winsor to provide two reports which will be central to the people side of police reform. His first report is currently in the Police Negotiating Board process. So it would not be appropriate for me to comment in detail.

But I do want to draw attention to Tom Winsor’s principles, which he set out in his first report and which the Home Secretary has already accepted. Among these, he set out that fairness is an essential part of any new system of pay and conditions – fairness to the public and fairness to police officers and staff.

Winsor said people should be paid for what they do, the skills they have and according to how much they contribute. His principles noted that while rewarding officers for the onerous demands of front line policing, the police service also needs to recognise the contribution made by police staff.

The Winsor principles send a clear message in support of fostering professionalism and discretion in policing. I would urge all bodies with an interest in policing to contribute fully and in detail to Tom Winsor’s work on his second report. This work will map the way forwards for policing over the medium and long term. It represents an opportunity for change which comes only once every 25-30 years. That opportunity must not be missed.

Criteria for police leadership reform

So the police need to cut crime and cut costs, and they need to tackle big agendas relating to governance, reducing bureaucracy, transforming their organisations and managing their workforces through a major programme of change.

This is a significant challenge, and it will require real leadership. My job is to provide the clear framework and support which the service needs to help them through. But in the end the public, through their elected police and crime commissioners, will rely on police leaders to deliver. So I think it’s right to ask what we want from the next generation of leaders - and I don’t just mean senior leaders - in policing.

  • First of all, I believe we need to maintain the positive characteristics of current police leadership – such as the ‘can do’ spirit found in the police service as a whole.

  • We must maintain the British model of operationally independent, impartial policing.

  • The public will want to see inspirational leaders who drive a relentless focus on crime-fighting.

  • They will want a police leadership which they can trust.

  • We need a police service and leaders, as Chief Constable Steve Otter and I argued two weeks ago, who are properly representative of the public they serve and a service that is open to all and attractive to the best.

  • We need to ensure that police forces have the management capacity and skills to control costs.

  • Related to this, we need leaders who can drive transformational change, in particular to the way their officers and staff work, moving to a culture of professional discretion.

  • And we need to underpin all this with values of integrity of conduct combined with openness to challenge and to new ideas.

I don’t believe that these set of requirements should be controversial. Indeed, it strikes me that forward thinking police leaders are already espousing them. Bernard Hogan Howe has done so in his first week as Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

Talking points

So then we come to the steps needed to promote these criteria. We need a good debate about these. But let me offer a few talking points.

  • Policing should not deny itself access to talent from whatever suitable source. That’s why we’ve asked Tom Winsor to look at direct entry to policing at ranks above constable, and accelerated promotion within policing. I know that direct entry in particular is controversial in the service, and operational issues must be addressed. But outward-looking and self-confident organisations should welcome the ability to attract good people, from all backgrounds and at various points in their careers.

  • Similarly, openness must underpin the approach to the selection, training and development of leadership from within the service. We need to expose police leaders to learning from other sectors, making training more flexible and more open. We need to broaden skills through more secondments out of the service, and indeed more varied careers which see rising stars moving in and out of the service.

  • We need to foster a more open appointments system. Too often we are seeing competitions for chief officer posts which are scarcely competitions at all. An outward-looking and self-confident service should welcome more open approaches. Direct entry is one solution, but there are broader cultural issues around selection and promotion to address.

  • We need to consider how police forces should meet – and show they meet – high standards of corporate governance as they are held to account by police and crime commissioners. That can sound a dry area – but what it means is that the way a force top team works must provide good management and leadership, and follow the key values of policing.

A professional body for policing

We now need the right vehicles for delivering these changes in the future. We have consulted on Peter Neyroud’s Review of Police Leadership and Training which sets out a vision of a professional body for policing. We are considering the response, and we will set out our proposals shortly.

But the NPIA will be phased out next year. So I do want to be clear that the destination should be a new professional body for policing which has responsibility for training, standards and leadership. We will, of course, talk about the detail. We must get the governance right: there must be accountability to the local, in the form of elected police and crime commissioners, as well as to the national. It must be a body that speaks for the whole of policing, staff and officers. But it is time that we collectively lifted our sights and saw the huge and positive opportunity which creating an inclusive, professional policing body would bring to the whole service, including rank and file officers and staff.


I want to take this work forward collaboratively, in dialogue with the service. But let me conclude by repeating the challenges which I set out:

  • the continuing need to cut crime
  • the need to cut costs
  • the need to learn positively from recent events
  • the need to equip leaders to meet these contemporary challenges

These are indisputably challenging times. I appreciate that forces, officers and staff are being confronted with difficult decisions. But I remain optimistic about the future of policing, not least because of its huge institutional strengths:

  • the British model of impartial policing, where the police are part of the public not separate from it, a model which is rightly envied around the world

  • the values of the people who work in our police service – who, overwhelmingly, joined policing inspired to serve the public and fight crime

The benefits of change, to the public and police professionals alike, are too important to lose, and a failure to act would be damaging. So we will continue to drive reform. There is room for debate, but no time for denial. The world is changing. Successful organisations will change with it.