Police reform: Home Secretary's speech to ACPO summer conference

The Home Secretary gave this speech in Harrogate on 4 July 2011. This version is as spoken, not as written.

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

As Home Secretary, I have to deal with some of the highest profile and most important public protection issues there are.

When events happen, like the Hookway court judgment, there is a clear need to act fast to make sure we put things right for the police.

That’s why an hour after receiving ACPO’s legal advice last Thursday, Nick Herbert went to the House of Commons and announced that we would be introducing emergency legislation. 

There is no question that I will always give the police the tools and powers they need to catch criminals, investigate crimes and protect the public.

But as well as responding to events, we also have to act strategically to put British policing on a secure footing for a generation.

Today, I want to talk to you about one of the most fundamental questions in modern day policing: what should be done nationally, with leadership and support from central government, and what should be done locally by local police forces.

Some have characterised our approach as leaving everything up to local forces and individual Chiefs. That is far too simplistic a view: I am not a doctrinaire localist.

What we are doing is giving responsibility, decisions and powers to the most appropriate level.

So we believe that local priorities should be determined locally, by the local public - that is only right - and it is why we will introduce Police and Crime Commissioners from May 2012 to ensure local people’s views are properly represented.

On national level crime, we are establishing the National Crime Agency, to coordinate a more effective national response.

On collective decisions - like what IT systems to buy - we aren’t buying white elephant super computers. Instead, we are taking advantage of the economies of scale that 43 forces can enjoy if they work together.

And on individual decisions we are giving police officers back their discretion to do what they think is right, using their own professional judgement, rather than relying on diktats from on high.

Reconnecting Police with Communities

When I spoke to the Police Federation in Bournemouth I said that in Britain we have the finest police officers in the world. Be in no doubt that I mean it.

The British way of policing is the right way of policing.

Policing by consent.

Policing of the public, by police who are the public.

Policing built on the rock solid foundations of the office of constable. These principles have served us well for nearly 200 years.

They were introduced by a Conservative Home Secretary, and this Conservative Home Secretary has no intention of doing anything to weaken them.

In fact, our reforms are about strengthening the British model of policing.

That model fundamentally relies on understanding, connecting and interacting with the public.

But for too long our police became disconnected from the public they serve.

You know that better than I do. And the public know better than any of us.

It’s fair to say that the return of neighbourhood policing has done a great deal in starting to restore that link. We support neighbourhood policing - but we will go much further.

We will mandate beat meetings with local residents for neighbourhood police officers. I know many of you already task your officers to hold these meetings, but I want to see them in every town and every community right across the country.

And to make them really work, we have introduced the country’s first ever nationwide street level crime maps.

They give the public, for the first time, a true picture of the crime and disorder in their communities. And the public have responded - since launching in January the police.uk website has received over 420 million hits.

Even after the enormous initial excitement, the site is still receiving over 100,000 hits a day. That just shows the level of appetite amongst the public to know about crime and policing in their communities.

Police and Crime Commissioners will, at last, give the public the level of control over local strategic decision making that they deserve.

The Police and Crime Commissioner will set the local policing budget, including the local precept level. As the elected representatives of the people, it is only right that they should decide how much their electorate is willing to pay for local policing services.

The Police and Crime Commissioner will also have the democratic mandate and the local knowledge to set local policing priorities.
And they will have the power to hold chief constables to account for their performance. 

But the duty and responsibility of directing, leading and controlling a police force will - as always - fall on the chief constable.

We will, for example, give you more power to appoint your top teams. If you’re going to be held to account for your force’s performance, then you should have full responsibility for it.

I know you have been paying close attention to the Bill as it goes through Parliament.

I am clear that the principle of the reforms will remain - so we will restore Police and Crime Commissioners with elections in May 2012 to the Bill when it returns to the Commons.

But we have listened to the Lords and the professionals. And it is undoubtedly true that we will end up with a better piece of legislation thanks to Parliamentary scrutiny.
We have beefed up the role of Police and Crime Panels.

We have added safeguards around the dismissals procedure for Chief Constables.

We are revising the regulations on chief officer appointments so they remain open and transparent.

And we have published a draft protocol setting out the relationship between Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables.

That protocol makes clear that your operational independence is sacrosanct. I know that has reassured many of you. And I would like to thank Sir Hugh, Adrian Lee, Sir Paul Stephenson and Tim Godwin and all the others for the work they have done in helping to draft the protocol.

Police Officer Discretion and Bureaucracy

But as well as giving more power to local people, we are also giving more power to individual police officers.

That is what I mean when I talk about “the deal”: more freedom to do your work, in exchange for greater accountability to local people.

Police officers are the professionals. You are the ones with experience, training and expertise. You should be given back the discretion to do what you think is right.

So here, again, decisions need to be devolved down.

The old approach of controlling everything from the centre with targets, initiatives and bureaucracy took power and discretion away from chiefs and your officers.

It created a culture of dependence that discourages senior managers from realising their full potential as leaders.

It treated you as little more than box tickers, form fillers, administrators.

We take a different approach.

We trust the police.

We know you are the experts at fighting crime.
So we will give you the flexibility to manage your forces.

And we will give your officers the discretion to do the right thing. This is about taking power from the centre, and giving it back to you and your officers.

So, for Chiefs, that means giving you more flexibility to spend your money as you see fit, by ending all the ring-fenced funds, save only for counter-terrorism.

It means looking at Tom Winsor’s proposals to help you put in place modern management practices, manage your budgets, and maximise officer and staff deployment to the frontline.

And it means stopping government telling you how to do your jobs by scrapping the Policing Pledge and confidence target, the PSA targets, the key performance indicators and the Local Area Agreements.

Instead I’ve given you just one objective - to cut crime.

When the tragic shootings in Cumbria and Northumbria happened, I didn’t respond by calling you all to Whitehall for a gun crime summit. I responded by respecting the operational independence of the police.

When we saw violent protests on the streets of London, I didn’t respond by criticising the police or coming up with some new draconian anti-protest legislation. I responded by going to the House of Commons to defend the actions of the officers who kept the rule of law on our streets, under the most extreme provocation.

And for the London Olympics, I’ll continue to respect your operational independence and your expertise.

For your officers and staff it means restoring their discretion and scrapping all of the grinding bureaucracy that wears them down and stops them doing their job - fighting crime.

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

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

And we’ve issued new health and safety guidance that trusts your officers to do the right thing.

But I want to go even further.

That’s why in May I announced a series of new measures that in total could save well over 2.5 million hours of police time each year.

That’s time your officers can better spend on the frontline.

Those measures include streamlined PDR and crime recording processes, better risk management, improved handling of domestic violence cases, ACPO’s work to reduce the volume of national guidance, and the handing back to your officers of further charging discretion.

It is the implementation of those reforms that will be key. With Chris Sims’ Reducing Bureaucracy Programme Board, we have already made progress.

So on police PDRs for example, the new guidance has now been launched - saving an estimated 1.5 million police hours per year.

But we won’t stop there. The Programme Board is looking at further measures which could save hundreds of thousands more hours by placing the focus back on managing people rather than simply managing a process.

On crime recording, we have already made significant changes to the Annual Data Requirement and staff in forces who are filling in data returns for the Home Office have told us our changes are having an impact.

The new data hub means that a substantial number of old fashioned data collection forms are now being replaced by automatic data collection from your forces.

Further work to tackle crime recording bureaucracy at force level is also now underway and will be complete by the end of July. This will be used to share best practice on crime recording across the service.

On risk management, Chief Constable Brian Moore is leading work to develop a simple decision-making tool to better manage risk. ACPO has also now published ten risk principles.

In June, Brian also attended an inter-ministerial group, which I chaired, to present the Reducing Bureaucracy Programme Board’s proposals on reducing unnecessary bureaucracy in domestic violence cases. 

From July, pilots will be set up and independently evaluated, with a view to testing the new model in a group of forces from the autumn.

Sara Thornton’s work for ACPO on reducing guidance is also progressing well with the identification of core practice due to be completed by the end of 2011 and associated specific practice to follow soon after.

Finally, on charging decisions, the first phase of transferring additional charging decisions from the CPS to the police was completed on schedule in June. Potential pilot forces for the second phase have now been contacted and plans are being drawn up to start pilots over the summer.

So you can see we really mean business in busting bureaucracy.
And I’m sending this message out loud and clear to Home Office officials and to every organisation across the Criminal Justice System - stop wasting police time.

So I’ve instructed my officials to check each and every requirement that the Home Office generates, so that there is nothing that unnecessarily adds to your officers’ burden.

This work is now well underway and I will report back on the detailed findings after the summer.

But they have already come up with some more reporting requirements to get rid of.

So, for example, previously the Home Office monitored a target for all forces to drug test at least 95% of those arrested for a trigger offence. Well, I’ve scrapped that target so you no longer need to submit a monthly arrest figure and you can decide who to drug test.

When more than two thirds of tests are negative - up to 140,000 a year - there’s clearly a lot of your officers’ time that can be better spent.

All of this work is aimed at freeing your officers to fight crime.
But here’s the problem - not all of you are following my lead. Some of you are still setting your forces targets that we’ve scrapped nationally.

And it’s not only one or two chiefs who are reinstating targets and forms we have eliminated. Officers up and down the country are telling me they’re still having to record information at local level that we’ve stopped asking for at national level.

And I’ve heard that local replacements are being brought in for defunct national regulations.

That’s not right.

I know that change like this can be difficult. When something goes wrong - and in the real world things do go wrong - then showing you’ve complied with a process can be reassuring.

But if those processes waste time, then they’re not improving public protection.

If they’re impeding your discretion and common sense, then they’re not serving the public.

So we need police chiefs to rise to the challenge. Your officers need you to rise to the challenge.

I have made a clear commitment to reduce bureaucracy. You have got to match that commitment.

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

Some Chiefs are rising to the challenge.

For example, Peter Fahy in Greater Manchester has sent a clear message to his officers to use their professional judgement, to challenge accepted ways of doing things, and to focus on the genuine needs of victims and the wider community.
I couldn’t agree more.

But our approach isn’t just about devolving decisions down. In fact, on national and international level crime we are increasing the focus of central government and enhancing national level structures.
That’s because organised criminals as you know do not respect police force boundaries, just as they do not respect international borders. So our response too must cross organisational and geographical boundaries.

So we are establishing a National Crime Agency, a powerful new body of operational crime fighters to tackle organised crime, secure our borders, fight financial and economic crime, and protect vulnerable children and young people.

Accountable to the Home Secretary, and with a senior Chief Constable at its head, the NCA will be an integral part of our law enforcement community, with strong links to local police forces, Police and Crime Commissioners, the UK Border Agency and other agencies.

That work will be underpinned by the new Strategic Policing Requirement, which will make clear to Chief Constables and PCCs what we expect of them in their response to national threats.

And this new operational capability will be backed up by the country’s first ever cross-government organised crime strategy, which we will publish shortly.

I want to illustrate how the new National Crime Agency might operate and how it might interact with local forces.

Police officers have told me about organised crime groups, based in the North West, that import Class A drugs through the ports and then traffic them across the country to sell on streets hundreds of miles away.

The addicts they sell these drugs to, fund their habit through burglaries and muggings, causing harm in local communities that are far removed from where the criminal gang importing and selling the drugs are based.

Police officers have also told me about organised crime groups that use the profits from their criminality to buy guns that they then use to intimidate rivals, enforce debts and consolidate their power and status.

Those guns are imported by other organised crime groups from Eastern Europe.
You’ve told me about the innocent men, women and children who have been tragically caught in the crossfire when these guns are fired.

And police officers have told me about the lavish lifestyle that the heads of the criminal gangs lead, having laundered the proceeds of their crimes through front businesses such as massage parlours and car washes.

You have told me about the frustrations of local communities - the frustrations of seeing drug-dealers on their streets, of seeing criminals acting like untouchables beyond the reach of the law, of working hard to earn an honest income, while criminals swan around in luxury.

I know your officers and other agencies already do a great deal to tackle gangs like these. But too often your success tends to be in spite of our organisational structures, not because of them.

All too often the geographical spread of these gangs’ activity means they fall below the radar of any one police force or agency.

Any one may not see the full picture of the harm they cause. Or their drug trafficking may not be large scale enough to meet SOCA’s threshold criteria.

Gangs such as these are often the subject of several separate investigations, each unaware of the other’s existence. All of them could be missing key evidence, intelligence and enforcement opportunities.
Even worse, they could be subject to no law enforcement activity at all.

The NCA will change all this. For the first time, a single national agency will be capable of pulling together the complete intelligence picture on organised criminal gangs.

For the first time, one agency will have the authority to coordinate and task a national response. For the first time, one agency will have responsibility for securing our borders, tackling organised criminals, and preventing economic crime.

To tackle the sorts of gangs I have talked about, the NCA might commit its own specialist assets, including sophisticated intelligence gathering techniques, to help build a clearer and more extensive intelligence picture.

Working with regional policing teams, such as TITAN in the North West, the NCA might help target surveillance and investigative resources against the right people.

Its Border Policing Command might coordinate action to stop drug imports or it might task the UK Border Agency to investigate the immigration status of employees in the front businesses.

Its Economic Crime Command might coordinate financial investigation work to recover criminals’ assets and to break the flow of profits from drug money being laundered through fraud.

The NCA would then draw together all of the forces and agencies involved to agree a coordinated course of action, including arrest by police forces and eventual prosecution.

By joining up agencies and forces, by coordinating activity and by targeting limited resources where they can have the most impact, the NCA can help put criminal gangs such as these out of business, it can help build evidence for prosecutions and, most importantly, it can help local communities break free from the grip of crime, intimidation and fear.

The Problem

So you can see the coherence of our reforms: national decisions made nationally; local decisions made locally; and individual decisions made individually, by police officers.

But there are clear cases in policing where collective police decision making is needed.

One absolutely crucial area is on Police Information and Communications Technology.

Good ICT systems and services are vital for modern policing. ICT supports the police on the front line, through items like portable radios and PDAs.

It supports the middle office, through things like criminal records databases, intelligence and crime mapping. And it supports the back office, through HR, finance, accounting and payroll systems.

To access these crucial tools, the police currently spend some £1.2billion per year on ICT.

That is a very large sum. I wouldn’t be concerned about the size of that sum if I were convinced that it represented good value for money.  But it does not. 

The way we do things now is confused, fragmented and expensive.
We know, for example, that one supplier now has over 1,500 contracts across all the forces. This would simply never happen in the commercial world.

Across the police service there are around 5,000 staff, working on over 2,000 ICT systems, across 100 data centres. This is clearly not sensible.

And the current approach of each force procuring their services individually pushes up costs for all.

It means that ICT suppliers have to bid for individual contracts across 43 forces, pushing their bidding costs up. Those bid costs are, of course, simply tacked on to the price of the next contract with the police that the company wins.

When you consider that the cost of bidding for a major contract from a police force can cost a company upwards of £1 million, and that there are usually at least two or three companies bidding for each contract, the ultimate cost to the public purse of all this bidding activity is significant.

Looking at it from the point of view of police customers, the situation is even worse.  The capabilities and skills required to negotiate and manage large, complex ICT contracts are scarce. The professional skills required to maintain the procured systems are scarcer still. Spreading them around the 43 forces makes no sense.

It inevitably requires chief officers to spend far too much time on ICT matters; that’s time they should be spending fighting crime.

Principles of the Solution

It is absolutely clear that the current system is broken.

So we will help the service to set up a police-led ICT company to fix it. It will free chief constables from having to spend so much time on ICT matters while giving them better systems and better value for their ICT money.

I will not be prescribing what that company should look like. But its design should be based on a number of fundamental principles.

First, the company should be - as I say - police led.

Because no one else knows what ICT systems the police need to fight crime.

Government doesn’t know.

Civil Servants don’t know.

The police know.
Officers have told me about IT systems that require multiple keying of the very same information, are incompatible with systems doing the same basic job in neighbouring forces, or are even incompatible with other systems in their own force.

So the police need to be at the heart of defining what systems and services they need. They must have a fundamental and a controlling interest in the new police ICT company.

Second - and equally - the company needs to be staffed by ICT professionals. The police are experts at fighting crime and in using ICT to fight crime, but they are not ICT professionals.

Police officers are the best in the business at catching criminals. They are not the best in the business at negotiating contracts for major ICT systems, or managing these contracts or even managing these systems once they’re up and running.

So the new police ICT company should be staffed by world class professionals.  It will be negotiating and managing contracts worth many billions of pounds - this is not a job that can be given to amateurs who have a flair for computing. 

It must be done by hard-headed professionals who can take on some of the world’s biggest companies on their own terms.

Third, and linked to this, the new company must have a culture that allows it to attract and retain individuals with the skills and capabilities we need, and that encourages those individuals to innovate and to deliver success.

It must have the incentives in place to drive a more commercial and more efficient approach that will save public money. This must not, however, come at the expense of public safety, public security and public protection. These will remain paramount.

Fourth, the new company must exploit the purchasing power of the police service as a whole.   It can do this by aggregating the requirements of as many forces as possible, preferably all 43 forces.

That’s the way to achieve the largest economies of scale and the best value for money.

Taken together, these principles will inevitably reduce the amount spent on ICT across the police, while at the same time delivering a superior service.


Police-led, professionally staffed, innovative and high performing, aggregating purchasing power and driving down costs - these must be the principles of reform.

But the Home Office will not prescribe the solution.

That first principle - that the company must be police led - really is the guiding light of this whole exercise.

I don’t want this to be PITO mark 2 or NPIA mark 2, with all the same old mistakes and the same old problems repeated.

I want this time to be different.

I want you to own the solution.

I want you to decide what you need.

So the new Police ICT company will be police-led and police-owned. I expect the Home Office, and possibly the private sector, will also own shares in the new company alongside police forces.

It is our intention that the new company will be formed and constituted by spring 2012.
I have asked Gordon Wasserman, who is the Government’s adviser on policing and criminal justice, to lead the work of setting up the new company. 

As most of you know, he has had long experience of police ICT on both sides of the Atlantic. 

He will be chairing an interim or shadow board of the new company on which all stakeholders will be represented and on which Ailsa Beaton, the Chief Information Officer of the Metropolitan Police and the ACPO lead on IT, has agreed to serve as the senior police IT professional.

Of course, both Police Chiefs and Police and Crime Commissioners will need to work closely and collectively during the implementation phase and when the new company is up and running.


For too long, every single policing decision was grabbed by the centre.

Then came the targets, the regulations and the initiatives. And the link with the public was lost.

At the same time, officers lost their discretion; they weren’t trusted. Instead, they were burdened with bureaucracy.

While local crime was nationalised, national crime was ignored.

And the opportunity to buy collectively ICT equipment that forces desperately need was wasted.

Our policing reforms will put these problems right.
It is all too easy to sit at the sidelines and make gloomy and baseless predictions about the future.

To those who say spending cuts can wait, I say look at what is happening to Greece. To those who say cuts mean reform must wait, I say cuts mean reform is all the more urgent.

And let’s remember the facts. Counter-terrorist policing and Olympics funding protected.

A National Crime Agency to focus more on serious and organised crime than ever before.

A strategic policing requirement to ensure local forces have regard to national priorities.

Reforming police pay - something no other government has managed - so you can lead your forces as best you can.

Accountability to your communities, not the Home Office. No more targets, just trust in your leadership. 

Sir Hugh, police reform should be a cause for optimism for police chiefs, not fear.

Local issues decided locally. National issues decided nationally. Collective issues decided collectively.

And individual issues decided by trusted, professional, courageous police officers.

If we get decision making right, we will get crime fighting right. And that, I know, is what we all want to see.

Thank you.


Published 4 July 2011