Police reform: Home Secretary's speech to the Police Superintendents' Association Conference

The Home Secretary gave this speech on Tuesday 13 September 2011. This version of the speech is as written.

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

I am delighted to be here again at your conference.

Talking to the senior operational leaders of the police service is one of the most useful and important parts of my job.

And I want to start by echoing some of your thoughts on the disturbances over the summer.

Last month we saw some of the most disgraceful scenes in living memory on Britain’s streets.

Louts looting local businesses. Rioter rampaging through our cities. Thugs threatening and attacking police officers. Buildings burning and shops smouldering.

The riots shocked us all.

But we also saw some truly heroic acts by so many police officers.

It was police officers who put their lives on the line to stop the rioters.

It was police officers who protected innocent people and defended local businesses.

It was police officers who acted courageously to restore order to our streets.

I know many of you and many of your officers sacrificed a great deal. Your holiday plans were disrupted. You worked double shifts. Your leave was cancelled. Some of your officers and staff even slept on police station floors. More than 300 of them were injured.

It was the responsibility of people in this room to take the vital tactical decisions that were needed at great speed. It was your task to pull together officers from across the country into effective teams. And it was your role to raise your officers’ morale at a time of astonishing stress.

That is real operational leadership in action.

But this is what I so admire about the police - you don’t think about the danger to yourselves. You don’t worry about the personal hardship. You knew your communities were under threat and it was your duty to help - so you did.

And for that we all owe you an enormous debt of gratitude. 

The police faced down the challenge to the rule of law and now we have an opportunity - an opportunity to drive through real and lasting positive change.

Because if the riots showed once again the incredible bravery of British police officers, they also reminded us of the need for reform in policing.

We need to reward our police officers’ courage and skill with renewed trust, greater responsibility and more discretion.

We need to ensure they are led by single-minded crime fighters of the highest integrity and capability.

We need to make those leaders properly accountable to the public they serve.

And we need to give those police leaders the tools and flexibility to lead, at the same time as we secure the long-term future of the police service by making the savings and efficiencies that are needed as public spending falls.

That is what our police reform programme will do.


Our first and most immediate task is to learn the lessons necessary from the riots.

I said this is both a challenge and an opportunity.

A challenge of dealing with a new type of disorder, a new pattern of vandalism and looting, supported by the malicious use of new technology. No one could have predicted the scale of the violence, but we cannot just assume that it will not reappear.

But there is also an opportunity. An opportunity of renewed respect, trust and public support for the police.

Dealing with the challenge means learning the operational and legal lessons from the summer, not least for the Olympics. And that’s why I have asked HMIC to review the police response to the disorder and to ensure you have the tactics, guidance, training, public order policing resources and the national infrastructure to deal with what is potentially a new era of public order policing.  

Seizing the opportunity means increasing our efforts to engage the public in policing and in helping the police to combat crime, including by using new social media to our advantage, as the criminals have done.

The riots also provided us with a reminder of the importance of doing much more to deal with gangs and gang culture. The Met currently believe that around one in five rioters and looters were linked to gangs. And more than three quarters of those charged had previous convictions.

Together with Iain Duncan Smith, I am now leading work across government to look at how we can tackle each and every stage of the gang ‘life-cycle’.

That means starting by preventing young people joining gangs in the first place; diverting them away from gangs if they are tempted to join; disrupting gang activity; tough enforcement of the law against gang crime; and forcing gang members to take responsibility for their actions and to repair the damage done.

We are going around the country, talking to police forces and other agencies about the problems and best practice in solving them. We will publicly set out our plans by the end of October.

There are also lessons about the power of new media, social networking and new technology. When used by criminals the potential for social media to cause harm can be very great.

That’s why, with the police and others, I met representatives from Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerry and others to discuss how the government, the police and these companies can work better together.

As we deal with the challenges posed by criminal use of new technology, we can also use it to our benefit.

Our street-level crime mapping website police.uk is already a great example of that. And by May next year the public will be able to see how the police and courts have responded to crimes committed in their local area.

But the opportunities go wider than just the use of technology.

I said we all owe you a debt of gratitude, because the public are well aware that they owe you that debt as well.

We saw at the Notting Hill Carnival, officers saying that people were so grateful for the police for sorting out the riots, that the heavy police presence was seen as a positive, not a problem.

These are the fruits of neighbourhood policing and policing by consent. The law-abiding majority working with the police. Community leaders united in condemning violence. The British model of policing at its best.

There are also many positives to take from how other parts of our criminal justice system responded to the riots.

Faced with the challenge of trying and sentencing so many suspects, the courts opened through the night and at weekends to make sure rioters had their day - or night - in court.

Judges then responded with absolutely appropriate sentences, seeing justice done to offenders while at the same time sending out a strong message of deterrent for the future.

And the prison service provided the transport and the welcome reception into prisons for those who thought they could get away with committing crimes without facing the consequences.


But as well as dealing with the immediate problem of the riots and addressing their long-term causes, we also need to deal with the structural and deep seated issues in policing and in our public finances.

This too is an enormous challenge and a huge opportunity.

Police Leadership

The riots showed only too clearly the need for the police to have strong, single-minded leadership - focused on fighting crime and passionate about protecting the public.

I have had an opportunity this week, in appointing the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to show you what I am looking for in police leaders - dedicated, single-minded crime fighters.

That is exactly what we have in the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe. I am looking forward to seeing him drive down crime in London, as he did in Merseyside.

Bernard’s appointment - and indeed the extremely strong field of applicants for the job of Commissioner - showed that we have some superb leaders in British policing.

But let me say again, that the Prime Minister and I are determined to look at opening up police leadership in future. That means looking at widening the pool of talent from which police leaders are drawn and making sure that the police leaders of the future have the skills and experience necessary to succeed.

This is what I have asked Tom Winsor to look at in the second part of his review.

So the police leaders of the future might not all have started out as Police Constables twenty years before.

Many still will, of course. There are obvious benefits in senior officers having served as constables.

But it is also clear that there is much that the police can learn from senior people outside policing, just as every other organisation can learn from an external perspective.

No one who genuinely wants to improve policing can truly believe that all of the answers have to come from inside.

But we should also recognise the simple fact that the current police leadership model has not delivered a diversity of backgrounds and experience at the most senior levels of the service.

The British way of policing - the right way - is based on policing by consent.

That consent can only come when the police understand - and reflect - the diverse communities they serve.

I completely understand that direct entry represents a challenge to this group. But you know I’m not one to duck difficult decisions or to avoid giving tough messages, if they are right for the country and right for the police.

Yes, direct entry means there will be more competition for senior policing posts.

But that is clearly not a good reason to oppose it. And police leaders are recognising the benefits as well. Yesterday, chief constable Stephen Otter of Devon and Cornwall police, made clear his support for direct entry as a way to get greater diversity and broader skills and experience into the senior levels of policing.

And let me also say that with our reforms to police leadership will come an opportunity for superintendents - that’s because they will come as part of a package of improvements to police leadership and police training.

I don’t just want to see leaders coming into the service from outside, I also want to see leaders of the service going out and gaining broader experience and wider perspectives, through secondments to business and other parts of the public sector. I then want to see them bringing their newfound skills back into policing.

I also want to look at how we can improve police training to give all of you the skills you will need to become successful chief officers.

I will publish more details shortly, but it is clear that by opening up provision of police training we can drive up standards.  
Some police provided training is absolutely integral to operational policing -training in the use of firearms, public order policing and covert surveillance for example.

But there are also specific skills needed to lead and manage complex organisations and here the police service can learn from the best. 

The police should be free to buy the training it wants and needs from whoever can provide that training to the highest standard and at the lowest cost. That could be from the private sector, higher education or further education providers.


Central to any drive to improve police leadership, must be a corresponding drive to improve accountability.

It is only when leaders are truly and properly accountable for their success - or their failure - that lasting progress can be made.

This is the centrepiece of our legislative reforms to policing, that come to their final parliamentary stages this week.

That means from November 2012, there will be powerful, named individuals, democratically accountable to their communities, and responsible for holding their Chief Constable to account.

These Police and Crime Commissioners will have the power to appoint Chief Constables, to set the police budget and to determine local policing priorities.

If they don’t help their Chief Constable to cut crime and keep their communities safe, then they will face the ultimate sanction of rejection by the public at the ballot box.

It is this democratic accountability that will help drive police efficiency up and drive crime down.

Because these reforms are so vital to improving policing, it is important we take the time to get them right.

That is why we have had such thorough parliamentary scrutiny, resulting in a better Bill at the end of the process.

And that is why we have decided to delay the first elections from May to November 2012 to allow time for all of the necessary preparations to be made and to give the widest possible range of candidates the opportunity to stand and make their case.

We have listened and acted on police officers’ concerns. So we have made over 100 amendments to improve the Bill and strengthen the checks and balances it contains.

That includes more effective Police and Crime Panels to scrutinise the Police and Crime Commissioner, and a statutory protocol of how Police and Crime Commissioners will interact with Chief Constables to enshrine the principle of Operational Independence.

Yesterday, the House of Commons once again made its support for the Bill clear.

National Threats

The events of this summer demonstrated how police forces need to work together to tackle national threats.

And this week, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 - as we remember the victims of those terrible atrocities and others such as 7/7 and the attacks related to Northern Ireland - the need to continually improve and enhance our response to terrorism is at the forefront of our minds.

Police and Crime Commissioners will also play a key role in driving improvements in our response to national threats, supported by the new Strategic Policing Requirement.

This will set out those threats for which forces, Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners must plan beyond their force boundaries - like terrorism, public disorder, organised crime, civil emergencies or cyber crime.

We are working closely with our partners in policing - including colleagues within the Superintendents’ Association - to develop a shadow Strategic Policing Requirement. We aim to publish this in November.

The Strategic Policing Requirement will support the development of policing capabilities that will be critical to underpinning one of our other major reforms - the introduction of the National Crime Agency.

The National Crime Agency will be a powerful operational body that will fight serious organised crime and economic crime, and will strengthen border policing and child protection.

Taken together, the NCA, the Strategic Policing Requirement and Police and Crime Commissioners represent a radical refocusing of the Government’s role - away from micromanaging local policing and towards getting a stronger grip on national policing issues; with local accountability back where it should be - to local people.


These are major reforms that will bring real, lasting and positive change to policing.

But as well as reforming the top, we also need to make reforms from the bottom all the way up.

That means making neighbourhood police officers properly accountable to the local communities they serve through beat meetings, backed up by the street level crime maps that I mentioned earlier.

But more than that, it means trusting individual officers to use their judgement, empowering them to use their discretion and freeing them to fight crime.

We will do that through a relentless and unyielding fight against police bureaucracy.

I don’t underestimate the size of the challenge but here, again, is an opportunity.

I have already announced measures which could save some 3.3 million hours of police time each year.

The most recent changes include streamlining the police PDR system, slimming down crime recording processes, scrapping unnecessary guidance and doctrine and handing back further charging discretion to officers.

All of the time saved on these wasteful processes is time that your officers can better spend on the frontline, doing what they joined the police to do.

But here’s my challenge to each and every one of you - you all need to make it a personal priority to cut your officers’ bureaucracy.

The time savings must be passed on. The forms must be scrapped. The risks must be better managed.

Your officers take their cue from you. So you need to help, support - and most of all - to trust them.

This is a big change. And we’re looking to you to lead it.

Dealing with the Deficit

Some have tried to argue that the over-riding need to deal with the deficit and to reduce police budgets, means we should slow the pace of police reform.

In fact, the opposite is true.

It is only through fundamental reform - transformative change - that the police will be able to make the savings necessary, at the same time as you maintain the service to the public and fight crime.

That’s because the need for savings means that business as usual is simply not an option. Blind cuts are not an option; salami slicing of budgets is not an option.

No one is pretending that making the level of savings needed is going to be easy, but it is achievable. And it is only achievable if we reform.

But first let’s deal with this idea that the police will need to make twenty per cent budget cuts - they simply will not.

It’s true, of course, that the police grant from central government will be cut by twenty per cent in real terms.

But that is not the actual cut in their budgets that police forces will need to make.

That is because, as you all know, police forces get their money from two sources of funding - central government and the local council tax precept. And when you take into account the Office for Budget Responsibility’s precept forecasts, the real terms reduction will be fourteen per cent.

But even this doesn’t quite give the full picture, because eighty per cent of police spending is on pay. And as we are likely to freeze police pay for two years, the cash terms figures are actually closer to the reality than the real terms figures.

In cash terms, once precept forecasts are taken into account, we’re talking about a six per cent reduction in total police funding over four years. That is the actual reduction in their budgets that police forces will have to deal with.

That’s not a political or financial conjuring trick - that’s the reality. Police forces will on average see their budgets cut by six per cent over four years.

That is still a challenge. But with this challenge too comes an opportunity.

An opportunity to look afresh at every aspect of policing, and to make changes that save money and improve services.

An opportunity to disregard the old ways of doing things and to make the reforms you’ve wanted to make for so long.

As HMIC’s Adapting to Austerity Report makes clear, and as the results of programmes like Operation Quest show, it can be done.

Resources can be streamlined in the back and middle office to protect the frontline. Savings can be made in outsourcing, collaboration and shared procurement. Efficiencies can be made in operational processes like crime investigation; attending calls from the public; custody; intelligence; and neighbourhood patrols that not only bring about monetary savings but also improve the service to the public.

So the challenge for you as Superintendents is not just to manage the cuts, it’s to improve policing.

Because you are the people with the skills, the expertise and the responsibility to make the transformational changes that are necessary.

We in government will help.

I’ve already agreed an approach with ACPO involving more joined-up procurement, better contracts, more joint purchasing, and greater private sector involvement. This will save hundreds of millions of pounds.

In July I announced the creation of a police-led ICT company which will give better systems and better value for police ICT spend.

And while not all of you may like every aspect of it, the Winsor report’s conclusions are explicitly designed to give police leaders the flexibility to do just that - lead.

Unlike the rest of the public sector, police terms and conditions have not changed for over 30 years.

Winsor’s recommendations would allow modern management practices, they would help police leaders manage their budgets and maximise officer and staff deployment to frontline roles.

Not only that, but Winsor’s proposals would reward those with specialist skills, those working unsocial hours, and those who are on the frontline.

All these issues are of course currently being considered through the police negotiating machinery and I will consider their recommendations carefully.

Likewise, I have already announced that the police pension age - which Lord Hutton has acknowledged should reflect the unique demands placed on officers - should be considered alongside your pay and conditions and should be consulted on through the Police Negotiating Board.

So, a fair deal and fair negotiations.

But let me be clear that I don’t want to reform police pay and conditions to make savings for the sake of it. I want reform so that we can protect police jobs, so that you have the flexibility to keep your officers on the frontline and so that we can reward those doing the toughest jobs. We can only do that if we reform terms and conditions for all officers.

The structural reforms we are making will help, but it will be down to you - the operational leaders of the police service - to make the changes that are needed on the ground to bring about savings at the same time as cutting crime.


The last few weeks have been a challenging time for policing and for the country.

We’ve seen the worst of Britain and the best of Britain.

We’ve seen communities trashed at night; and in the morning
we’ve seen communities coming together to clean them up.

We’ve seen the worst of our society acting disgracefully : irresponsible, violent, criminal.

And we’ve seen the best of our society - our police officers - acting heroically : selfless, committed, courageous.

But as we tackle the challenge of rebuilding, we have the opportunity to make a better Britain.

And as we tackle the challenge of reforming our police service we have the opportunity to make policing better.

Some say reform is unnecessary; others that now is not the right time; yet more will advise us to back down.

Well let me tell you that reform is needed, it is needed now and it is going to happen.

Our reforms will modernise our police service and make it more efficient.

They will give more trust and more respect to our police officers; stripping away the bureaucracy they face and freeing them to fight crime.

They will give them the leadership they deserve - with senior officers of the highest calibre, who have the right skills, the broadest experience and a clarity of purpose.

And they will make those leaders genuinely accountable - for the first time - to the only people who really matter, the public.

If we take on the challenge of reform - if we seize the opportunity to improve - then police officers, the police service and - most importantly - the public will be the winners.

Thank you.


Published 13 September 2011