Police reform: Home Secretary's speech to the Reform and KPMG summit on the value for money in policing

Speech given by Theresa May on 29 June 2011. This version is as delivered, not as spoken. Content deemed political has been removed.

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

I’m delighted to be here today to open this important Reform and KPMG summit on value for money in policing.

I accepted Reform and KPMG’s invitation to come here because this is such a vital subject.

KPMG have done some tremendous work over the last few years, in partnership with the Home Office, through the groundbreaking Operation Quest programme.

Operation Quest has improved value for money and generated savings of more than one hundred million pounds per year, while at the same time driving improved frontline performance.

For the police, Quest has meant savings of, on average, £10 for every £1 invested. For the public, Quest has meant improved handling of their calls for help, better quality criminal investigations and more offenders brought to justice.

Reform is now one of the UK’s leading think tanks. And let me just say up-front that I am not just here because of what Reform has said recently about the Home Office.

In Reform’s 2011 scorecard they described our policing policy as ‘a model package’.

Reform went on: ‘The government is making police services accountable in the right way, to their local electorates. It is conducting an independent review of the pay and conditions of the police workforce. It is arguing that the police should deliver value for money and that there is no simple link between resources and crime.’

Fine words, and I just hope that every noble Lord in the upper chamber has heard them!

It’s the first of Reform’s statements that I believe is the most important - our policing reforms truly are a package. That package addresses the major problems in British policing today.

But equally important for this conference to understand, is that the primary purpose of our policing reform package is not about saving money. It is about cutting crime and protecting the public.


Our reforms are designed to address a series of linked problems. First, crime is still too high. Despite spending more on criminal justice than any other comparable nation, Britain remains a high-crime country.

Second, for too long local people have been excluded from local policing decisions.

Police forces are public services, operating in a democracy. They should be accountable to local people.

Third, red tape has tied up police officers and stopped them doing their job - fighting crime.

Fourth, at the same time as it meddled in local policing and imposed more and more paperwork on officers, central government neglected national and international level crime.

And fifth, we now face all of these problems at the same time as we have to deal with the largest deficit in our peacetime history.

Reducing crime

Britain has some of the finest and most courageous police officers in the world.

A Conservative Home Secretary, Robert Peel, gave us the model of modern day policing.

Policing by consent.

Policing of the public, by police who are the public.And policing built on the foundations of the office of constable.

That model has served us well.

But Peel also laid down the principle that the best proof of the complete efficiency of the police should be the absence of crime.

Well, we certainly do not have that.

We currently spend 2.8 per cent of GDP on criminal justice and policing. That is more than any other country in the OECD.

And yet last year the British Crime Survey suggested there were 9.5 million crimes in England and Wales, and the risk of being a victim of crime was over 20per cent.

Added to that, the level of violent crime remains unacceptably high. The police are recording more than 1,000 incidents of grievous bodily harm or actual bodily harm and about 100 incidents of serious knife crime every day. Muggings and stranger violence remain stubbornly high - more than 1 million offences last year according to the British Crime Survey. 

So crime remains too high.

Public accountability

The old approach to dealing with this persistent crime was to try to take control of everything from the centre. And so came the targets, initiatives and bureaucracy. And yes, bucketfuls of public money too.

That approach was as misguided as it was unsustainable.

The default approach of throwing more money at the problem is simply no longer an option. Quite the contrary, as everyone at this conference will know.

But that policy approach was as damaging to policing as the fiscal approach was damaging to our economy.

The obsession with targets and bureaucracy led to officers carrying out activity that was frankly bizarre and sometimes even counter-productive.

There are examples from the vaguely amusing - like snowball fights being recorded as violent crimes - to the more serious - like the recording of attempts to force open doors or windows, not as burglaries, but as criminal damage in order to keep burglary figures down. Or the massaging of violent crime figures by officers stopping dealing with offenders for public order offences, which count as violent crime, and dealing with them instead for being drunk and disorderly, which falls outside recorded crime altogether.

Targets drive perverse incentives; accountability drives improved performance.

So we are transforming police accountability.

Instead of bureaucratic accountability to Whitehall, we will introduce true democratic accountability to the public through directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

Police and Crime Commissioners will ensure that local policing priorities are focused on what local people want, not on what central government thinks they want.

This simple fact, combined with neighbourhood beat meetings and street level crime mapping, will truly connect the public back with their local police.

And as the Police and Crime Commissioner will also set the police budget, and the level of council tax precept that local people will pay towards policing, they will have a strong incentive and a real mandate to drive efficiencies and to secure value for money.

Reducing bureaucracy

But the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners means we can get the Home Office off the backs of the police.

That’s why I’ve 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.

It’s why 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.

And it’s also why I have announced a whole series of measures aimed at scrapping police bureaucracy and restoring officer discretion.

We’ve already 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.

We’ve also restored police discretion over certain charging decisions, saving up to 50,000 police hours per year.

And we’ve issued new health and safety guidance that supports officers who do the right thing.

But I’m determined to go further.

That’s why in May I announced a series of new measures that show we really mean business in busting bureaucracy.

They include streamlined HR and crime recording processes, better risk management, a bonfire of doctrine and further charging discretion handed back to officers.

In total they could save well over 2.5 million hours of police time each year.

That’s time that can be better spent on the frontline.

And I want to see Chief Officers following my lead and making it a personal priority to cut their officers’ bureaucracy.

National crime

As we get central government out of the way of local policing, we can place the focus where it should have been all along - on the fight against national and international level crime.

Sir Paul Stephenson said last year that our current law enforcement response is only impacting in a meaningful way on 11 per cent of the estimated 6000 organised crime groups operating in the UK.

That is not good enough.

So I have announced the creation of a new National Crime Agency, a powerful body of operational crime fighters.

The NCA will tackle organised crime, secure our borders, fight financial and economic crime, and protect vulnerable children and young people.

The NCA will harness intelligence and analysis. It will have specialist capabilities and enforcement powers.

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.

We will back up that enhanced operational capability by publishing the country’s first ever cross-government organised crime strategy.


So it is clear that while many of our reforms will lead to savings, that is not the driving force behind them.

We are introducing Police and Crime Commissioners to better connect police forces with the communities they serve.

We are scrapping bureaucracy so police officers can focus on fighting crime.

And we are introducing the National Crime Agency to improve the fight against national and international level crime.

But when we face the largest budget deficit in our peacetime history, it is clear that the police service must play its part in making the savings necessary to secure our economic future.

That is the final pillar of our reform programme.

Our starting point is HMIC’s report Valuing the Police. That report found that £1.15 billion per year - or 12 per cent of national police funding - could be saved if only the least efficient police forces brought themselves up to the average level of efficiency.

But I say that all forces must raise themselves up to the level, not of the average, but of the most efficient forces.

That could add another £350 million of savings to those calculated in HMIC’s report.

But HMIC also did not consider all areas of police spending. They didn’t consider IT and procurement for example.

It makes absolutely no sense for the police to be procuring things in 43 different ways. It makes absolutely no sense for the police to have 2,000 different IT systems across 43 forces, as they do at present.

With a national, joined-up approach, with better contracts, more joint purchasing, a smaller number of different IT systems and greater private sector involvement we could save another £350 million and again, that is over and above the savings which HMIC have identified.

There is significant work underway in the Home Office and in the police service at the moment to decide how we can realise these savings. I will announce further details during the summer.

HMIC also did not consider pay, because it was outside their remit.

But in an organisation like the police, where £11 billion - 80 per cent of total revenue spending - goes on pay, there is no question that pay restraint and pay reform must form part of the package.

That is why we believe - subject to any recommendations from the Police Negotiating Board - that the there should be a two year pay freeze in policing, just as there has been across the public sector.

That would save at least £350 million - again, on top of HMIC’s savings.

At the same time, Tom Winsor is reviewing police pay and conditions to make them fair to police officers and fair to the taxpayer.

The first part of Tom Winsor’s report proposed rewarding those with specialist skills, those who are working unsocial hours, and those who are on the frontline.

The proposals are being considered by the police negotiating bodies and we will consider their recommendations carefully.

If implemented, Tom Winsor’s proposals would give the police service the flexibility it needs to operate in the modern era.

The proposals would enable modern management practices to be implemented.

They would help the leaders of the service to manage their budgets, maximise officer and staff deployment to frontline roles, and enable frontline services to be maintained and improved.

So the Winsor report is categorically not just about making savings - it’s about reforming the police to give chiefs the flexibility to lead.

Fundamental reform

Better ICT and procurement, greater frontline, back office and middle office efficiency and a two year pay freeze - these savings together amount to £2.2 billion a year. That is more than the £2.1 billion real terms reduction in central government funding to the police, and even that does not include the potential savings from Winsor or the additional funding that individual forces get from the local precept.

But - and this is crucially important - all of these savings can be made without reducing frontline services. The challenge for the police - and for this conference to consider - is to actually implement those savings.

I do not underestimate the scale of that challenge.

Minor improvements here and there will not be sufficient. Doing what has always been done, but just a little bit better, won’t be enough.

What is needed is a fundamental systems approach - looking from top to bottom at whole policing processes.

That should start with knowledge of what the public actually want - and Police and Crime Commissioners will hugely help with that.

That knowledge should be combined with police officer’s experience of what is effective at cutting crime and what services are really needed.

It must then consider how those services can be most efficiently delivered, from the start of the process, through to the very end.

That’s exactly what they’ve done in West Yorkshire, where they have freed up almost half of their Neighbourhood Policing Team from wasteful activity, so they can instead do proactive work with the public.

It’s what they’ve done in Devon and Cornwall, where they are saving more than 5,000 officer hours per year through improved deployment.

And it’s what they’ve done in Greater Manchester, where they have cut the average time between when a crime is reported and when the case is closed from over 50 days, down to just 6.

Today you are going to hear about three more case studies that show that saving does not automatically have to mean a reduced service - they show that savings can go hand in hand with a better service to the public.

I’m not saying it isn’t difficult. And I’m not saying that Quest is the answer to everything. But the Quest approach is an example of the sort of change I am talking about.
The right response to budgetary pressures is not just blind cuts. The right response is transformative change.

The right response is to look at all the tired old ways of doing things with a fresh pair of eyes - it’s to not accept the answer “but that’s the way we’ve always done things”.

The right response is to make changes that save money and improve services.

Salami slicing of budgets is not what’s needed. What’s needed is fundamental reform.

The result will not only be monetary savings. It will be lower crime, safer communities and a more satisfied, more confident and better served public.

This is key. I don’t just want to see the cuts managed. I want to see policing improved.


Our policing policy is a complete package of reforms.

We will place power in the hands of local people, giving them a proper say in how their area is policed. We will place trust in police officers, giving them back their discretion and freeing them to fight crime.

We will place government’s emphasis where it should be, giving a focus to national and international level crime. And we will place the needs of the country first, giving priority to making savings, while protecting the frontline police services that are so vital to our communities.

Local problems prioritised. Public accountability enhanced.Bureaucracy scrapped. National crime tackled. And value for money secured.

That is a clear, coherent and comprehensive package.

It will deliver savings. But most of all, it will help the police cut crime.

Thank you.


Published 29 June 2011