Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today. It’s always daunting as a minister to come to speak to an audience containing so much experience and expertise, and that is particularly the case after only a week in the job.
Like many other people I have had many experiences of police activity, when I have been a victim of crime, or when I have seen police in action in maintaining public order. I also, famously, have some experience of police action which is perhaps unique for a Police Minister - I have been arrested, and this guarantees that I am not disposed to uncritical admiration of everything done by all police officers ay times.
What I can guarantee is that during my time in this job I will be a candid friend of the police. I want you to succeed in your job, because it is vital to a healthy society, and the best way I can help is to listen, learn, and express my own views clearly. We may not always agree, but I will always be willing to engage and discuss.
I am sorry that I wasn’t able to join you for the sessions and discussions that you have had this morning. I have been in Coventry meeting with Chris Sims and West Midlands Police. I can confirm that as of 11am this morning the streets of Coventry were entirely peaceful and orderly. I was interested to see what they are doing with technology to make themselves better at their job by much better use of technology and various initiatives.
Heart of our police force
I am particularly pleased that my first major event and speech as Police Minster is to one of the police staff associations. You, as key leaders of policing and as police officers, are the heart of our police force. Yesterday I know the Home Secretary praised your professionalism and dedication, and I straightforwardly want to echo those sentiments. This professionalism and dedication is particularly valued as you drive change within your forces. And there is a lot of change taking place.
I accept that this is a challenging period for officers and the force as a whole, and I understand that there is some suspicion about the changes we have made and are continuing to make. I am not here to tell you that I will be slowing the pace of change or reversing decisions that have been made - the reform of policing is too important for that - but I hope that we can all follow Derek’s call to ‘move on’ from these changes and the debates and arguments of the past and work together to build a strong police force in the public interest.
To that end I want to put on record our thanks for all the work that you and your colleagues have done to address the challenges so far. Despite necessary reductions in budgets, crime is down and, as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary has said, the service to the public is largely being maintained, response times have held up and victim satisfaction is improving. This is down to the dedication and professionalism that officers and leaders like all of you show every day.
I know that inevitably, everything that has happened, all those changes, have dominated the conference over the last couple of days.
Today I want to talk to you briefly about some of the themes of professionalism and public confidence underpinning the reforms that have been made, and what I think the benefits will be. But before moving on I want to be clear that even after reform of structures and pay and conditions police officers will continue to be among the best paid of the public services, retiring earlier than most and with pensions that are among the most generous. But is equally worth saying that this is right, to reward the exceptional job that you do.
The Home Secretary has been determined to restore discretion to the police and to enhance professionalism, and I am equally committed to this agenda. The proper use of discretion is important for all ranks of the police, but it is essential to you as superintendents. It is a prerequisite to reducing bureaucracy and to end the culture of the Home Office - the Police Minister, Home Secretary, officials - looking over your shoulders as you make decisions. I want you to be able to get on with the job they joined the force for: fighting crime, and you can’t do that if you’re tied up in red tape and bogged down by form-filling.
I am please that great strides have already been made in this area which could see up to 4.5 million hours of police time saved across all forces every year, but I want to see more done to build on this. That is one of the things I am keen to drive through as police minister. This morning I spoke to Chris Sims, the ACPO lead on reducing bureaucracy, about what more we can do. We’ve changed a lot from the centre, but we have to work with forces, and with you, to identify where further improvements can be made.
This agenda to restore discretion goes hand in hand with that to improve professionalism. At the outset, it’s important to say what the professionalism agenda is not about.
It’s not about criticising you or saying that the way you have been doing your jobs up to now has been fundamentally flawed.
And it’s not about making policing a graduate profession.
But it is about accepting that the threats we face have changed and that to support the new landscape, and particularly the increase in your discretion, we need to continue to develop skills and ensure that they are properly recognised and rewarded.
College of Policing
Key to this work will be the creation of the new policing professional body - the College of Policing. The College will be established by the end of the year, taking on functions from the NPIA and ACPO business areas, with a powerful mandate to enable the service to implement the required standards for training, development, skills and qualifications.
And, crucially, it will be independent of government, with a board made up of representatives from across the ranks, with PCCs and independent members helping to give advice and improve accountability. And, as the Home Secretary said yesterday, the Chief Executive will be a senior officer. I was pleased to learn on taking over the post of Police Minister that work on the College has been progressing well over the summer, and I’m grateful for the engagement of the Superintendents’ Association during this.
The other key part of the drive to develop professionalism and restore discretion is considering and taking forward the recommendations of the Winsor review. I know, even in my very short time in this role, that you have concerns about some of these proposals. But the principles supporting these changes are important. If we are to properly support professionalism we have to value the skills that officers, using their warranted powers, gain to carry out their roles. A pay system that rewards time served, rather than skills and professional development cannot do this.
Yesterday the Home Secretary spoke about the benefits of these proposals to you as operational leaders: the signals you can send to your officers and staff and the flexibility that you will be given. And these benefits will flow to all officers and to the public, because it will support the central aim of policing: to cut crime.
And that relationship between the public and police is where I’d like to end my comments today. You all know that it is a relationship that needs to be won every day, by every action and decision an officer takes. Contrary to what some people think, confidence in the police has been steadily improving, but too many people still feel disconnected from their local force, thinking that policing is something that happens to them, rather than something they need to engage with.
That is why I am excited about the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners taking place on 15 November. Public awareness of the elections is increasing and people are now starting to talk about policing priorities in their areas, often in a way they haven’t before. You will always be the ones taking the operational decisions, but with a directly elected figure, accountable to the community they represent, the link with the public will be renewed.
We all know a healthy society requires the police and public to be at ease with each other, and the triumph of the policing operation at the Olympic and Paralympic games is testament to this. I visited the Olympic Park several times but it was not just there, it was everyone involved in the torch relay, the spectators and they were only able to throw themselves into the spirit of the games because of the work that dedicated officers were doing quietly behind the scenes. The fact that no one mentioned public order during the Olympic period is a huge testament to the success of the operation that police all over the country were involved with. You were essential to helping deliver a safe, secure and enjoyable Games that did prove to be one of the best things to happen to this country for many decades. This easier relationship between the police and the public needs to be one of the legacies of the Games.
But it is not just for you as leaders or individual officers or forces to work to win this confidence, as elected representatives politicians have a duty to help build this too. So I look forward to working with you, and getting to know you, and my door will always be open to representatives of policing. I also want to get out to meet with you and hear your concerns by visiting forces around England and Wales. I visited Coventry with West Midlands Police this morning, so I only have another 42 forces to go.
I want to thank Derek for his contribution as president. I know that he has been a source of good counsel for Ministers, and I look forward to working with Irene and continuing what has been a very important relationship that the Home Office has with the Superintendents’ Association.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Steve Williams on becoming chair-elect of the Police Federation. In my briefing I note that he is a trained hostage negotiator; I was pondering that and I’m sure he will find it a useful skill.
I know many people have said that this is an opportunity for a new start and personal relationships will be very important and I am more than happy to do what I need to do to ensure we have a creative, constructive, evidence based dialogue. That is the way to make progress. Of course we will not always agree, reform and change is always a painful period for all involved but we need to have those discussions on a regular basis.
It is true that we have a dedicated and professional police service, and I am excited about the future of policing in this country. At a time of great change the central mission for policing remains the same: to cut crime. And as Police Minister I will always support you to do this, in the interest of the people of this country.