Only radical reform can restore confidence in policing

The Independent Police Commission sets out a bold vision to deliver fair and effective policing in straitened times.

The police service is undergoing tumultuous change and faces huge challenges. Police integrity has been brought into question by 'plebgate', Hillsborough and Leveson. At the same time, the police have been caught in a pincer movement between rising demand and financial austerity. Although crime has fallen significantly, the police are increasingly expected to intervene as the public service of last resort in all sorts of community disputes. Moreover, as crime has shifted online and become more international, the work of policing has become more complex.

At the same time, the police have faced large budget cuts, a pay freeze and major reforms to pay and pensions. The public are starting to notice as neighbourhood policing teams are cut back. Combined with government ministers insisting that the police should be seen principally as 'crime-fighters', the police are in danger of retreating to a discredited model of reactive 'fire brigade policing'.

It is in this context that the Independent Police Commission, established by Labour and chaired by the former Metropolitan Police Commission Lord Stevens, reports today. We make a number of recommendations across all areas of British policing. Taken together they amount to the most radical and substantial review of the police service since the 1962 Royal Commission.

Our first objective is to restore neighbourhood policing, currently under threat, as the bedrock of policing in England and Wales. To achieve this, we recommend the implementation of a local policing commitment across all forces, including guarantees around response times, accessibility and a minimum level of neighbourhood policing. Financial constraints mean that not every area can have the same level of neighbourhood policing and, beyond a national minimum, resources should be focused on the high crime areas.

Following 'plebgate', Leveson and a range of other recent scandals, there is a need to make sure that all officers are held to the highest professional standards. We recommend merging HMIC and the IPCC into a new single police standards agency. This new agency would hold police forces to account for the delivery of standards, deal with misconduct effectively and efficiently, and ensure all failings are addressed without delay.

To further raise standards, the Commission recommends creating a 'chartered police officer' as the basis of the police profession. All police officers must register with the College of Policing. Existing officers will be registered under 'grandfather’s rights', but all must demonstrate they are properly accredited within five years. This provides a mechanism for continuous professional development and means that those without accreditation will leave the service.

Following extensive deliberation, we have concluded that the government’s experiment with Police and Crime Commissioners has failed. The aim of this reform was to connect the police with the concerns of the public. By that standard, PCCs have failed: turnout in the first elections was pathetic, leaving the elected commissioners with contested legitimacy. Moreover, the public visibility of PCCs has been low and concerns about the appointment and dismissal of some chief constables have undermined confidence. We argue instead that local government should be given a much stronger role in holding the police to account - a form of democratic accountability that is much closer to the public.

Finally, we confront one of the great elephants in the room' of British policing. Almost no one who gave evidence thought that the existing structure of 43 forces was the best way either to deliver responsive local policing or to deal with ‘high policing’ matters such as serious and organised crime. In the context of a major fiscal squeeze it is essential that the structure is addressed if we are to avoid further damaging cuts to the frontline. We recommend that decisions over most community policing matters be decentralized to local government level. Having taken that major localising step, the present force structure looks unsustainable. We recommend that the government consults on three options: negotiated mergers, coordinated mergers into ten forces and the creation of a national police service.

Our report sets out a bold and radical vision to deliver fair and effective policing in straitened times. This model of policing is one grounded in values that are widely shared among the British people and informed by good evidence of how the police can, with others, contribute to the creation of a safer, more cohesive and more just society – in short, to a better Britain.

Rick Muir is a member of the Independent Police Commission and writes in a personal capacity.

Scotland Yard - headquarters of the Metropolitan Police on October 24, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation

Photo: Getty
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The Conservative-DUP deal is great news for the DUP, but bad news for Theresa May

The DUP has secured a 10 per cent increase in Northern Ireland's budget in return for propping up the Prime Minister.

Well, that’s that then. Theresa May has reached an accord with the Democratic Unionist Party to keep herself in office. Among the items: the triple lock on pensions will remain in place, and the winter fuel allowance will not be means-tested across the United Kingdom. In addition, the DUP have bagged an extra £1bn of spending for Northern Ireland, which will go on schools, hospitals and roads. That’s more than a five per cent increase in Northern Ireland’s budget, which in 2016-7 was just £9.8bn.

The most politically significant item will be the extension of the military covenant – the government’s agreement to look after veterans of war and their families – to Northern Ireland. Although the price tag is small, extending priority access to healthcare to veterans is particularly contentious in Northern Ireland, where they have served not just overseas but in Northern Ireland itself. Sensitivities about the role of the Armed Forces in the Troubles were why the Labour government of Tony Blair did not include Northern Ireland in the covenant in 2000, when elements of it were first codified.

It gives an opportunity for the SNP…

Gina Miller, whose court judgement successfully forced the government into holding a vote on triggering Article 50, has claimed that an increase in spending in Northern Ireland will automatically entail spending increases in Wales and Scotland thanks to the Barnett formula. This allocates funding for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland based on spending in England or on GB-wide schemes.

However, this is incorrect. The Barnett formula has no legal force, and, in any case, is calculated using England as a baseline. However, that won’t stop the SNP MPs making political hay with the issue, particularly as “the Vow” – the last minute promise by the three Unionist party leaders during the 2014 independence referendum – promised to codify the formula. They will argue this breaks the spirit, if not the letter of the vow. 

…and Welsh Labour

However, the SNP will have a direct opponent in Wales. The Welsh Labour party has long argued that the Barnett formula, devised in 1978, gives too little to Wales. They will take the accord with Northern Ireland as an opportunity to argue that the formula should be ripped up and renegotiated.

It risks toxifying the Tories further

The DUP’s socially conservative positions, though they put them on the same side as their voters, are anathema to many voters in England, Scotland and Wales. Although the DUP’s positions on abortion and equal marriage will not be brought to bear on rUK, the association could leave a bad taste in the mouth for voters considering a Conservative vote next time. Added to that, the bumper increase in spending in Northern Ireland will make it even harder to win support for continuing cuts in the rest of the United Kingdom.

All of which is moot if the Conservatives U-Turn on austerity

Of course, all of these problems will fade if the Conservatives further loosen their deficit target, as they did last year. Turning on the spending taps in England, Scotland and Wales is probably their last, best chance of turning around the grim political picture.

It’s a remarkable coup for Arlene Foster

The agreement, which ticks a number of boxes for the DUP, caps off an astonishing reversal of fortunes for the DUP’s leader, Arlene Foster. The significant increase in spending in Northern Ireland – equivalent to the budget of the entirety of the United Kingdom going up by £70bn over two years  – is only the biggest ticket item. The extension of the military covenant to Northern Ireland appeals to two longstanding aims of the DUP. The first is to end “Northern Ireland exceptionalism” wherever possible, and the second is the red meat to their voters in offering better treatment to veterans.

It feels like a lifetime ago when you remember that in March 2017, Foster was a weakened figure having led the DUP into its worst election result since the creation of the devolved assembly at Stormont.

The election result, in which the DUP took the lion’s share of Westminster seats in Northern Ireland, is part of that. But so too are the series of canny moves made by Foster in the aftermath of her March disappointment. By attending Martin McGuinness’s funeral and striking a more consensual note on some issues, she has helped shed some of the blame for the collapse of power-sharing, and proven herself to be a tricky negotiator.

Conservatives are hoping it will be plain sailing for them, and the DUP from now on should take note. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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