Home Secretary at the Police Reform Summit


Home Office and The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Delivered on:
8 December 2015 (Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered)
Rochester Row, London
First published:
8 December 2015
Part of:

Theresa May: There must be no let-up in reform

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

Thank you. I am very pleased to join you here and want to thank you all for coming to this important Police Reform Summit. Over the past five years you have been at the forefront in helping to deliver the most radical programme of police reform in decades.

That programme of reform is not yet finished. And today I want to talk to you about what we must achieve over the course of this Parliament if we are to ensure that policing has the capabilities to respond not just to the challenges of today, but the challenges of tomorrow.

But before I begin, I want to pay tribute to the tremendous work of Britain’s police officers, so clearly in evidence this weekend once again. In Cumbria and Lancashire, the police, working with operational partners, are responding to the devastation wrought by Storm Desmond. Doing so with characteristic professionalism, working in difficult conditions to help those affected by the floods. And in Leytonstone, on Saturday evening, officers put themselves on the line to deal with a dangerous and threatening situation, showing restraint, a commitment to public safety and above all great courage.

These events remind us of our police officers’ terrific sense of duty. Men and women who serve their communities with dedication and conviction. They are the officers you lead – and of whom we are so rightly proud.

Now two weeks ago, the Chancellor set out the results of the Spending Review. And in doing so, he announced the Government’s deliberate decision to protect overall police spending in real terms over the course of this Parliament.

We took that decision to give you, the leaders of policing in England and Wales, and the communities you serve, immediate confidence that over the next four years you will have the resources you need to carry on cutting crime, fighting terrorism and keeping the people of this country safe.

That was important and it was right. By the end of this Parliament police spending will be up to £900 million greater in cash terms than it is now. That is on top of the £1.9 billion of savings you are already planning to make, according to HMIC’s latest PEEL inspection, and the £2.1 billion you hold in reserves. It represents – quite simply – a massive investment in the future of policing in this country.

I know many of you have welcomed the Spending Review and committed to continued reform. I applaud that and will always do everything in my power to help you.

But neither I, nor the public, will have any sympathy for those who complain about budget cuts – as some of you have continued to do in the past couple of weeks. Because as I said two weeks before the Spending Review, it is not in spite of the need to find savings that we have been able to reform policing, but because of them.

And to those who think the Spending Review gives you breathing space to relax the reforms we started five years ago, you could not be more wrong.

As the Prime Minister set out yesterday, this is a Government that delivers on our promises – to provide real security and opportunity at every stage of life. Our manifesto to the British people promised to finish the job of police reform. And that is exactly what I intend to do.

Your individual central Government funding allocations for 2016/17 will be set out in the Provisional Police Grant Report next week. But I can tell you now that – just as you had planned to do a month ago – every force will still need to make savings year on year. The overall policing budget is protected. But not the wasteful and inefficient spending that we all know still exists. Because if we are to meet the challenges that lie ahead, and if we are to ensure money is well spent, then further changes will need to be made. So this settlement is not a reprieve from reform. It does not let you off the hook or mean you can slow the pace of change. Nor does it insulate you from the need to make further efficiencies.

Quite the opposite. Now – more than ever before – there is no excuse not to deliver.

Instead, we must redouble our efforts, force a more urgent pace, and deliver a more radical and more sustained period of police reform than we saw even in the last Parliament. Because with protected funding comes an even greater responsibility to spend every penny of taxpayer’s money wisely, and to drive better value at every step.

Reform must continue

And in case there is anyone who still wonders why reform is so necessary, then we just need to look at what more is left to do.

The reforms I implemented in 2010 when I became Home Secretary have brought in proper accountability, real transparency, much greater efficiency and a culture which rewards the right things.

But we must go further to improve police productivity, make greater savings in police ICT, and ensure broad and deep collaboration in police procurement is the rule not the exception.

We have abolished all national police targets, but as Irene Curtis’s review of targets in policing – which I published today – shows, local targets still exist. That review confirms the problems I have highlighted before: that targets don’t fight crime, they hinder the fight against crime. They distort operational reality. They reduce police officer discretion. And undue focus on one target can lead to other issues being neglected altogether.

I hope everyone in this room will take Irene Curtis’s recommendations seriously, and ensure they are implemented.

And while public confidence in the police has been maintained, we must do more to build trust between the police and the public, and ensure that police forces properly reflect the communities they serve. The positive impact of schemes such as Police Now and Direct Entry should continue. As well as valuing and developing existing police leaders, it is essential to go further and faster in encouraging people from a range of backgrounds into the police where they can bring a fresh perspective and new ideas.

We’ve shown what can be done. Bureaucracy has been stripped back and as a result police time has been saved. Police officers are more likely to be on the frontline than at any other time in modern police history. And today crime is down by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.

But at nearly seven million crimes a year it remains too high.

So reform must continue.

Capabilities not structures

Now I know there are those who think that the next stage of reform should start and end with a top-down and wholesale redesign of police force structures. That I should redraw the map and use the Spending Review settlement to fund the transition from 43 forces to 21, nine or even a single police force for England and Wales.

I have made my views plain on this before, and you know that I do not believe a top-down restructure from Whitehall is the answer. All too often, top-down change does not deliver the economies of scale or interoperability it is supposed to promise, but instead wastes valuable time and resources and risks the most important element of our system of policing by consent – local identity and accountability.

As I have always said, if two or more forces want to come together, with local consent and a sound business case, I will listen and I will take it seriously. But to date, I have not received any formal representations from forces which fulfil this criteria. And I am not prepared to wait for them before carrying on with the very urgent and important job of police reform.

More importantly, the structural reforms that were really needed in policing have already happened.

The abolition of the tripartite structure, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency. The end of invisible and unaccountable police authorities. The replacement of an outdated and cumbersome pay negotiating machinery. And serious reform of the Police Federation on behalf of its members and the people they serve.

And because of the reforms this Government introduced in the last Parliament, in place of the tired old structures we inherited in 2010, we now have a system of institutions which guard policing on our behalf through high professional standards, strong operational coordination, and proper public accountability and redress.

A professional College of Policing and a powerful National Crime Agency. Directly elected local police and crime commissioners and an operationally focused National Police Chiefs’ Council. A modern and independent evidence based process for pay and conditions. And on top of that a strengthened HMIC and IPCC, alongside a Police Federation taking the steps to reform itself. I will legislate shortly to further reform all three.

So in the last Parliament, we rebuilt the institutions of policing and vested in them the powers, the clout and the legitimacy for them to work effectively.

And we are reaping the rewards. Police priorities set democratically. Chief constables held properly to account. Professional standards set by policing for policing. Operations against serious and organised crime tasked by a strong national body. Local operations co-ordinated effectively between forces. And systemic issues inspected with rigour and individual failure dealt with independently to give the public redress.

The need for change

So the debate is no longer about structures. It is about the capabilities that policing needs to counter the new and complex threats we face. It is about where those capabilities best sit and how they are best delivered.

This is necessary because even as crime is falling, the challenge of keeping people safe is becoming more difficult and more complex.

Serious and organised crime is changing rapidly: from the terrible organised trade in human misery we have seen in the Mediterranean this summer to the emergence of industrial scale fraud, often originating in other countries by criminals that act anonymously. We are uncovering every day the true scale of complex crimes like child sexual abuse, domestic abuse and modern slavery as survivors and victims come forward with confidence that the police will take them seriously. Today HMIC has published its findings on the scale of honour-based violence and the need for urgent improvement in understanding, investigating and recording such crimes. And technology is creating new ways to commit old crimes, and new crime types altogether.

At the same time, this country must confront the deadly and indiscriminate threat from terrorism. The terrible attack in California last week, in Paris last month, and in Beirut, Tunisia and elsewhere before, reveal the disturbing new face of terrorism, inspired by and linked to Daesh.

Last Wednesday, Parliament voted with a strong majority to stand shoulder to shoulder with France and strike Daesh at its heart – in Syria. But as we take military action to protect the UK and reclaim Syria for the Syrian people, we must also ensure that the police have the capabilities they need to respond here at home. So the changing nature of crime and the growing threat from terrorism require a different response, new methods of investigation and forensic analysis, and a more organised and coordinated policing landscape than exists today.

And we know that in tackling cyber crime and child sexual abuse many officers lack the necessary skills and training. More must be done to address that and to effect a cultural change in our approach to these crimes. So that is why I brought you here today. Not to tell you the best operational response or mandate a solution from Whitehall. The Home Office no longer thinks it runs policing.

But to bring all of you together to consider how best policing can meet these challenges. To determine which capabilities sit best locally, and what could be better delivered by specialist units owned jointly by a number of forces. And crucially, to forge the alliances and networks that will deliver those specialist capabilities with clear timescales to develop them.

And in doing so, we must build on the good work of the last five years, which shows that specialist capabilities can be delivered more effectively and more cheaply between forces, without sacrificing local identity in the process.

Because on top of the established national networks for counter-terrorism and serious and organised crime, there are now joint local arrangements for firearms, major crime, economic crime, cyber crime, dogs units and roads policing, to name but a few in different parts of the country.

I recently visited the new firearms facility in Portishead shared by Avon and Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Police. Yesterday the Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, was in Northamptonshire – one fifth of the East Midlands Collaboration Partnership which has been driving a joint approach for many years. Northamptonshire is also pioneering emergency services collaboration – they have announced plans to bring the police and fire services together, and are exploring opportunities to work more closely with the NHS ambulance service. And every force represented here will be involved in collaborative arrangements with other forces.

But progress is patchy and the different specialist capabilities involved vary considerably in different parts of the country. This point was made by HMIC in its report on Regional Organised Crime Units. It was clear that ROCUs now form a critical part of the national policing network, and they have been transformed following the significant investments made over the last three years by police and crime commissioners and the Home Office. But they remain inconsistent, and partly because some forces have been reluctant to commit to full collaboration on the core capabilities.

Of course, all collaboration is welcome, but only through systematic and thought-through partnership will we maximise improvements in efficiency and effectiveness, both in ROCUs and through cross force collaboration.

I am glad to say that much of that thinking has either been done or is firmly in progress. This summer, HMIC brought together senior leaders from across policing through the National Debate Advisory Group, which set out a vision for police functions delivered largely between forces or nationally. Steve Kavanagh has been leading potentially transformative work to deliver a consistent approach to digital investigation and intelligence. And the NPCC is now bringing it all together in a significant programme of work for the APCC which you have been discussing today.

So it is clear that there is increasingly a consensus in policing that what matters is not structures but capabilities. And an appreciation of what capabilities should be developed nationally, what is better delivered between forces, and what must remain entirely local.

That is the next stage of reform. It is not reform that I will impose on you. It is reform that you must design and deliver for yourselves. And in doing so, you must be willing to act collectively and do so in the interests of what is best for policing as a whole, not just for your own force.

Investing in the next stage of reform

And it is precisely by protecting overall police spending, that we are able to invest in those new capabilities.

On 25 November, the Chancellor announced that over the course of the next Spending Review period the Government will spend an additional £1 billion overhauling the emergency services network. This will give officers the capability to access databases, take fingerprints and witness statement and stream body-worn video whilst on the move.

Following the Strategic Defence and Security Review, we will increase CT police funding in real terms and invest in your capability to pursue terrorists, counter poisonous ideologies at home, and ensure that the UK is properly prepared in the event of an attack. And as the SDSR sets out, you will need to work with the NCA, Border Force, the security and intelligence agencies and others to tackle the threats to national security at home and abroad.

In the wake of the devastating Paris attacks, we are investing in police firearms capability to ensure that officers across the country are better trained, equipped and prepared for the type of marauding firearms attack that we saw last month.

But we will go further – by using the additional funding in the settlement to deliver the reforms that we are discussing today. To invest in cross-force specialist capabilities, to exploit new technology and to improve how we respond to changing threats.

There is no respite from reform. We must use the settlement to quicken the pace and finish the job.

The Government will play its part

And where the Government has a role, I will play my part.

In the coming months, we will bring forward legislation to free up more of your officers’ time, enable greater collaboration and ensure better outcomes for people with mental health problems who come into contact with the police. And I expect to see all of you exploit these new powers and freedoms fully to improve policing.

We will do more to cut bureaucracy and ensure that you – the professionals – are given greater discretion through measures such as expanding police-led prosecutions.

We must get to grips with sorting out the gritty, less visible but highly important business of Police ICT. Next month the Police ICT company, created by this Government, will bring together users and buyers of police technology, with both major and emerging technology suppliers at the Police ICT Summit. I expect those leaders to make the most of this opportunity and look at how policing and the market can work together to build more cost effective solutions for keeping the public safe.

And where you need proportionate and necessary powers, I have always said I will support you.

Last month we published the draft Investigatory Powers Bill which will ensure that law enforcement and our security and intelligence agencies are able to operate in a modern context. The Bill will provide unparalleled openness and transparency about our investigatory powers, and create the strongest safeguards and world-leading oversight arrangements. And it will mean law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers and capabilities they need to pursue and identify perpetrators in a digital age.

And today – after I have spoken here – I will go to the House of Commons and set out the case for joining Prüm – the European system by which we can compare DNA profiles, fingerprints and Vehicle Registration Data with European Union Member States. This will give our police forces and intelligence agencies a system to identify foreign terrorists, murderers and rapists which is fit for purpose. It has the potential to ensure more crimes are solved, more victims receive justice, and more foreign criminals are caught and removed from UK.

We will also do more to help reduce demand on police time, and ensure crime is tackled in the most effective way. The Modern Crime Prevention Strategy, which will be published next year, will set out joint working with industry and civil society to prevent crime and save police time. It will drive a stronger focus on new technology – both as a source of new criminal opportunities, and as a tool for prevention. It will strike a balance between going further to embed the techniques that work to prevent ‘traditional’ crime, and reapply the prevention lessons of the last twenty years to new priorities like fraud and CSA. Because as Sir Robert Peel set out in 1829, the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder.

And finally, in addition to all this, we are considering next steps on the introduction of a new, fairer funding formula that properly matches central government funding with police demand.

But it’s up to you

So the next stage of reform is clear and it is urgent.

I will support you, as I have always done, and where it is the Government’s responsibility to make changes, I will do so.

But this challenge is yours. Now it is up to you.

When I became Home Secretary in 2010, I took the Home Office out of policing, because it is not the job of Whitehall to run policing.

The Home Office doesn’t know how best to fight crime in your areas, you do.

The Home Office doesn’t know how best to coordinate the operational response between forces, chief constables do.

The Home Office isn’t elected by local people to decide police priorities and hold the force to account, police and crime commissioners are.

You are the operational leaders and the elected local representatives. You own policing, not me.

This is the next stage of police reform. So over to you.

8 December 2015