Labour has today unveiled a panel of experts to consider the future of British
policing. The review, chaired by the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens, will report by spring 2013.
There are far-reaching changes underway to the institutional structure of the police. The coalition government is pursuing sweeping reforms of police pay and conditions and creating a
remodelled national policing architecture, with a new National Crime Agency. The boldest reform — devolving governance to locally elected Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) —
will have long-term implications.
In this context, and in light of budget reductions of 14 per cent over four years, any study of the fundamentals of the British policing model might seem helpful, but Labour’s review comes
after the event. If Labour had established a review in summer 2010, it could have taken account of the Winsor review of pay and conditions, and the coalition’s proposed new governance model,
and have its report back in time to impact policy and the parliamentary debate. A review launched now, to report 6 months after the landscape of British policing will have changed
dramatically with the arrival of the Police & Crime Commissioners, is too late.
The Police Federation is calling for a two-year long Royal Commission because they want to call time-out in their battle against reform — fearful that for the first time in over 30 years,
they may actually have to accept more modern pay and conditions. But Royal Commissions – themselves a drawn-out luxury of the age of the grand Post-War committee — is not what the
service needs right now. And Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary agrees, saying that the urgency of reform and budget cuts must take priority.
The government’s programme is radical and has its critics, but it is at least coherent. In lieu of a policy programme of their own, Labour has opted to outsource their thinking and maintain
their opposition to all the coalition’s police reforms. Royal Commissions are what government’s do when they do not know what to do, and this Labour review is a pale imitation of a
Royal Commission, motivated by the same absence of credible policy.
But the biggest flaw with Labour’s review is that it fails to take account of how the new policing landscape will change. After the first PCC elections in November 2012, the devolution
agenda will see the Home Office’s monopoly on crime policy terminated. National politicians, ACPO and civil servants will simply have less control and more will be determined locally —
a long overdue correction after decades of bureaucratic centralism.
Lord Stevens has said that he wants to explore systemic problems with British police deployment, and is prepared to consider a new mechanism to ensure that more police are on patrol
— an ongoing problem for the service. As we highlighted in our ‘Cost of Cops’ report we
need to see more return on the record investment we have made in policing since 2001 and improved deployment and visibility is the key priority now as officer numbers fall.
New ideas on these issues will always be welcome but by the time this review reports, its conclusions may be less relevant to the new reality. One hope is that the review may end up offering
some policy options for 41 new Police Commissioners, who will be driving changes to improve local policing long before any future Labour Home Secretary has the chance to.
Blair Gibbs is the head of crime and justice at Policy Exchange