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Chris Grayling: Our plans for elected police commissioners

What I want to do in my remarks today is to set out for you the rationale behind that proposed change, where it fits into our broader plans for policing, and to explain to you the process we are currently going through to discuss with you the nature of what we are proposing and to get your input into it. 

Let me start with a basic principle for our policing policy. 

The Home Office interferes too much in local operational policing matters in the UK, and its involvement needs to be reduced and not increased. 

How does that interference manifest itself. 

Well it does so through complex centralised bureaucracy, wedded to excessive levels of formal or informal regulation of police activity on the ground. 

Take the example of our approach to crime recording in this country. 

It's why we end up with stories in our newspapers about elderly ladies being fined £50 for poking a young troublemaker in the chest. 

It's why I met a couple recently who have never been able to put behind them police cautions given to them after their drug addict teenage son had called the police during a family argument - even though everything had been calmed down by the time they arrived. 

It's why another of my constituents was given a caution when he challenged a group of bikers causing a major noise nuisance outside his home weekend after weekend - and they lodged a complaint against him.
And most disturbing of all to me, it's about the story of a teenage girl in a care home, who had been given a pet by its staff because she had never had anything to love. But when she was moved to a new home, she was told she could not have a pet. And when she had a massive tantrum, the police were called, and she ended up in the criminal justice system. 

Stories like these do none of us any favours. 

They undermine confidence in the criminal justice system, and they remove trust and faith in our police. 

And why does it happen?

Because the system gives our police much too little discretion.

A complaint has to be recorded as an incident. 

An incident that is not dealt with shows up as a negative in the crimes solved league tables. 

And so a stupid decision is taken, where a healthy dose of common sense would have done the job, but the system said it couldn't be used. 

And then there's the overbearing bureaucratic structures that have been put in place at the centre. 

Ten different organisations with the right to inspect policing in this country. 

That's ten sets of people paid from the public purse putting together reports about the performance of our police forces.

All taking up police time that could be used far more profitably in dealing with crime and antisocial behaviour on our streets. 

And it's not just the inspections. 

Then there's the best practice and performance management that follows. 

From the NPIA.


From the Government Office

From the Home Office itself. 

From the IPCC.

And that's before you get to the organisation that should really be the driver of inspection and best practice - Her Majesty's Inspectorate. 

Does anyone seriously believe that all of this actually helps rather than hinders policing in this country?

Then there are the different data collection requirements. 

On many occasions I have asked Chief Constables how many sets of data they need to manage their forces. The answer is usually about twenty. 

But when I ask them how many sets the Home Office needs, the answers I have received range from forty or fifty to more than two hundred. 

In the current financial climate we just can't afford to do all of this. 

We have no choice but to place more trust into the hands of our professionals. 

But I also passionately believe that putting that trust back into the hands of the local police team will also go a long way towards restoring their professional pride, and the common sense that is so important to good policing. 

So a clear principle at the heart of our plans - a Home Office that interferes less, that concentrates on providing strategic leadership and not micromanagement. 

A very different approach to today. 

But then there is the issue of local confidence in policing as well. 

Whether we like it or not, the reality is that many people in this country don't believe the police are on their side any more. 

They believe that all too often the police are not there any more when there is trouble on their streets. 

Sometimes they are wrong. 

Sometimes the influence of selected stories in the media creates a false impression.

Sometimes the complaints are trivial. 

Antisocial behaviour is a real blight. But kids kicking a ball around is not antisocial behaviour, and yet all too often that is what the 999 call is all about. 

But equally sometimes the police themselves get it badly wrong. 

I came across recently an appalling case of antisocial behaviour - with actions against local residents going far beyond the trivial into what can only be described as serious criminality. 

Of a gang of troublemakers on an estate making the lives of law abiding residents a complete misery. 

I won't name names. 

But having talked to those involved, in police and local agencies as well as the residents, and sought privately the views of police officers elsewhere, I came away convinced that a zero-tolerance approach, led from the top of the force, was the only way to deal with the problem effectively and sustainably. And it did not seem to be happening. 

By contrast I visited another estate in a different part of the country where a zero-tolerance approach, led from the top of the force, had been enormously successful in transforming an area which had clearly been an utterly miserable place to live. 

So it can be done. 

But sometimes our communities need a powerful local voice to say to the police that the job they are doing is just not good enough. And to make sure that things do happen. 

It's not about direct interference in operational policing. 

It's not about politicians telling police officers who to arrest. 

Or how to police major incidents.

Or to carry out an investigation.

But it is about making policing accountable to the public when things that need to happen just aren't happening. 

Let's also be clear. 

The strengthening of local accountability isn't just about giving communities a stronger voice. 

It's also about protecting our police from central interference. 

Because I may be clear about my goal of reducing the dead hand of the Home Office if we are elected next year. 

And of stripping down the paraphenalia of interference in policing that comes from Ministers. 

But not every Home Secretary in the future will think the same. 

Particularly not if they are carrying the can for things going wrong, even though they have no longer got responsibility for those things. 

So the localisation of responsibility for local and front-line policing has to be something that is durable. 

It has to change the paradigm completely. 

Otherwise it will be a temporary measure, soon to be reversed by a new climate of centralisation from a future administration. 

So our job in Government would be not just to devolve power, but to lock those powers in to a local framework permanently. 

And above all that means the local point of police accountability must be transparent and obviously visible to the public. 

I'm afraid the current police authority structure just doesn't do that. 

We have good authorities, we have less good authorities, but all have one thing in common - virtually no one knows they exist. 

And that means that change is inevitable, change that makes sure local accountability is clear, visible and resides in the hands of someone who is clearly seen as a community leader. 

That is why we need to replace our current structures with a replacement system of scrutiny and accountability centred on elected individuals with a mandate from their local community. 

It will empower those communities. 

But it will also protect the process of decentralisation which I believe is so important to improving the standard of policing in this country, and rebuilding confidence in it.

Now I would not expect to find enthusiastic cheers about all of this from an audience of police authority representatives. 

I know many of you are deeply opposed to this concept. 

But what I do want to do is to ensure that regardless of your views about the principles, that you all have the opportunity to input into the detail. 

That's why my colleague David Ruffley is running a detailed consultation session with APA members over the course of this event, and why we are keen to hear from you about the detail. 

So what I will do now is to set out for you a bit more about the issues we are considering as we put together the final proposals, which we aim to publish in the New Year.

Let's start with the role and responsibilities that we are looking at. 

These are predominantly those that currently reside with the authorities. 

In particular they would include the power to set the precept. 

And the power to hire and fire the Chief Constable. 

But let me also be absolutely clear about what we are not planning to do.

We have no intention of handing over all of the powers that police authorities currently hold to a single individual, with no checks and balances, and no team to work with. 

You know and I know that this simply would not work, particularly in a complex area like for example the West Midlands. 

So the first given is that the person who is the elected lead figure will have to have surrounding them a scrutiny structure that can hold them to account. 

Now I hesitate to use the London model as an example of this given recent issues between the Mayor's office and the Met, but please bear with me for a moment. 

The Mayor of London has clear executive powers, but the London Assembly has the power to scrutinise and also to block some actions with a substantial majority vote. 

So for example the Assembly can block the Mayor's budget proposals if a substantial majority of assembly members vote against. 

A streamlined version of a similar system is one possible way of ensuring that we provide checks and balances to our plans for elected police commissioners. 

We will discuss whether there should be an independent element to this as there is on some local authority committees. 

We will be discussing the principles of such scrutiny with you at our consultation session, and would welcome your thoughts about how best to make it work. 

I also believe that putting in place scrutiny structures would provide an answer to one of the other big concerns that has been raised with us about the Police Commissioner proposals - that we will end up with extremists elected to the role. 

I don't actually believe that this will be the case. 

For the major political parties, one of the key lessons of recent years is that British voters tend to elect on the centre ground. When a political party allows itself to drift back to its core support on the left or on the right, it tends to lose elections and not win them. 

So whilst there are undoubtedly a small number of places that do elect people with distasteful and extreme views, there is nowhere in the UK that has come anywhere even close to electing an extremist across an entire force or police authority area. 

But the fear that this could happen is one reason for ensuring that we do build checks and balances into the system so that the team scrutinising the elected figure does have the power to bring extreme actions to a halt if they deem it necessary. 

While on the subject of London, we do intend to make one significant change within the Capital. In these straightened times, I can see little benefit in making the Metropolitan Police work with both the Mayor's office and a separate police authority. The London Assembly already carries out the scrutiny role into the Mayor's other activities. I can see no good reason why the MPA needs to exist as a separate body, and our intention would be to hand the scrutiny role in London to the elected members of the Assembly. 

We will also be discussing with you the whole question of operational independence and how we define it. 

We well understand how important this is. There can be absolutely no question of these reforms allowing the politicisation of operational policing. 

The role of elected politicians in policing has always been to help shape priorities and the overall level of resourcing. The independence of the police in operational matters is sacrosanct and will remain so under a Conservative government. 

There has been some good work done to define operational policing, particularly in New Zealand, and we will make sure that measures we bring forward define it for the UK as carefully as possible. 

One of the key failings of the current Government has been to compromise its reforms by defining them so loosely that they develop mission creep. That is how we end up with anti-terror powers being used by recycling bin enforcers. It will not happen under a Conservative government, and in particular it will not happen with the role of locally elected police commissioners. 

I know that the APA will not like the outcome of our discussions, but I am also well aware that there is extensive experience of policing in this room - and that we should therefore be giving you every opportunity to give us your input. I am very grateful for the help Rob Garnham has given us in making this possible - though to reassure you I should add that even though you now have a Conservative chairing the APA, he has been no softer on us in pushing your views as an organisation.

I should also say that I would be very surprised if we are elected next year and go ahead with our plans if some of the newly elected local police commissioners are not drawn from those who are already chairing police authorities around the country - and can to use that experience to secure a public mandate for their work. 

Finally I want to say something briefly about the current financial crisis. You can all do the sums, and you know that there are tougher times ahead for the public sector. 

I am aware that there is considerable thinking taking place within police forces and police authorities about the challenges we all face, and that innovative ideas are coming forward about how to meet them. 

It is absolutely clear to me that we will need to have for the future the right balance between strong local policing and shared services and facilities behind the scenes. 

It simply will not be possible to meet the financial challenges without greater collaboration. 42 different versions of everything cannot be the way forward.

For example, some of the thinking on air support shows very clearly how we can balance efficiency and cost-effectiveness with appropriate support for front-line operations. 

We will need more thinking like that if we are to deal with the challenges that lie ahead. 

Ladies and Gentlemen. 

These are challenging times. 

Policing faces pressures on a number of fronts. 

As do politicians. 

But at the end of the day what matters is that we have the right approach to protect the public, and to restore their confidence in policing and our criminal justice system. 

We are not driven by dogma. 

We are driven by a desire to make things work. 

To trust our police officers and give them the freedom and discretion to get on with the job. 

And to end the era of overweaning interference from the centre.

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