The curse of the Home Office continues

The Home Office brief - a bed of nails during Labour’s years - shows no signs of becoming a fluffy chaise lounge under this government, writes Kevin Meagher.

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The Home Office brief – a bed of nails during Labour’s years – shows no signs of becoming a fluffy chaise lounge under this government.

However, the sight of a Tory home secretary being openly barracked by the police is an altogether new phenomenon in British politics.

This was the fate of Theresa May who came in for an unprecedented buffeting at the hands of Police Federation delegates when she addressed their annual conference this week.

At the heart of this animosity is the scale of the 20 per cent funding cuts hitting the police. This translates into 16,000 frontline officers and a similar number of back office staff. As shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper warned in her speech to the same conference, more than 5,000 police officers have already gone “from 999 response units, traffic cops and neighbourhood police”.

But more prosaic reforms are a cause of friction too, not least Tom Winsor’s review of pay and conditions, set up by Theresa May to deliver greater value for money and improve police services. Two weeks ago 30,000 officers took the rare and symbolic step of marching through London in protest.

Winsor recommends raising police entry standards, and fast-tracking more able candidates through the ranks as well as bringing pay and grading into line with other parts of the public sector.


See also:

Police commissioners: Labour must seize the opportunity with both hands 9 Mar 2012

Policing is political already – why should police commissioners hide their allegiance? 7 Mar 2012

Resources, powers and accountability – the three big issues facing the police in 2012 5 Jan 2012

Progressives should be supporting Elected Police Commissioners 27 Jul 2010

Theresa May is right to take on ACPO and reform the police 29 Jun 2010


As crossbench peer Lord Dear, a former HM Inspector of Constabulary, notes, the reforms are trying to challenge the “current culture” of a service “that is frequently unclear of its role: often risk-averse, process-dominated and defensive”.

Of course it may be a political curiosity to see a Tory home secretary on the ducking stool – and in the speed and scale of frontline cutbacks her critics are right to throw rotten fruit – but on police reform, it is Theresa May who is often right.

As The Independent noted:

“Individually, police officers are often stellar public servants. But the majority of forces are neither as efficient nor as accountable as they should be. Even without the need to tighten the government belt, it is high time for reform.”

The truth is the police have skipped many of the big organisational reforms other parts of the public sector have already undergone. The weakness of police authorities in holding constabularies to account has meant chief constables have enjoyed little real scrutiny and outdated practices have lingered.

When Labour’s former home secretary Charles Clarke tried to instigate the modest reform of rationalising the 43 constabularies in England and Wales into more scaleable regional forces – in order to avoid duplication and improve operational effectiveness – he was assailed on all sides until he was forced to drop the idea.

Anyway, trouble is brewing on another front as one of the Home Office’s flagship policies hits a problem. A poll this week shows the public does not know very much about the new Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) ahead of the first elections to the posts in just six months’ time.

The ComRes poll (pdf), commissioned by campaign and research company Centreground Political Communications, found fewer than one in five voters (18%) feels they know much about the forthcoming elections to choose the 41 new PCCs, while a quarter of voters (26%) say they expect to vote for an independent.

The elections, described by police minister Nick Herbert this week as “the most significant democratic reform of policing in our lifetime”, are due to be held on November 15th. They had originally been tied in with elections for directly-elected big city mayors in a bid to boost turnout. In the event, only Bristol chose to switch to a mayoral model earlier this month, fuelling fears about turnout and the risk of fringe candidates emerging.

This adds to the stack of thorny problems mounting in the home secretary’s in-tray. And then, of course, there’s the Olympics and the ever-present worry about a re-run of last summer’s rioting and looting.

The curse of the Home Office is set to continue.


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15 Responses to “The curse of the Home Office continues”

  1. Shamik Das

    The curse of the Home Office continues, writes @KevinPMeagher: #PoliceReform

  2. Kevin Meagher

    The curse of the Home Office continues, writes @KevinPMeagher: #PoliceReform

  3. Lucy Ashton

    The curse of the Home Office continues, writes @KevinPMeagher: #PoliceReform

  4. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – The curse of the Home Office continues

  5. Marty C K

    The curse of the Home Office continues – Left Foot Forward

  6. Hens4Freedom

    RT @leftfootfwd: The curse of the Home Office continues, writes @KevinPMeagher: #PoliceReform #NewsClub

  7. BevR

    The curse of the Home Office continues, writes @KevinPMeagher: #PoliceReform

  8. Martin Steel

    The curse of the Home Office continues, writes @KevinPMeagher: #PoliceReform

  9. liane gomersall

    RT @leftfootfwd: The curse of the Home Office continues

  10. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: The curse of the Home Office continues

  11. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: The curse of the Home Office continues

  12. Political Planet

    The curse of the Home Office continues: The Home Office brief – a bed of nails during Labour’s years – shows no …

  13. Guthrie

    The author appears to make a number of assumptions and it does seem as if they havn’t paid attention to policing for the last decade or two. For starters, just because the police have not allegedly had any major reorganisations does not mean that either they require them or that they have not actually had many internal reorganisations. If you ask around, you’ll find that forces have had multiple changes in shift system, targets, issues with everything from micromanagement to an underresourced front line.
    For instance, under new labour senior officers got performance related pay. Which meant that front line officers were presurised into acting to suit the performance targets, as we have seen already in hospitals. Now I did read that the current government got rid of the bonus system, and they also claim to have gotten rid of targets. This is directly contradicted by serving police officers who have to try to meet targets or be disciplined.

    Moreover, accusations from Lord Dear, who at least would have had more contact with the police than the politicians or, unfortunately, most members of the public, that the police – ““that is frequently unclear of its role: often risk-averse, process-dominated and defensive”.”
    make some sense, if you appreciate that new labour was wedded to managerialism, part of which is the bogus belief that you can introduce private company methods into public services. Thus your officers have to follow procedures and processes or get their arses kicked. (Of course not all procedures are bad, but it is possible to have too many). Risk averseness comes from a variety of sources – the aforementioned managerialism, the pressure for bonuses, and a media culture in which the police are blamed for everything that goes wrong. E.g. when that guy was shot before the riots, the biggest communications issues were from the IPCC, who are not the police, but yet everyone seemed to blame the police for the poor communications. Or the thing about overweight police officers in the MET – that was a downright lie, the statistic coming from the percentage of officers who were worried about being overweight and applied to or took part in some program about their weight.

    If you actually look at the Winsor proposals, they amount to the destruction of policing, which added to the current outsourcing of all police jobs except that of uniformed constable, will increase costs, decrease accountability, and reduce the quality of the police. When you have a government banging on about improving the quality of constables then cutting the wage of new starts by £4,000, to less than that of a PCSO who has many fewer responsibilities, you have to wonder what they are on about. Oh, and new labour already tried getting lots of graduates into the service, and most of those making stellar appearances at the Leveson enquiry were fast track graduates. So you have to start wondering what is so great about graduates that we need more of them…

    The thing about pay and conditions is a bit of a red herring – we don’t demand that teachers risk death every time they go to work, although I’m sure a few do. The premium pay for police officers is a recognition of the number of them that do get killed or injured at work, and their shorter life expectancy after retirement.

  14. Trigger happy Theresa has a worthy goal but not enough cops to make it happen | Left Foot Forward

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