Theresa May – 2014 Speech to Police Federation Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to the Police Federation Conference held at the Bournemouth International Conference on 21st May 2014.

The police must change and so must the Federation

This is my fifth address to the annual Police Federation conference. In each of my previous speeches, I’ve had to deliver some pretty tough messages. I know you haven’t always liked what I’ve had to say. And to be honest, you haven’t always been the easiest of audiences. But I want to start by saying this.

When I first addressed you, back in 2010, I explained to you that there would be tough times ahead. It’s easy to forget now, but when this government was formed, we had just been through the worst financial disaster since the war. We faced the biggest budget deficit in our peacetime history. We had a higher deficit than countries like Portugal and Greece, both of whom had to be bailed out by the European Union and whose economies continue to languish.

So I told you that we needed to be honest about dealing with the debt crisis and that doing so would mean police spending cuts. But I also told you that as Home Secretary I would be tough on crime, I would give you the powers you need to get the job done, and, as a government, we would do everything possible to maintain a strong police presence on our streets.

I know many of you were sceptical. I know you meant it when you said that spending cuts would destroy the police as we know it, that the front line service would be ruined and that crime would go shooting up.

I know that delivering those spending cuts has been hard and of course they have come at a price. We’ve changed your pay and conditions, we’ve reformed your pensions, and, yes, there are fewer officers employed overall. I understand the sacrifices you have made. But today we can say with confidence that spending cuts have not ended policing as we know it, the front line service has largely been maintained, and most important of all – according to both recorded crime statistics and the independent crime survey – crime is down by more than 10% since the election. So I want to thank every police officer and staff member in the country for getting on with the job and helping to deliver that reduction in crime.

Officers remembered

And I want to take this opportunity too to remember the officers who have fallen while on duty in the last year. PC Shazahan Wadud; DC Adrian Grew; PC Andrew Duncan; and PC Mick Chapman. They died serving their communities, and we honour their memory.

Police bravery

It was good to be reminded by Steve Williams during his speech of the police bravery awards. What strikes me is not just the bravery shown by individual officers but the fact that everyone says in a matter of fact way they were just doing their job. The public owe all those who do that job day in and out a debt of gratitude.

Policing by consent

Nearly 200 years ago, Sir Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan Police and declared, “the police are the public and the public are the police.” Today, everybody in policing – from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to the newest recruit on the frontline – is familiar with those famous words. They are the unofficial motto of the British model of policing and they say very clearly that in this country we believe in policing by consent. It is a principle we all take pride in, and it is the duty of us all to protect and preserve it.

That’s why, if there is anybody in this hall who doubts that our model of policing is at risk, if there is anybody who underestimates the damage recent events and revelations have done to the relationship between the public and the police, if anybody here questions the need for the police to change, I am here to tell you that it‟s time to face up to reality.

For the Federation has gathered here in Bournemouth at a time of great difficulty for policing. In the last few years, we have seen the Leveson Inquiry. The appalling conclusions of the Hillsborough independent panel. The death of Ian Tomlinson and the sacking of PC Harwood. The ongoing inquiry by an independent panel into the murder of Daniel Morgan. The first sacking of a chief constable for gross misconduct in modern times. The investigation of more than ten senior officers for acts of alleged misconduct and corruption.

Allegations of rigged recorded crime statistics. The sacking of PCs Keith Wallis, James Glanville and Gillian Weatherley after “Plebgate”. Worrying reports by the inspectorate about stop and search and domestic violence. The Herne Review into the conduct of the Metropolitan Police Special Demonstration Squad. The Ellison Review into allegations of corruption during the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Further allegations that the police sought to smear Stephen‟s family. Soon, there will be another judge-led public inquiry into policing.

Then there is the role of the Federation itself, which as Sir David Normington said in his review, needs to change from “top to bottom”. We’ve seen accusations of bullying, a lack of transparency in the accounts, questionable campaign tactics, infighting between branches, huge reserve funds worth millions of pounds, and a resounding call for change from your members – with 91% saying things cannot go on as they are.

It would be the easiest thing in the world for me to turn a blind eye to these matters, to let things go on as they are, to deny the need for change. It would be the easy thing to do, but it would also be the wrong thing to do, because I would be letting down the people in whose interests I am elected and you are employed to serve.

I say this not – as I‟ve heard it said by some of you before – because I want to run down the police, but because I want the police to be the best it can be. I want you – the representatives of the thousands of decent, dedicated, honest police officers – to show the public that you get it, that you want to take responsibility for the future of policing and you want to work with me to change policing for the better.

Police reform is working and crime is falling

When I became Home Secretary 4 years ago, I started a programme of radical police reform. At the time, a lot of people – the Federation, Association of Chief Police Officers, the Opposition and many others – questioned the need for that reform. But after 4 years of reduced police spending and falling crime, as well as the revelations I just listed, nobody questions the need for police reform any longer.

The abolition of all government targets, and putting operational responsibility where it belongs, with the police. Bureaucratic accountability replaced with democratic accountability, with crime maps, beat meetings and elected police and crime commissioners.

An inspectorate more independent of government and more independent of the police.

A College of Policing to drive up standards, improve professionalism and develop a better understanding of what works.

The National Crime Agency to get tough on serious and organised crime.

More powers and resources for the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Direct entry to inject into the senior ranks different perspectives, fresh thinking and new talent.

And new terms and conditions that will reward not just time served but skills, expertise and frontline service. I know not all of these changes have been easy. I appreciate that you’re not just police officers but mothers and fathers too. You have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Changes to your pay and conditions and your pensions were always going to be tough. But – when the debt crisis meant that the alternative was to lose officers in greater numbers – it was the right thing to do. And because the changes were not just about saving money but about encouraging and rewarding specialist skills and expertise, I believe they will serve the police well for many years to come.

Not all of the changes I’ve made should be so controversial and indeed many of them should be welcome to the police officers you represent. As Home Secretary I’ve resisted public and political pressure telling me to interfere with operational policing. I know locally-imposed targets still exist – and I am as frustrated by that as you are – but I have removed reams of bureaucracy and all targets imposed by government. I’ve increased the number of charging decisions you take. I’ve increased the number of prosecutions where the police take the lead instead of handing over to the CPS. I’m working with the NHS to reduce the time you have to spend dealing with people with mental health problems. And I’m changing the law to make sure that life really does mean life for people who murder police officers.

Our reforms have been crucial in helping you to cut crime even as we have cut spending.

If we hadn’t introduced police and crime commissioners and established the College of Policing, we wouldn’t have been able to break the unaccountable ACPO monopoly at the head of policing in this country. By introducing PCCs we have made police leaders more responsive to the people they serve, and by establishing the College we are improving the professionalism of policing and giving your members a direct say in its future.

If we hadn’t reformed the way the inspectorate works, we might not have been able to shine a light on the misuse of stop and search or the police response to domestic violence. By making HMIC more independent of government and of the police, and by increasing its resources, we will later this year see the first ever annual inspections of every force in the country – which will give the public accurate and understandable information about the performance of their force.

If we hadn’t set up the National Crime Agency, complete with the power to coordinate and task law enforcement organisations and assets, we’d still be nowhere near getting to grips with serious and organised crime. There is still a long way to go, but by creating the NCA we have made a start in tackling this long-ignored serious, national threat.

If we had tried to micromanage the reorganisation of the front line from Whitehall, we’d have ended up in a predictable bureaucratic mess. By freeing up chief constables and giving them the freedom to get on with the job, we have seen the proportion of officers in front line roles go up to 91%.

If we had tried to set policing priorities from the Home Office, we’d have had to keep the bureaucratic apparatus required to keep tabs on you – and we’d have fewer officers available on the frontline. By getting rid of all those government-imposed targets and much of that bureaucracy, we have saved up to 4.5 million police hours – the equivalent of 2,100 full-time officers.

If we had gone on with the same terms and conditions, we’d have chiefs without the flexibility to lead their forces through these difficult times – and we’d have fewer police officers in post. By making those difficult decisions, we have rewarded front line service – and saved police jobs.

If we hadn’t embarked on police reform, there is no guarantee that the front line service would, as HMIC reported, have been largely maintained. And there is no guarantee that crime would have gone on falling. So the lesson is clear – police reform is working and crime is falling.

The police must change

That is something you should all take pride in. But I’m afraid that this achievement – remarkable as it is – does not mean there is no need for further change.

I know that the vast majority of police officers are dedicated, honourable men and women who want to serve their communities and bring criminals to justice. But when you remember the list of recent revelations about police misconduct, it is not enough to mouth platitudes about “a few bad apples”. The problem might lie with a minority of officers, but it is still a significant problem, and a problem that needs to be addressed.

I can already hear some of you say, “but the opinion polls show confidence in the police hasn’t changed.” And that is indeed true. The opinion polls show consistently that about two thirds of the public trust the police to tell the truth. But that is no reason to rest on our laurels, because we should never accept a situation in which a third of people do not trust police officers to tell the truth.

And for different communities, the numbers can get very worrying indeed. According to one survey carried out recently only 42% of black people from a Caribbean background trust the police. That is simply not sustainable. Change is therefore required.

Many of the government’s broader police reforms will help. The College of Policing will improve the quality of leadership and drive up standards. Police and crime commissioners are making the police more accountable to their communities. Direct entry into the senior ranks will open up the police to talented outsiders. HMIC is more independent of the police and of the government and therefore has greater credibility in reporting on police standards and performance.

But while these reforms are important they are not on their own enough to root out corruption and ensure standards are as high as they can be. That is why the College of Policing is establishing a Code of Ethics. It’s why the College is creating a national register of officers struck off from the police.

We’re making sure officers can’t escape scrutiny or censure by resigning or retiring early. We’ve increased the powers and resources of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I’ve asked HMIC to look at the anti-corruption capability of all forces. We’ve tightened the rules around the deployment of undercover officers. I will soon publish proposals to strengthen the protections available to whistleblowers in the police. I am creating a new criminal offence of police corruption. And I am determined that the use of stop and search must come down, become more targeted and lead to more arrests.

But there is still more work to be done. We need to go further and faster in opening up the police to outside talent and to people who might not ordinarily consider a career in policing. We need to look much more closely at standards of training and leadership. We need to do whatever we can to make sure police officers are representative of the communities they serve. And – as I have said before – I am willing to grant the IPCC more powers and reform the organisation further if that is what is needed.

Because it cannot be right when officers under investigation by the IPCC comply with the rules by turning up for interview but then refuse to cooperate and decline to answer questions.

Such behaviour – which I am told is often encouraged by the Federation – reveals an attitude that is far removed from the principles of public service felt by the majority of police officers. It is the same attitude exposed by HMIC when officers, called to help a woman who had suffered domestic violence, accidentally recorded themselves calling the victim a “slag” and a “bitch”. It is the same attitude expressed when young black men ask the police why they are being stopped and searched and are told it is “just routine” even though according to the law, officers need “reasonable grounds for suspicion”. It is an attitude that betrays contempt for the public these officers are supposed to serve – and every police officer in the land, every single police leader, and everybody in the Police Federation should confront it and expunge it from the ranks.

The Fed must change too

But it’s not just the police itself that must change, because the Federation must change too. This is something I know Steve Williams believes sincerely – and the vast majority of your members agree with him. I remember sitting on this stage last year when Steve gave a brave and thoughtful speech. In that speech, Steve said this: “Of course, we will fight for pay and conditions. But we will not be responsible for giving anyone the impression that our members are self-interested. They are committed to protecting the public and this must not be lost in the way we present ourselves as their representatives. I want to see us not as an organisation that’s stuck in the past but as an organisation that is looking constructively to the future.”

That is why Steve commissioned an independent review into the future of the Police Federation. The review was chaired by Sir David Normington, the former permanent secretary of the Home Office, and the other members of the review committee were Sir Denis O’Connor, the former chief constable and Chief Inspector of Constabulary; Brendan Barber, the former general secretary of the TUC; Linda Dickens, a professor of industrial relations; Dr Neil Bentley, the deputy director general of the CBI; and Kathryn Kane, the former chairman of the Police Federation in Merseyside. These are all people who want the best for policing in this country, and who want the Federation to serve its members well.

The Normington Review found a lack of transparency and openness in the affairs and finances of the Federation. It found only limited accountability to the Fed’s membership and to the public. It concluded that the Fed was unable to promote good behaviour and professional standards. Police officers had lost confidence in the organisation and the Federation had lost its ability to influence and represent its members. As the report itself said, “we have encountered some [Fed leaders] who are more interested in fighting internal battles and protecting their own positions.”

The Normington Review made 36 recommendations and, as I said at the time, it is vital that the Federation implements every one of them. Because the best thing that can happen for policing in this country is for you – the representatives of every police man and woman in the land – to show the public that you understand the need for change. I want you to show the public that you get it, that you want to take responsibility, that you want to make sure the Federation operates in the spirit of public service.

But since the Normington Review concluded, that is not what has happened. Federation staff have been forced out and there have been allegations of bullying and victimisation. Instead of embracing the need for reform, some members of the Fed seems to have reverted to the worst kinds of behaviour exposed by the Normington Review.

So the candidates who put themselves forward to replace Steve Williams, those who choose the new chairman, and you – the Federation’s representatives – have a choice to make. You can choose the status quo or you can choose change; you can choose irrelevance or reform; you can become another reactionary trade union or you can make sure the Police Federation becomes once more the authentic voice of policing in this country.

I do not want to have to impose change on you, because I want you to show the public that you want to change. I want you to show them that you have the best interests of the police and of the public at heart. But make no mistake. If you do not make significant progress towards the implementation of the Normington reforms, if the Federation does not start to turn itself around, you must not be under the impression that the government will let things remain as they are.

The Federation was created by an Act of Parliament and it can be reformed by an Act of Parliament. If you do not change of your own accord, we will impose change on you.

And there are three changes I plan to make even before we reach that point. First, it is not acceptable that when the Federation is sitting on vast reserves worth tens of millions of pounds, it is in receipt of public funds to pay for the salaries and expenses of the chairman, general secretary and treasurer. We have already said we would reduce this spending from £320,000 to £190,000 per year but I can announce today that this funding will be stopped altogether from August. Instead, the money will go into a new fund to accelerate the introduction of Police First – a new scheme designed to attract the brightest young university graduates into the police.

Second, I want Federation representatives to earn the right to represent their members. So in common with changes made elsewhere in the public sector, I plan to change the law so that officers will have to opt in to join the Federation. This will mean that officers no longer become Fed members by default.

I also plan to change the law so that officers who have chosen to become members also have to opt in to pay full subscription fees. Federation members already have the option of not paying full fees if they do not want to use all Federation services. But not many officers know this, and, again, the default position in practice is that officers should automatically pay full fees, regardless. I believe that’s wrong, and it promotes some of the worst problems exposed by the Normington Review.

Third, I want to make the Police Federation more accountable. That means, today and on an annual basis thereafter, the Home Office will use its existing legal powers to call in the Federation’s central accounts. I will also change the law so the Home Office can without any question call in the accounts for any money held by the Federation – including all so-called “Number Two‟ accounts. And I will bring forward proposals to make the Police Federation – that is, the national organisation and all the regional branches – subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Securing the British model of policing by consent

I know that some of you will find these changes unpalatable. In particular, I know that some of you will find the Freedom of Information Act an unwelcome intrusion. But the Police Federation is an organisation created by statute, it serves a public function and the Normington Review demonstrated very clearly that it is an organisation in need of greater transparency and accountability. So it is a change that I believe needs to be made.

Because my message to you today is that the police must change, and so must the Federation. I believe we have the best police officers in the world, and it is my privilege as Home Secretary to work with them. But it is our responsibility – yours and mine – to lead those officers through these difficult times, to show we understand the need to change, to keep improving the frontline service, to keep cutting crime, to show the public that they can have confidence in the impartiality, the fairness and the incorruptibility of the police. Only then will we be able to say we have secured the British model of policing, the model of policing by consent – and only then will we be able to say, with pride, that, in our country, the police are the public and the public are the police.

Thank you.