Theresa May – 2014 Speech to Reform


Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May to Reform on 3 September 2014.

Thank you, Andrew. This is a busy time for the Home Office and for those working on national security. It’s a pleasure to be here again with this country’s leading think tank on public service reform.

When I hear people say there isn’t much difference between the political parties these days, I always think about an announcement made by David Blunkett when he was Home Secretary. In March 2002, he created five “policing priority areas”. These places were as small and specific as Camberwell Green in Southwark, the Grange estate in Stoke, Little Horton and Canterbury in Bradford, the West Ward in Rhyl and Stapleton Road in Bristol. The police in these places, Labour decided, couldn’t cope with high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. So the solution was obvious. If the police couldn’t do the job, the Home Office would. If you lived on Stapleton Road in Bristol, you could stop worrying because help was at hand. A civil servant sitting in Queen Anne’s Gate in London was ready to take charge.

The “policing priority areas” were not an aberration. The 2002 Police Reform Act required the Home Secretary, at the beginning of each financial year, to prepare a “National Policing Plan”. The Act said the National Policing Plan must set out “the strategic policing priorities generally for the … police areas in England and Wales for the period of three years beginning with that year”. You heard me correctly. The Home Secretary and officials weren’t just expected to know how to fight crime on Stapleton Road in Bristol, they were expected to know precisely what local needs would be for every other community in the country, and – more than that – they needed to know what those needs would be three years into the future.

That was, of course, complete nonsense, and it couldn’t be further removed from the approach we have taken to police reform in the Home Office since May 2010. So today I want to talk to you about my programme of police reform. I want to use it to show that it is possible to deliver more with less. And I want to use it to talk about how we meet an even tougher challenge – the challenge of how we can reduce demand for public services through smarter policy.

Police reform proves you can do more with less.

I just told the story about the policing priority areas and the National Policing Plan, but I want to say a little more about what we inherited in policing back in May 2010.

The institutions of policing were hopelessly inadequate. In theory, unelected police authorities were supposed to hold local forces to account on behalf of the public. In practice, only seven per cent of people even knew they existed. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency – which according to rumour Tony Blair wanted to call MI7 – failed to get to grips with organised crime because it lacked the powers and clout to do so. Police training and standards were in the hands of a £400 million-per-year quango called the National Policing Improvement Agency. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary was as a matter of course always a former chief constable, which meant the Inspectorate was too close to the police to do its job properly.

There was an unaccountable, centralised, corporatist system of governance, known as the tripartite, in which policing across the whole country was run by the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities.

Police productivity was held down by the targets, performance indicators, reporting requirements, regulations and red tape made necessary by a system of bureaucratic accountability as the Home Office tried to keep tabs on everything forces were doing.

Police procurement was a pitiful joke. 43 police forces buying different sets of uniforms and running separate and uncoordinated procurement policies. £1 billion per year spent on inadequate ICT, with 4,000 staff working on 2,000 separate systems across 100 data centres. Each police force in the country trying to run its own air service, or at best collaborating with just a couple of others.

There was a pay structure worth £11 billion – three quarters of total police spending – that was designed more than thirty years before. In those three decades, policing changed dramatically while the pay system failed to keep up. But every attempt to change terms and conditions were resisted bitterly by the Federation and successive Home Secretaries were forced to back down.

So that was policing as we inherited it just a little more than four years ago. And yet, when I first launched our programme of police reform, the response from ACPO, the Police Federation and the Labour Party was to deny the need for change. Likewise, when we announced that we would cut central government police funding by twenty per cent in real terms over four years, the same people were united – the frontline service would be ruined and crime would go shooting up. Labour called it “the perfect storm”. The Federation predicted that the cuts and our reforms would destroy policing as we know it. But no such thing happened. According to both recorded crime statistics and the independent crime survey, crime is down by more than ten per cent since the election. Police reform is working and crime is falling.In addition to our work to improve ethical standards in policing, which I spoke about at the Police Federation conference and will not repeat today, police reform amounts to a sustained assault on each of the five problems we identified upon arrival at the Home Office. Inadequate institutions and structures. An unaccountable system of governance. Poor productivity undermined by bureaucracy and centralisation. Wasteful procurement. And a hopelessly out-of-date system of pay.

So we have systematically reformed the institutions of policing. Invisible police authorities have been abolished, and police forces have been made accountable – through beat meetings, crime maps and elected police and crime commissioners – to their local communities. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency is gone, and replaced by a National Crime Agency which has the power to task and command other law enforcement assets and a capability that reaches from local to international crime networks. The NPIA has been scrapped, and the College of Policing has been established to develop an evidence base, set standards and deliver training. HMIC, the Inspectorate of Constabulary, has remained – but it’s now led by the first ever chief inspector not to have served as a chief constable.

The tripartite system of police governance has been consigned to history. The Home Office no longer believes it runs policing. The Association of Police Authorities is no more, while the membership of the Association of Chief Police Officers has just voted overwhelmingly in support of its closure whilst many of its responsibilities have passed to the College. Meanwhile, the Police Federation, for years the roadblock to police reform, has also voted to reform itself.

Police productivity has improved and the frontline service has been reconfigured in different ways in different forces across the country. We’ve scrapped all government targets and much of the bureaucracy created by the Home Office. In doing so, we have saved up to 4.5 million police hours – the equivalent of 2,100 full-time officers.

We’ve got on with the gritty and unglamorous work of sorting out police procurement. We’ve still got a long way to go – the price forces are paying for items like boots and handcuffs still varies enormously and police ICT is going to take a long time to fix – but we are at least on the way.

And this Government has succeeded where others have failed before in successfully reforming terms and conditions. We didn’t get everything through the Police Arbitration Tribunal – which itself is a relic from the past that we are scrapping – but at last, we will have a system of police pay that encourages and rewards skills and frontline service, not just time served. Police forces will soon be able to recruit talented outsiders to senior ranks. And PCCs will be able to recruit chief constables from other common law jurisdictions.

There is still a long way to go but our reforms are already bearing fruit. Chief constables have responded to the freedom we have given them by reshaping their forces and maintaining the frontline service. Police and crime commissioners have shown their reforming power by sharing core services with other forces, other emergency services and other parts of the public sector.

The police leadership is becoming more accountable to the public. The National Crime Agency has made a good start going after organised criminal groups. The College is building a proper evidence base. HMIC has shone a light on the abuse of stop and search powers, the poor response to domestic violence and the under- recording of crime. Police productivity has improved and the proportion of officers in frontline roles is up to 91 per cent. Police procurement is gradually getting smarter and more collaborative. Direct entry and schemes like Police Now are opening up policing to new people and new ideas. And the new system of police pay will give chief constables more flexibility to lead their forces into the future.

What’s striking is that we have been able to make many of these changes not despite spending cuts but because of them. This is important, because the need to go on reforming will not end with this parliament. With a still-large deficit and a record stock of debt, there will need to be further spending cuts, as even Labour acknowledge. So in policing in the future, I believe we will need to work towards the integration of the three emergency services. We should use schemes like the Police Innovation Fund to promote capital investment that produces efficiency savings. We should go further with direct entry. We should use technology – like body-worn video, smart phone apps and other mobile devices – to save time and improve outcomes, and it remains our aim to make all forces fully digital by 2016.

And while we should continue to bear down on bureaucracy we should come up with more transformative solutions – like drastically reducing the unnecessary use of stop and search, reforming the wider criminal justice system and improving how we care for people with mental health problems – to save police time.

The drivers of crime

As I told the story of police reform you might have noticed that I omitted to mention the role of the Home Office. If responsibility for operational policing now lies squarely with chief constables, unimpeded by the Home Office, if responsibility for providing accountability now lies with police and crime commissioners, unimpeded by the Home Office, if HMIC scrutinises police performance and the College of Policing provides training, sets standards and develops an evidence base, what is the role of the Home Office? The answer is emphatically not to duplicate, cut across or undermine chief constables, PCCs, HMIC or the College. The answer, I believe, lies in three parts.

First, when it comes to the fight against serious and organised crime, the Home Office needs to build a relationship with the National Crime Agency similar to its relationship with the Security Service in the fight against terrorism. That means the department needs to provide a combination of policy work, operational support such as the provision of legal warrants, and oversight of the NCA. The Government’s Serious and Organised Crime Strategy – which is the first of its kind and is modelled on our Counter Terrorism Strategy, CONTEST – is evidence of this kind of approach.

Second, the Home Office has an important duty to make sure national systems like the Police National Computer work effectively, and an equally important role in coordinating things like police procurement.

But it’s the third responsibility for the Home Office to which I want to turn now. And that is the responsibility to develop genuine knowledge and harness existing expertise on matters of crime and policing. Home Office officials need to know in detail about specific crime trends, about policing methods and about what I call the drivers – not causes, as somebody once called them – of crime.

Overall, crime is down and it continues to fall. The Crime Survey for England and Wales – regarded by most academics as an international gold standard in measuring crime trends – shows that crime has fallen by sixty-two per cent since it peaked in 1995. And I note that the debate in the media has now mainly shifted from whether the crime figures are true to the reasons why crime is falling.

Some crime types – including sexual offences, shoplifting and fraud – have shown increases in the most recent recorded crime statistics. The truth is that the experts can come up with partially informed explanations as to why these crime types might be increasing – the increase in recorded sexual offences is likely to be driven by historical allegations coming to light while the increase in recorded fraud is likely to be caused by better recording – but we do not know enough about why crime overall is falling, why certain crime types are rising or why there might be different crime trends in different parts of the country. And if we can understand those things better, then we can come up with smarter crime prevention policies.

That is why I have set up a team called the Crime and Policing Knowledge Hub inside the Home Office. Understanding that overall crime levels are only the net result of millions of individual decisions in millions of different contexts, officials have been working to identify and understand the six main drivers of crime in this country. We believe they are alcohol, drugs, opportunity, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, character and profit.

If we can understand each of these drivers better, if we can understand how they relate to one another, we should be able to devise better policy to prevent crime occurring in the first place.

In the light of police reform, I believe that this is now the most important responsibility for the Home Office on matters of crime and policing.

We already know that alcohol-related crime is believed to cost around £11 billion per year in England and Wales, while in half of all incidents of violence the victim believed the perpetrator was drunk. Labour liberalised licensing laws and promised us a café culture, but all they did was unleash booze-fuelled violence. So we have radically reformed Labour’s Licensing Act, empowered local communities to tackle problem drinking and banned the below-cost sale of alcohol. We did not proceed with the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol or banning multi-buy discounts because we were not satisfied that it would reduce alcohol-related violence without penalising sensible drinkers and responsible businesses. But a better and deeper understanding of how drinking and crime relate to one another will enable us to take targeted action to prevent alcohol-related crime.

Drugs are also a significant driver of crime. For example, the number of opiate and crack cocaine users is believed to have risen by a magnitude of ten between 1982 and 1992. New Home Office research, published in July, suggests that these people had a much greater impact on the increase in acquisitive crime up until 1995, and the fall since, than we had realised and we still believe that opiate and crack cocaine users are responsible for as much as 45 per cent of acquisitive crime in England and Wales. There remains a long term downward trend in drug use, but understanding in greater detail the effects that drugs can have on crime rates is vital as we develop our drugs strategy, as the debate about legalising and regulating drugs continues, and – when 95 per cent of the heroin on our streets is from Afghanistan – as our military is in the process of withdrawing from that country. This is, incidentally, a very good example of why the National Crime Agency needs a powerful international reach – because more than ever crime is a cross-border phenomenon.

I called the third driver of crime ‘opportunity’. This does not mean that given the opportunity anyone would commit a crime. Rather it means that those who do lead a life of crime are likely commit a greater number of offences when there are more opportunities to offend.

I’m talking about things from product design to town planning and architecture, but the most obvious and pressing example is the criminal opportunities provided by new technology. I want to emphasis again that the role of the Home Office in fighting cyber crime is not to cut across what law enforcement does, or try to do the job of the College by setting standards or targets. The Home Office must develop an understanding of cyber crime in its entirety and develop a policy response. For example, working with the Metropolitan Police we have discovered that more than a third of vehicles stolen in London do not involve taking the owner’s keys. Instead, car thieves might break into a car and programme a new electronic key. They might use sophisticated devices to ‘grab’ the security coding when the owner uses their key so they can use it themselves. And there have been reports that they could even use ‘malware’ to commandeer vehicle systems via satellites and issue remote demands to unlock doors, disable alarms and start car engines. Because we have this understanding, we can now work with industry to improve electronic resilience, include this kind of resilience in the vehicle’s overall security ratings, and work out the extent to which the same threat applies to other physical assets such as building security systems.

Then there is the role of the police and criminal justice system. And here, if we think of Operations Yewtree, Pallial, Bullfinch and others, it is clear that there have been systemic failures over the years to protect vulnerable young people from sexual exploitation. My colleagues in the Home Office, Mike Penning and Norman Baker, are leading work with ministers from other departments to improve the response not just of the police but the wider public sector. The solutions will be a mixture of legislation – we have already supported in Parliament Nicola Blackwood’s campaign to protect vulnerable children– and operational improvements – for example we need to make sure we have Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs across the whole country – but the solutions will all be based on a detailed grasp of the facts.

The fifth driver of crime I mentioned was character. I should be absolutely clear here that there is nothing inevitable about criminality and most people who grow up in circumstances exposed to what criminologists call ‘risk factors’ do not go on to commit crime. But – remembering in the end the only cause of a crime is a criminal – there are still common factors that make it more likely that somebody might become a criminal. Of course there are many ways of looking at this, and Government policies including school reform, welfare reform and the troubled families programme are all relevant. So too is our work to prevent domestic violence. It is well known that children who are brought up in violent households are more likely to become violent themselves later in life, so domestic violence – as well as being a serious crime in its own right – is also a significant driver of crime. But unfortunately, we know from the HMIC inspection I commissioned last year that the police response to domestic violence is not good enough. So I have written to every chief constable making it clear they must have a domestic violence action plan in place this month, and I am chairing a national oversight group to make sure HMIC’s recommendations are implemented quickly.

The last – but perhaps most important – driver of crime is profit. The more we understand the nature of organised crime and organised criminal gangs, the more it is apparent that the majority are motivated by money, they act rationally and they seek and exploit commercial opportunities.

Police forces tell us that recent rises in theft from the person, for example, were in part driven by the theft of smart phones by organised criminal gangs. These gangs targeted specific venues, like concerts and festivals, to steal smart phones on a massive scale. The phones were then often sent overseas where they are reactivated and sold. There is of course an operational response to this kind of criminal activity, which should be left to the police, but the Home Office has also been working with industry to find new ways to stop the reactivation of phones overseas, thereby killing the criminals’ export market.

And we can go further. More than 15 years ago, the Car Theft Index contributed to a fall in vehicle theft by allowing consumers to make informed choices about which models of car to buy based on their likelihood of being stolen. Today I want to announce my intention to do the same with mobile phone theft.

Working with industry and the Behavioural Insights Team at the Cabinet Office, the Home Office is developing proposals to further prevent mobile phone theft. These include steps that consumers can take to improve personal security, industry innovation to develop new security features – such as the new iOS7 operating system introduced by Apple – and the publication of a new Mobile Phone Theft Ratio to inform the public about the handsets which have been most at risk of being targeted by thieves. We will publish further details of this work imminently, but I am encouraged that the security improvements that industry has already introduced have contributed to recorded theft from the person falling by 10% in the last year, according to the most recent crime statistics.

The examples I have just given are very specific and there are of course many other ways in which the Home Office, having developed this expertise, can work to prevent crime. This work is in its infancy and I expect it to become much more sophisticated over time. But the point is clear – it must surely be better to prevent crime occurring in the first place than responding to it afterwards. But if we are to do that, we need a deep understanding of what the drivers of crime are. And that is precisely what we are doing in the Home Office.

What is true in the Home Office is true in other departments too. Chris Grayling’s reforms in the Ministry of Justice are about breaking the cycle of reoffending and therefore reducing demand in the criminal justice system. Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Hunt have been clear that the role of the Department of Health is not to run the NHS but to develop better public health policy. Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are all about helping people out of benefits and into a life of work, which in the end is the only sustainable way to reduce poverty. And we must think in creative terms about how we take this approach not just within individual departments but across government as a whole.

In the last four years, we have achieved something no modern government has achieved before. We have proved that, through reform, it is possible to do more with less. We will need to go on doing more with less for many years into the future. But, looking ahead to the next Parliament, the next great challenge will be the need to reform to reduce the huge demand for public services in the first place. And I look forward to Reform leading that debate.

Thank you.