It Has Only Just Begun
There is much anticipation here in Bournemouth over the contents of the keynote speeches of the Police Federation Chairman, Steve White and the Home Secretary, Theresa May.
Whereas Mr White has already given the press some clue as to what will be in his speech, Mrs May, as last year, has declined to give anyone (including Mr White) any form of hint of what she will say.
Last year, we were all taken by surprise by the astonishing speech from the Home Secretary. I wrote a blog about it called “No More Chances” a day later.
I outlined what it felt like to be in that room, how uncomfortable it was and that the speech “was not a warning shot to the Police Federation. It was a laser guided nuclear bomb targeted at police culture.”
Since then, a few things have changed.
The Home Secretary listed a litany of police transgressions dating back 40 years. The investigations into those are still rumbling on or haven’t started yet. With one exception – the now infamous “Plebgate.”
Whilst several officers have been dismissed and one prosecuted for events in the aftermath of that day – the actual incident has now been played out in civil court where the Judge held that the then Chief Whip probably did use the words attributed to him.
Whilst this was hailed as something of a victory for the police it will not have done much to enamour the service to those in Whitehall.
The police have still not atoned for the alleged sins of the fathers in the remainder of that list.
There has also been a general election. A general election where crime and disorder didn’t even feature on the radar.
As far as the general population are concerned, crime is falling and the impact of cuts to the police has yet to be seen or realised.
There are probably three things on the mind of the electorate at the moment. The NHS, immigration and the economy. Anything else is a distant speck on the horizon unless you are directly affected.
Within the bubble of the police family and the echo-chamber that is Twitter, you would be forgiven for thinking that everyone else is as concerned about cuts to the police as the police are – but they are not.
The Conservative manifesto was very vague about their intentions towards the police other than to say they intended to “finish the job” of police reform and extend the role and responsibilities of Police and Crime Commissioners – probably to include taking over the fire service.
Conference yesterday heard from the Shadow Policing Minister, Jack Dromey who spoke passionately but repetitively about “the bedrock of policing – Neighbourhood Policing” and the need for the tone of the Government towards the police to change and be less aggressive.
Listening to this, I tweeted a comment and was as surprised as anyone who knows me to hear it being read out to Mr Dromey by the facilitator, Krishnen Guru-Murphy.
Paraphrased, it was along the lines that Mr Dromey was talking as though they hadn’t just lost an election and that his comments were largely irrelevant. I said this as I couldn’t understand what possible influence he could have from the opposition benches facing an incumbent majority government with a five year term ahead of them.
Mr Dromey’s comments were almost a “this is what we would have done if we had won.”
But they didn’t. So they can’t.
The fact is that the public have chosen the Conservatives and have voted for their manifesto. Although this didn’t spell out that the police would be cut further, the Home Secretary said that this would be the case in the days leading up to the election itself.
The public, whether they fully realised it or not, have chosen a government who want to decrease the size of the police.
The police, whether they like it or not, are going to have to get used to that.
I’m not sure that, 12 months ago, Mrs May expected to be back in Bournemouth today. I’m not sure she expected to be Home Secretary either but on both counts – she is.
There has been some murmuring on Twitter which has suggested that delegates should turn their backs to her when she speaks or walk out in protest.
That would be churlish, unprofessional and self-defeating.
If we want dialogue with the re-elected government, who we know are singularly determined, we will never get it if we disrespect the elected Home Secretary in that way. All it would achieve is a hardening of resolve against us.
It would be a mark of protest which would be the death-knell of relations between Government and the Police Federation.
Some might argue that they couldn’t get any worse but really – they could.
The Federation may not feel it is being listened to but at least it has an audience in the Home Office. A courtesy that was not extended to Sir Hugh Orde in his final 18 months as president of ACPO.
This government is 12 days into a 5 year elected term. A response like that from the Federation could be fatal.
Which leads me onto what I think the Home Secretary will say.
There are some here who believe that she will offer an olive branch and that the dawn of a new era of positive relations will be heralded.
Whilst this would be nice, you only have to look at yesterday’s meeting between the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Home Secretary and the input from the guest speakers from the two Think Tanks at Conference to see what is more likely.
We were told yesterday that the expectation is not that we will do “less with less” (a response to recent annoucements from some forces that they are looking to stop doing things such as dealing with found property) but we will be expected to do “more with less.”
In fact, this will be demanded not expected. We were warned yesterday – by a right-leaning Think Tank with the ear of Govermnent – that if we don’t – then change will be forced upon us.
When the Home Secretary met with the Police and Crime Commisioners yesterday it was clear that she spoke with a mandate. PCC’s are here to stay and police reform (which wasn’t detailed) will be more urgent and more radical.
None of this has been fully explained but it will mean one thing – a smaller police service who will be expected to do everything they currently do now – only better and more cheaply.
I believe that the Home Secretary will point out that the public support their agenda (they have just re-elected them) and that the Police Federation (and the service itself) is currently on the wrong side of the argument.
Crime is falling we will be told. Any rise is attributable to improvements in recording.
Collaboration and technology will be the key to achieving the “substantial” savings which HMIC have said are achievable.
Officer numbers are irrelevant. It is how they are deployed which is key and for that we can rely on predictive analytics and mobile technology.
I hope she will say that she is content with the pace of change of the Federation itself. Sir David Normington himself said it was a 2-3 year journey but the Home Secretary said she would legislate if she wasn’t happy.
Ironically, it is the need for legislative change which is delaying Fed reform. Until changes are made through Parliament the Fed cannot restructure as its make up is defined by law. We might hear something on this.
The Queens speech will outline changes to complaints and discipline procedures and restrictions on the use of police bail (28 days?).
And don’t forget that compulsory severance is still an option. The Home Secretary only agreed to the recommendations that it should not be introduced “for the time being.”
Those who might be hoping for a change of direction from the Government will be very sadly disappointed.
To the contrary, we can now expect an acceleration of change.
If last year’s speech was considered aggressive then this year’s could very well be the Home Secretary’s “The lady is not for turning” moment.
If anyone thought that the major part of police reform was over – they are wrong.
It has only just begun.