This article was first published in Police Professional, 11th September 2014
Has HMIC lost sight of its own “Core Business”?
Last week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary published “Core Business”, an inspection into crime prevention, police attendance and the use of police time. It’s a substantial document of over 150 pages, with some important insights into areas such as preventive policing, regional and local variations in policing processes, and partnership working.
But there is much in the document and accompanying press release to suggest that HMIC is at risk of losing sight of its own “core business”. The Inspectorate’s report seeks to instruct – outside its remit – rather than simply inform. Nowhere does it consider the impact on force “core business” of the considerable demands HMIC itself places on forces. And, perhaps most remarkably at a time of tight policing budgets, the report is almost completely devoid of any financial or cost benefit analysis.
The day before HMIC published “Core Business”, the Home Secretary delivered a speech entitled “Lessons of police reform” at a Reform think tank event, which provides some useful political and legislative context. In it, she drew attention to the 2002 Police Reform Act, which had previously required a Home Secretary, at the beginning of each financial year, to prepare a “National Policing Plan”. The Act specified that a 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”. “That was, of course, complete nonsense”, Theresa May said. She went on: “it couldn’t be further removed from the approach we have taken to police reform in the Home Office since May 2010”. She characterised policing as previously run by an “unaccountable, centralised, corporatist system of governance, known as the tripartite”, made up of the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Association of Police Authorities (APA).
The APA is now gone and ACPO is going. The Home Office’s focus is now on three areas: its relationship with the National Crime Agency; making sure that national systems such as the Police National Computer work effectively; and, in Theresa May’s words, “developing genuine knowledge and harnessing existing expertise on matters of crime and policing”. Police forces have been made accountable to their local communities, the Home Secretary said, “through beat meetings, crime maps and elected police and crime commissioners”. It’s clear that the Home Secretary expects PCCs to work with chief constables in providing the direction for forces, and that indeed is the current legislative position.
So, what is HMIC’s place in this revised landscape? Reflecting its statutory position, its own website states that HMIC “independently assesses police forces and policing across activity from neighbourhood teams to serious crime and the fight against terrorism – in the public interest”. It states “HM Inspectors have powers to seek information from police forces”, and notes that “HMIC reports to Parliament on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces in England and Wales”.
This latest “Core Business” inspection has lost sight of much of this.
Firstly, the Inspectorate’s report seeks to direct – outside its remit – rather than simply inform. This is most vividly illustrated in its inclusion of forty “recommendations”. These are accompanied by very tight timescales for forces to implement associated actions. The Inspectorate seeks to direct forces, neither acknowledging nor recognising that it is for Police and Crime Commissioners, consulting with their respective Chief Constables, to decide the strategic approach that each force should adopt.
The HMIC recommendations are themselves unaccompanied by any consideration of the financial or operational impact on forces of their implementation. Of even greater concern – very few of the recommendations themselves are associated with detailed, evidence-based financial and cost-benefit analysis in their support.
And finally, nowhere does HMIC consider the impact on force “core business” of HMIC’s own inspection regime. These HMIC demands place a very significant burden on forces. Whilst HMIC are within their statutory remit to make these demands, should their inspection report at least acknowledge that these place a substantial obligation on “police use of time”? From figures provided to me, it appears very broadly that forces across England and Wales need to set aside resources equivalent to at least 450 full time police officers to meet these HMIC demands. Should HMIC not have at least acknowledged and examined this in its Inspection? I would be very interested to see detailed figures for this HMIC burden on forces – as, I suspect, would many others.
CoPaCC, the organisation for which I am chief executive, has a very clear philosophy: we work hard to identify and communicate good practice through independent, objective and evidence-based analysis. Though CoPaCC is a relatively new and still-developing organisation, I personally have worked as an independent policing strategist for well over twenty years. I therefore know that HMIC has a long history of producing some excellent independent, objective and evidence-based reports. Unfortunately, this latest HMIC report does not generate confidence that it meets this necessarily high standard.
HMIC’s statutory independence means that it answers not to the Home Secretary, nor to PCCs or Chief Constables, but to Parliament. I hope that HMIC will find time to respond to the concerns that I have set out in this short article. If it does not, I hope that Parliament will in due course ask similar questions of HMIC.
Bernard Rix is the Chief Executive of CoPaCC, the independent body monitoring policing governance across England and Wales