This week's crime figures demonstrate once again that not only is
the number of crimes recorded by police falling, but that the more resilient Crime
Survey of adults in England and Wales confirms the trend.
Many issues flow from this data, not least that Labour's
scaremongering about the adverse impact of reducing police officer numbers is shown to be wholly unjustified. The
residual annoyance is that over the years research in a wide variety of jurisdictions
has consistently demonstrated the lack of any direct correlation between police
numbers and crime. Interestingly, Labour's
message has lately moved to saying the number of arrests made by police is
coming down. They don't seem to
understand that fewer crimes will inevitably lead to a reduction in arrests
The last point reinforces the additional benefits of
effective law enforcement. Successive
Home Secretaries have made clear the need to reduce time spent on
paperwork. In policing, what better way
to do so than by doing as Theresa May has consistently said and "Reduce
crime". Fewer crimes = less crime
reports to fill in = more time on the beat.
At the strategic level, apart from reducing the impact upon
victims, crime reduction takes enormous cost out of policing, whether staff
time or simply getting around and investigating or prosecuting the offences
involved. This year's reduction
represents savings running into millions of pounds.
Spending on police has gone down. Crime continues to fall. Further cost reductions ensue. Greater effectiveness, more efficiency. Yet if Ministers had listened to the
naysayers in 2010, the efficiencies would not have been realised. The same old things would have been done in
the same old ways with taxpayers footing the bill.
As the next spending round gets under way, it is important
that clear understanding exists about the need for further challenge to public
sector shibboleths – the oft-repeated mantras that stand in the way of change
and cost reduction. When faced with the
immovable challenge of a tighter budget, new approaches emerge and the work
Perhaps this also presents an opportunity for Departments of
State to operate differently. Rather
than responding to the spending round tactically, seeing what the impact upon
their bit of the state looks like for the review period and chopping a bit of
spending away here or there, they should make some really strategic, perhaps even
Recent news that significant savings are being garnered by
the Home Office and DCLG through sharing office space in Marsham Street is an
example. Or consider the changes in police
pay that are now starting to work through into force budgetary requirements. These don't just deliver what is needed here
and now – they have long term financial benefits.
Yet there is another change that could take place which is
cultural, rather than just about "pay and rations" issues, and it is
probably a hangover from the last Labour government. Gordon Brown was a controller and under his stewardship, the
fingers of Whitehall penetrated into the deepest recesses of service
delivery. His favourite trick was the
creation of "ring fenced" amounts of money that could only be used
for particular purposes.
This has created a generation of civil servants who are used
to a closer relationship with activity than outcomes. In some Departments, they are rather like a
mother bird who has to feed all her chicks.
If the chicks don't think they are getting their fair share (and they never
do) they squawk loudly. But just as in
nature, if mummy bird isn't there, they are quiet. The chance that "special pleading"
to Ministers or senior civil servants will have a beneficial result, a
particular grant, or change to a funding formula only encourages one thing –
more of the same.
Everybody knows the next spending round will be tough. The low-hanging fruit have been picked, the
easy savings made. Most of this has resulted
in changes to tactics. Driving really
imaginative and radical change, strategic choices about the shape of services,
sharing of buildings, use of IT, merger of back office departments, deciding
whether the public really want a public service to do something – and using
local electoral accountability to underpin the decision…this is what has to
happen next if we are to shrink the size and cost of the State.
People who lead public sector organisations got their jobs
because they wanted them. Nobody has
been forced to be there. Smaller budgets
mean they will have to take decisions to do things differently. Departments of State should monitor outcomes,
identify poor performance, refer doomsayers to places where performance is
better using the same resources. But
stop being "mummy bird" and we'll start to see real change happen.