Peter Walker retired as Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police in 2003. He now owns SuperSkills, a Construction Training Business in Thirsk.
When Theresa May stands to address the annual conference of the Police Federation, which opens tomorrow, she will no doubt recall her experience at the same event two years ago. What happened then was arguably the worst reception ever given to a Secretary of State by the conference. Jeers and barracking interrupted her speech. At the end, she was subjected to a disgraceful display of behaviour by the delegates with banners held aloft, catcalls and more jeers as she left the hall.
No doubt amongst those leaving after the event to get back to the bars of the conference centre were people saying “Well – that showed her”.
They were right. The Police Federation conference in 2012 showed Theresa May what she was up against. An honourable organisation originally formed after a Police Strike nearly a century before that had degenerated into a collection of boors and bullies. As the television cameras panned across the scene, we were treated to images of those representing our police officers. People will have been startled to see most were overweight, many morbidly obese. They will also have seen little difference between their behaviour and any other trade unionists out to achieve their objective by intimidating their opponents.
The intervening period has exposed this side of the Federation even more, and the final evidence of how far the organisation has fallen was revealed in the publication last week of the Home Affairs Select Committee report.
Describing all manner of wrongdoing, from a culture of bullying endemic at the top of the organisation, to what can only be described as slush funds of millions of pounds, pointlessly sitting idle and allegations of “sustained abuse” of people by the General Secretary, the report is hard-hitting and builds upon the earlier work by Sir David Normington – which was commissioned by the present Chairman Steve Williams and over which he has been treated so badly by his colleagues, he has decided to retire – which highlighted the massive expenditure incurred by those at the Federation headquarters in Leatherhead, the dysfunctional culture and a complete disjoint between the representative body and those they purport to represent.
Little wonder, therefore, rank and file officers frequently express dissatisfaction with their “Fed Reps” and see them as being unable to represent them effectively.
At this year’s conference, Theresa May will be able to describe how the changes she and Damian Green have taken through during this Parliament have massively reformed the police.
The fundamental change in Police governance that introduced Police & Crime Commissioners. The National Crime Agency. The College of Policing. A truly Independent Inspectorate of Constabulary. Beefing up of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Direct Entry to Superintendent and Inspector Ranks. The ability to recruit Chief Constables from other Common Law jurisdictions. The Police Innovation Fund. The list goes on – and there is a consistency to all of these reforms. They all have one thing in common. Despite the doom-mongers and naysayers’ predictions, the sky has stubbornly refused to fall in as each of these changes were made. There is no doubt the reforms are working and crime – not just crimes recorded by the police, but crime identified within the Crime Survey for England & Wales – continues to fall.
Yet this Home Secretary – who has held the office far longer than any of her recent predecessors –is to some extent in a similar position to the Chancellor, because whilst much has been achieved, there is more to do.
The threat from international terrorism will not go away. Organised crime – particularly cybercrime – will pose an ever increasing problem. Reforms to the way police use stop and search powers are essential to redevelop relationships with inner-city youth. There is also some “unfinished business” within the programme – not least the myriad of technology systems used by police forces – which will be compounded as the time comes to update the police radio infrastructure.
All of this has to be undertaken against a background in which public spending must continue to reduce and the policing budget cannot be insulated from the process.
The Police Federation, having spent the past two years digging themselves into a hole, now face a stark choice. Theresa May will no doubt welcome their help in continuing the process of reform – one of the reasons the Federation was set up by statute in 1919 was to provide a means by which effective development of strategy concerning how policing is conducted could involve the workforce – but can also point to her ability to get things done whether or not they play a part in new developments.
Federation members – the operational arm of day to day policing – have a wealth of knowledge about how “The Job” operates on a day to day basis. I know from personal experience that, at their best, they can really assist with driving efficiencies and new methods of working. It is essential they stop bickering amongst themselves, realise that change has to continue and really fulfil their role as the voice of the service.