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11.40 am

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this important debate on the police.

Most of my comments relate to the White Paper, and I will also take this opportunity to advise hon. Members of my work in my capacity as the chair of the all-party group for abuse investigations. Members of Parliament established that group in October 2001. Members from both sides of the House and the other place receive correspondence from a growing number of constituents who are concerned about the efficacy of the processes used by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in connection with their investigations following abuse allegations.

Many organisations and constituents who act on behalf of the falsely accused assert that individuals have been convicted of crimes that they did not commit and that vexatious complaints have been made against those individuals with the express purpose of receiving financial or other gain. The group has not been established to consider individual cases, but it uses indicative cases to illustrate the processes and practices used by the police authorities, the CPS and the magistrates courts in the pursuit of their investigations.

The group has received a number of reports from experts in abuse investigations. On behalf of members of the group, I have met and been in written dialogue with a number of individuals, agencies and authorities to discuss the concerns of group members. I am particularly grateful to, among others, Mr. Barrie Irving, the director of the Police Foundation, and Denis Bourne of the Kansai Business System. Mr. Irving and Mr. Bourne have recently submitted written evidence, which I commend to

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the House, to the Select Committee on Home Affairs in respect of the White Paper, and in my speech I shall reflect some of their words, which I wholly endorse, as they reinforce the results of my extensive research into the activity of the police.

The White Paper condemns a number of features of police performance. Variations in crime and detection rates across the country are criticised, and it is argued, through the quotation from the Audit Commission, that that variability exceeds what can be explained by environmental factors. Although it is acknowledged that the police do not have sole responsibility for that variability, the Government's intention to reduce the variability and generally improve police performance is clearly stated.

To that end, a variety of stratagems are outlined, including improved training, to which I shall refer later, making human resource management regulations more flexible, and subjecting chief officers to a standard assessment procedure. The nub of the new sanctions to be made available to the Home Secretary to back up requests for better police performance is the creation of a standards unit in the Home Office and a new power to impose management intervention from outside a force—presumably, from outside the service—on forces deemed to be failing by the measurement methods and the criteria then available.

I wish to concentrate on the seminal issue of improving operational policing performance at basic command unit level, to improve overall police efficiency and, inevitably, effectiveness. The White Paper makes it clear that that will also be the priority behind the drafting of the Police Reform Bill. I also wish to comment on the wisdom and efficacy of the strategy outlined in the White Paper. I concur wholeheartedly with the belief that many police operational units are currently operating below par, but wish to argue against the methodology that is likely to be used to identify failing forces and basic command units and the remedial strategy that the Government intend to deploy against them.

Thanks to very considerable innovative policing research in the United States and other parts of Europe during the 1970s and 1980s, there is a ready supply of plausible methodologies available to improve detection rates, provide more effective policing services and control certain kinds of crime. Although those methodologies have been available for many years in the form of original US research reports, policing handbooks and Home Office replications of original US work, it would appear that the mix of operational activities on the ground in UK basic command units remains much as it was in the late 1980s; and there are some key reasons why that is so.

It has proved difficult to deliver to police authorities the information technology systems necessary to implement more sophisticated strategies in the UK. The UK police attitude to information and information processing reflects the reality that most officers have to supply data that do not directly help them to do their jobs. The pressure on local officers to maintain a purely reactive, incident-chasing style of policing has been unrelenting, as public demand for services and the dictates of the criminal justice system appear to use up all available time.

The availability of officers over time continues to be a matter of feast or famine. Externally dictated demands, conditions of service and other cultural considerations

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often lead to human resource wastage, and patterns of deployment remain stubbornly misaligned with demand in many areas. The service has evolved a culture of conformity with complex sets of regulations and directives. The eyes of supervisors and supervised are therefore directed to demonstrating that what has been ordered to be done has been done. In such a culture it is easy, perhaps inevitable, for results—performance—to take a back seat.

A national statistics-driven centralised performance management regime has been grafted on top of that system. Because of the structure of that regime, it has become absorbed into the culture of directives, orders and local attitudes to improving outputs. Statistics used to describe outcomes rather than inform the user about the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of the processes employed are an absolute waste of time and should not, in themselves, direct funding or activity programmes.

In a culture of conformity, confronting individuals about performance in the absence of direct evidence of dereliction of duty tends to be avoided. Individual performance issues are rarely addressed. In extreme cases where discipline procedures are inappropriate, they are dealt with in an arcane way that breeds resentment and distrust. Formal performance assessment is largely a discredited process.

As long as that conformity model holds sway, there can be no real pressure on the service to provide the management skills training necessary for proactive performance management. There appears to be no need for it simply because, if people are meeting their targets, there is no criticism, and hence no need to evaluate the procedures that they employ to achieve their targets. Those points are well illustrated by my review of the inspections undertaken by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary.

My thorough analysis of the reports produced by HMIC and the CPS from 1995 to 2001 indicates that there has been no systematic evaluation of the processes used by the police when they collect evidence and that there has been no review undertaken by the CPS into the effectiveness of the processes utilised by its own staff who scrutinise and evaluate evidence for credibility.

What follows is an objective assessment of the investigations undertaken by HMIC and the CPS to illustrate the nature and scope of their work. Hon. Members will know that HMIC is charged with helping to establish and enforce standards of efficiency, rather than effectiveness, for each police authority. To that end, it undertakes a series of reviews designed to assess the operations of each constabulary and, where it finds flaws, to provide remedial recommendations. As hon. Members will know, those inspections can take one of three forms: performance review inspections, primary inspections or thematic inspections. Performance reports are also produced for the police training facilities throughout the country.

Although those inspections are an effective tool for defining the management framework and the efficiency of general operational procedures—they check on targets met and objectives fulfilled—the reviews, in any of their incarnations, do little to assess the substantive, rather than procedural, value of the work being carried out by each constabulary. As a result, the reports provide information on how well procedures are being performed and targets

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met, but do nothing to examine the efficacy of the procedures themselves—how procedures and administration affect the quality and the credibility of the evidence collected. In that way, HMIC provides conformity audits, rather than effective performance analysis.

Although there has been no prescriptive model for performance review inspections, the topics covered in the reports are more or less universal. The issues assessed include long-term planning, budgetary and personnel policies, and questions raised by specific types of crime. In general, the reports will present a synopsis of the strategic ambitions of the force, which, far from providing a coherent vision of the purpose and substantive procedures involved in policing, read as little more than chronologies of meetings and publications and explanations of management styles.

In respect of the broader policy questions, the discussion is generally confined to how performance targets are set and the methods used to assess whether they are met. There appears to be a lack of concern for the choice of objectives and the selection of the methods employed to achieve them, despite the fact that, as resources become scarcer relative to demands, those decisions become more crucial.

The more specific sections of the reports that are designed to investigate performance and individual types of policing duties are similarly flawed. Methods of monitoring performance are again reduced to explanations of quality audit and "information package" distributions. Similarly, examinations of crime management constitute a list of target statistics and an evaluation of classification and recording procedures. Consequently, the recommendations that these investigations generate involve suggestions for more frequent publication of data, a shift in governing structure, the commissioning of independent studies into absenteeism and the like, and further reviews of whether practices are in accordance with strategy and produce the required statistics.

Although the statistics provided in the performance review inspections are certainly indicative of whether constabularies are effectively run and consistently meet performance targets, they, too, fail to assess whether the adoption of these structures and targets by the forces produces a high calibre of police work and helps to advance the larger goals of not only efficient, but constructive and just outcomes.

The primary inspections are similar in content and structure to the performance reviews, but are somewhat more detailed and provide further assessments of previous reviews and their effects. Although they delve more into specific facets of each area of analysis, the analysis itself is no more comprehensive than that observed in the performance reviews. Discussions of strategy and planning still amount to explanations of hierarchies and guidelines for establishing targets, while reviews of training are more focused on the logistics of the process than the efficacy of the methods and the skill sets that they are designed to impart. Similarly, the analysis of criminal justice performance concentrates on the efficiency of the methodologies rather than the quality of the product that these approaches are likely to produce.

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I must touch on the performance and primary inspections of training facilities. The reviews of training facilities take the same form and occur on the same timetable as the inspections of individual constabularies. Like their counterparts, the training reports cover a wide range of topics, but are uniquely and disproportionately concerned with the status of the facilities and the equipment in the training establishment rather than the quality of the training provided. Generally, the reports concentrate on administrative matters and the suitability of training facilities, such as swimming pools, rather than the substantive purpose of the facilities.

National Police Training and its predecessors have, for good historical reasons, been structured as the institutions of further education within policing. Police officers have been treated by these institutions as students who, having received instruction, either pass or fail courses. Although such an approach can produce an educated elite, it does not, on the whole, generate pervasive behavioural competence and essential management skills. Raising the level of behavioural skills requires a coaching, mentoring approach, usually at the workplace. The accent is on demonstration and practice, not on the acquisition of information.

Trainers must be able to guarantee that they will, within broad limits, produce desired levels of competent behaviour. The trainee in such a regime is merely able to turn up and bring levels of intelligence, attention and motivation to the party. My analysis, which has been supported, suggests that such training produces the following skills deficits. Basic command units have not been trained on collaborative communication, and there is generally an inability and lack of opportunity to give or receive feedback on performance or the execution of cases. There is also—I have not been able to identify any suitable training—an inability to analyse effectively problems and, subsequently, design remedial action, in addition to defining simple work processes as a basis for assessing and improving performance. Although the inspections contain statements of what the training programme is designed to foster in students, the inspections do little to examine whether the goals are being achieved and whether the methods employed are appropriate to the goals set forth.

I also wish to reflect on thematic inspections. Because of their narrow scope, the thematic reviews are more likely to produce not only information on procedure, but an analysis of the value of the procedures themselves. However, in the context of sex abuse investigations that are currently being carried out in the United Kingdom, I wish to point out that there has been no thematic review from 1995 to date that relates specifically to the methods of investigation into cases of sexual abuse of children, even though new guidelines are simultaneously being prepared to assist in the investigation of such cases. In addition, it has proved impossible to obtain evidence from any individual police authority to show that it has undertaken research into the efficacy of the processes that it deploys in such cases.

What have I learned about the nature of the audit and assessment work that is carried out by HMIC? Its reports appear to be about the process that monitors the efficiency with which goals are achieved but not about the efficacy or the value of the methodologies employed by the police or the CPS during the course of their investigations or the value of the goals themselves.

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I have a number of questions for my right hon. Friend the Minister. If there is manifest public anxiety about the quality of some aspects of policing—for instance, the choice of police goals and/or the methods of achieving them—how can the current tripartite system of police accountability engage constructively with this anxiety? Which part of the tripartite structure should take the lead, and how can the public interest best be represented? If the strict constitutional position is that HMIC provides an assessment of police authority efficiency, but not effectiveness, to the Home Secretary, what organisation should realistically undertake that task? Should the activity be better internalised? Should we not empower and require police authorities to review the efficacy of their procedures?

I am dismayed that the only way we appear to achieve significant change in the criminal justice system is as a consequence of royal commissions and departmental Committee inquiries. To use an engineering analogy, we must enable the providers of this crucial service to effect changes within their own company before they are declared bankrupt and sent into ritualistic receivership, only to be rebranded and relaunched essentially unchanged because the change has not arisen from the grass roots but been imposed.

I have to ask myself whether the police force in this country is currently the British Leyland of the public authorities, producing vast quantities of statistics that no longer appeal and are not indicative of the quality of the product coming off the line and into the street. To continue the engineering analogy to illustrate my point, every engineering company in the country had quality control departments 50 years ago to check that the production of the product was perfect. Where are the quality control departments in each police authority? Furthermore, British engineering companies found that, even if they had perfect products, that did not necessarily save them from liquidation. Companies that want to survive and develop must engage strategic and marketing departments that are specifically focused on the requirements of the public and shareholders, and must redefine their products to meet changing demands.

I cannot find these strategic product review activities in police authorities and I would argue that they need to be there. Management by consultant or, in this case, HMIC or the Home Office sometimes offers sinking ships a reprieve, but it cannot keep them afloat unless there is a serious redesign of the processes utilised and the products produced.

The involvement of junior officers in the reconfiguration of the service is essential. Bottom-up redesign processes can enable and have enabled organisations to transform themselves. However, I am aware that this proposal is currently counter-cultural, threatens established relationships with senior management and is usually sanctioned and supported only by the senior police managers who are confident in their ability to devolve power. Indeed, several successful schemes have been referred to in the debate and I am sure that this facet of bottom-up control has been a real element. Without coherent senior management support for the bottom-up philosophy, the results of such experiments quickly wither even though they are temporarily successful.

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When junior officers are not involved in the process of change in the way that bottom-up techniques allow, there is a persistent tendency to keep street-level operations entirely isolated from senior managers and their schemes for change and improvement. It is into this cultural environment that the White Paper ventures. Its tone accurately mimics the hectoring tone of those campaigns for change about which junior officers are most cynical. The erection of a new superordinate source for this kind of rhetoric on the back of devices such as a "standards unit" and the formal assessment of ACPO-rank merely increases the vast chain-of-command distance between street level officers and the perceived source of ultimate power in the system. If the command structure already worked well, that might be an acceptable stratagem. In the face of the current evidence about the level of connection between senior and junior ranks, and in view of the length of the chain of command, the White Paper's approach threatens to reinforce the negative attitudes of junior officers and the dysfunctional management style of their superiors.

At a more prosaic level, the performance superstructure that is being planned by the Home Secretary is likely to create an even greater need for the collation of statistics and other information at basic command unit level. The average officer will not have a personal interest in the accuracy of that information. The top-down performance regime that is envisaged will merely reinforce the directives, regulations, report-up culture that officers on the ground can so easily identify as the source of their poor efficiency.

If the Police Reform Bill pours additional human resources into the system while doing nothing to change the management culture, there is a real danger that those resources will be mopped up by additional administrative burdens that are created at the same time. On the other hand, responsibility for additional officers, sworn and unsworn, will increase the need radically to overhaul junior and middle management training and performance procedures. If senior managers see themselves as being placed under threat by the invention of yet more superstructure at the Home Office, they will be liable to exaggerate their authoritarian style. That will actively hinder the process of management culture reform.

It is nevertheless right that the White Paper should target restrictive conditions of service, high levels of bureaucracy and inefficient information technology deployment as sources of poor police performance, but those key factors have been targeted to little effect for many years. As the complexity of social life and the rate of technological development increase, the leisurely pace of police adaptation becomes critical. The general approach of the White Paper was tried by Patrick Sheehy. Not only was there little visible implementation following his report, but the reduction of the rank structure that was achieved reverted more or less to normal after a polite interval. I understand the frustration of successive Ministers and their supporting teams of civil servants when faced with the police service's ability to fend off change. However, it is a well-established principle of clinical practice that losing patience with the patient does not increase the effectiveness of the treatment offered.

Local junior officers have a considerable degree of control over the figures that emerge so impressively from the mouth of the statistical machine that successive Governments have built at the Home Office. In important

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respects, those figures are a product of the culture. They are fairly accurate where officers feel the responsibility to make them so, but can be alarmingly inaccurate where those responsible for collecting them have no stake in their accuracy.

For geographical, demographic, historical and social reasons that are not under police control, basic command units face idiosyncratic performance advantages and disadvantages. If officers perceived that they were generating information to feed a remedial process in which they were critically involved, and which was presided over by a supportive management, they would quickly ensure that data quality and processing improved. Something akin to the opposite is happening. Distant statistical experts are meant to identify failing BCUs. The tables in the White Paper give a stark picture of the rough and ready statistical reasoning that will be employed. Those responsible for drafting the White Paper must imagine that the political force of the argument for change will be enhanced if police management is seen by the public to be responsible for a degree of failure that is clear, stark and considerable.

In that context, I support the Police Foundation's argument that successive generations of police managers have allowed a management culture and style to evolve that does not produce adaptive and performance-related responses to changes and increases in public demand. The first step towards improving that situation should be to encourage senior managers to take responsibility for it. The proper—indeed, constitutionally exact—role of the Home Secretary is to support and to give advice to chief officers so that police performance at a local level can be enhanced. Taking the responsibility for problem definition and the design of remedies out of the hands of chief officers disempowers them when they most need to act with assurance and flair.

Facile statistical definition of failure is a powerful symbol of what the Home Secretary intends as regards the relationship with, and future action on, ACPO and the Police Superintendents Association. The definitions are facile because they fail to take into account the true complexity of the available performance measures and their patterns of interconnectedness and correlation with geographic and demographic characteristics of basic command units, and hence forces. No doubt Ministers wish to impress the police service with the firmness of their reform intentions. The Cabinet is signed up to evidence-based policy. It therefore appears to be counterproductive in that case to resort to a meretricious use of statistics.

To set the record straight, the variation tables quoted in the White Paper should be more properly used to set out a number of null hypotheses for which there are wel-established test procedures. That has already been tried out by several experts, and I believe that Home Office statisticians have also undertaken the task. The results of that exercise tend to give the lie to the idea that performance statistics show the kind of unexplained and unacceptable variation that the White Paper claims. Certainly, there is great variation, but much of it can be explained. Indeed, that is the point of the well-known and respected statistical technique known as analysis of variance.

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It is far from clear that the figures accurately identify poor police management as a substantial cause. As I have been at pains to point out, there is poor police management, and it is the cause of poor performance, but the hot spots cannot be found by using the simplistic method that is adopted in the White Paper.

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