Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520 - 539)



  520. Just on that point, would the Police Standards Unit not first bring such a report to the police authority?
  (Mr Denham) Absolutely. No-one sensibly wants to use this power on a routine basis. I have to say in the vast, vast majority of cases if the Police Standards Unit is working with a BCU where there are problems things are likely to be sorted out at that level through discussion between the Police Standards Unit and the chief superintendent in charge of the area and possibly, if necessary, discussion very likely perhaps with the chief constable about the issues and with the police authority. That is what we would expect to be the norm in the vast majority of cases. You simply would not want to have a situation where you were using these powers on a routine basis. All of the emphasis that we are putting behind the Police Standards Unit is to support areas of poor performance in getting better at their performance as quickly as they can do, and that is far more likely to happen in the vast majority of cases through those informal support mechanisms than through anything formal.

  521. On the basis that it is not going to be used on a routine basis, and there has been no example you can tell us of over the last ten years, we are still left wondering why you need these powers at all.
  (Mr Denham) I think that is slightly unfairly putting together two answers to two questions. It would be wrong, I think, for the reasons I said earlier, to try to pick out an event from 1996 and say "we have the data that shows in x town this power should have been used". That is why I cannot say when it would have been used precisely in the last ten years. I do believe that the evidence, for example from the Audit Commission, of variation in police performance from one part of the country to another in comparable areas is sufficient to say that we have to address that issue much more robustly than we have done in the past. That is one of the reasons for setting up the Police Standards Unit. I think having the back-up to intervene if all else fails is necessary. We do not get the chance to have police legislation every day of the week or every year and I think it forms a small, in the sense it will not be used very often, but important part of raising standards in the Police Service.

Angela Watkinson

  522. I would just like to press you a little further on this performance issue. At the moment local police forces concentrate on those areas of crime which are subject to key performance targets, often to the detriment of other areas of crime. Would it not be better for police authorities with their knowledge of local circumstances to identify their own key performance target areas rather than having them imposed centrally?
  (Mr Denham) I think we expect that local policing plans will reflect local circumstances but also do need to reflect national priorities. I do not actually believe that we would necessarily have seen the very significant falls in car crime or in burglary without the focused national as well as local attention that those targets have had in recent years. I do believe though that we can do considerably better than we have at the moment in developing methods for measuring police performance than we have. You will know, I expect, that the Home Secretary has reduced the number of best value performance indicators by very nearly half in the latest round to try to reduce the number of different performance indicators pointing in different directions that the police were needing to respond to. We want over the next two or three years to go much further in changing the system and in particular to recognise that there are different areas, domains is the technical language I am learning to use, of activity, the economy and the efficiency of the force, the effectiveness in catching criminals, the effectiveness in reducing crime, the effectiveness in public accessibility and public response and public satisfaction. We are looking really for a model of measuring police performance that enables a force and an area of a force to see how well it is doing in each of those areas. At the moment the performance indicators do not give you that rounded picture of police performance. We are in very active discussion with the Police Service, including ACPO and the APA, about doing this and I hope that over the coming year we will gradually shift from the focus on the individual performance indicator to this much more rounded assessment of police performance. That, I think, will enable police authorities and police forces to be able to look at how they are doing locally and compare themselves with similar forces and perhaps say "Well, we are actually doing rather well on reducing crime but not so well on the fear of crime. What are we doing differently which means our performance is lagging behind other areas?" That is quite difficult to do with the performance measures that we have at the moment.

  523. Will there be consultation between the local force and the Home Secretary in identifying or selecting the most appropriate performance targets?
  (Mr Denham) I have got to say, Chairman, I am sharing with you work that is at the fairly early stages in preparation but I hope the Committee will find it helpful. It is probably the case that we would need to build it around a common set of national indicators because otherwise a force will not be able to compare its performance in those areas with another part of the country and part of the value of that benchmarking will disappear. I think forces will find it useful in setting their own local priorities. The second thing you want to do is to put all this in the context of the national policing plan which we have set out in the Bill and part of the aim of that is to make sure that there is much more consistent and coherent consultation with the Police Service, with the police authorities and with other organisations in the development of the broad strategic direction of policing and that does not really happen at the moment. There are various different indicators on which we consult separately but there is not a proper process of discussion each year about the strategic direction of policing.

  524. But an individual force would have the freedom to divert resources from a town where there is a high incidence of burglary, for example, to another area where there is perhaps a high level of disorderly conduct which can only come from local knowledge?
  (Mr Denham) Absolutely, that is right. Police forces must, within their overall plan, put the resources to where the problem is and those problems do vary from one part of the country, one part of a force, to another.

Bob Russell

  525. Minister, is Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary going to continue?
  (Mr Denham) Yes.

  526. So why do we need a Police Standards Unit as well?
  (Mr Denham) There is a difference in role between the Inspectorate and the Standards Unit. The independent Inspectorate is responsible really for inspecting and monitoring the overall performance of every single police force in the country, and more recently has developed a similar system of inspection for Basic Command Units. The Police Standards Unit is going to concentrate much more specifically on particular areas of performance, identifying what works particularly well in some forces, working with other areas with poor performance to enable them to increase their performance. You could say in that sense it has a more directly interventionist and supportive role and one that is focused very much on performance improvement in specific areas rather than the overall inspection of forces. I always worry about using this analogy because it breaks down after a bit, but there is a difference between, for example, the work of Ofsted in inspecting schools as a whole and the work of DfES in promoting the literacy hour or the numeracy hour. One is the inspection of the performance of the system as a whole, the other is to identify areas of proven best practice and to promote those as effectively as possible across the service. There is a similar split, but you cannot push it too far, between the HMIC and the Standards Unit.

  527. Please give us an assurance that the Police Standards Unit is not going to be like Ofsted?
  (Mr Denham) No. I was rather putting the HMIC into that category, which is why the thing breaks down immediately because the HMIC is a long established and very effective body.

  528. Would you agree, however, that the police rank and file, the Police Federation, are not impressed? They told us that "unless clear demarcation lines are drawn, we see the potential for role confusion, overlap and duplication of effort, particularly with data collection". Surely you are setting out to create duplication and/or confusion?
  (Mr Denham) Two things. On data collection, you are quite right to raise concerns because they are exactly the same ones that I share as a Minister. The outcome of this must be that we have a rationalised and simplified system of data collection which feeds not just the HMIC and the Standards Unit but is providing the management information on a timely basis that police forces need and also, I hope, very much to align what is provided to the Audit Commission through this process at the moment. There is a fair criticism at the moment that people in the Police Service can be providing quite similar but not exactly the same data to quite a lot of different people who come round inspecting them, so one of the things we must deliver is a better data system on the boundaries between the two. Of course, the potential for overlap or confusion could be there but in the last few months everything that I have seen and heard from Kevin Bond, who is the head of the Police Standards Unit, and Sir Keith Povey, who is the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, suggests that has actually been worked out professionally between the two different organisations in a way that is not giving rise to the problems that people were talking about when the PSU did not actually exist.

  529. Minister, can I just push that a little bit further. Are you telling us that the Police Standards Unit and Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary will not be asking for, or demanding, different sets of figures produced in different ways but there will be a common line of questioning and a common line of request and there will be no confusion over what is being asked for?
  (Mr Denham) That is precisely what I am saying. We are not there now but that is what we are doing. One of Mr Rimmer's jobs is to make sure that the technicalities of that actually work. It is absolutely essential that over time we get a performance measurement system, for example, which makes sense to you as a member of the public looking at your community, makes operational sense to the chief superintendent and the chief constable deciding where to put their resources, and is aligned with what the HMIC inspects and the PSU's focus on performance. At the moment there is a reasonable criticism that those are not properly aligned. Having a consistent data system is essential to delivering that.

  530. So the Police Federation nightmare will not come to pass?
  (Mr Denham) No, I do not believe that it will.

  531. Does that not, therefore, lead us on to the logical conclusion that these two bodies will merge?
  (Mr Denham) I do not think that is the case. There is likely always to be a role for a body that is able to concentrate specifically on particular areas of performance with the Police Service and not be, if you like, bothering itself with a lot of the other things the Police Service does, and that will be typical of the Standards Unit, and a body like the HMIC whose very job is to ensure that they are looking right across the board into the whole performance of the force. I think there is a logic to that separation and certainly I would not like to suggest that I think it is likely to change in the immediate future.

  532. I am sure we will be revisiting that whole area in due course. If I can move on to clause 6, the regulation of equipment. Could you give us examples of the occasions when you expect the power in clause 6 would be used to require all forces to use only specified equipment?
  (Mr Denham) There has been concern in the past about, for example, the use of incapacitant sprays which have not necessarily been tested, in the Home Office's view, to the standards that we would like before they were introduced. There is no power at the moment in the existing legislation to prevent a police force, for example, introducing an innovative pepper spray or something of that sort or possibly a supposedly non-lethal alternative to firearms use. If a chief constable chooses to use equipment then we do not have the power to intervene to stop that, so one of the areas where standardisation might be possible is in that area. I think there are many examples, particularly in the area of IT, where the failure to ensure a commitment to a standard system across the Police Service has left us with a legacy of IT systems which do not talk to each other, which do not communicate, and that is a problem. This certainly gives us a clear ability to perhaps use that in the future.

  533. Another good example presumably would be radio equipment?
  (Mr Denham) Radio equipment is one. That is being dealt with at the moment through the Airwave system, as you know. There will always be a judgment. Airwave is proceeding without the use of legislative back-up but it has been a very time consuming process to get everybody committed and involved with it.

  534. But surely you are not suggesting that every chief constable in the country should purchase the same type of car for his police officers? The Chairman of the Essex Police Authority, for example, said that Essex may not necessarily want the same cars as they have in Lancashire. I do not know what he meant by that.
  (Mr Denham) That is very possibly correct, so I think a power like this would have to be used with discretion, of course.

  535. So it would be discretion?
  (Mr Denham) Yes. I do not think there is any attempt to standardise every single item of police equipment. I think where we would be most concerned is the example I gave of incapacitant sprays where the public might reasonably expect that the same standards of scientific evidence have been taken into account before the material is used or the situation which can be the case with some IT systems where the failure to have compatible systems can not only weaken the operation of one force, it can weaken the co-operation that takes place between forces or, for example, other parts of the system, like the criminal justice system, with whom the police IT system needs to communicate.

  536. Are there any respects in which the so-called best value requirements are not achieving their objective?
  (Mr Denham) Best value is still in its relatively early days at the moment. This Bill does not remove the best value requirements and I would not want to say in any way that best value has failed. As best value develops we are learning actually that we can approach it in a more strategic way. The best value exercise that is looking at training provision over the coming year I think is very important because we have got everybody doing a best value exercise on the same area of activity whereas previously people might have done it over different timescales. I think best value has got a lot to offer and I am actually very keen on using it strategically like that.

  537. I did preface my question with the phrase "so-called" because best value for one person, would you agree, is not necessarily best value for the man or women in the frontline who is actually carrying out the work that the public expects of them?
  (Mr Denham) I think this takes us into a wider debate, but my own view is that the best value framework—and I hope we will see this on training over the coming year—is a good way of enabling people to fundamentally re-examine the way they are doing things and see if there are not more efficient and more effective ways of delivering them. I do think in the future there will be areas of common services, it is dangerous to speculate, for smaller forces and, perhaps, payroll functions, and things of that sort, which could be provided a lot more cheaply with the pooling of support services.

  538. I understand. If we can move on to Clause 7, could you give examples of when the power in Clause 7 to regulate the operational procedures and practices would be used or could be used?
  (Mr Denham) Let me give you two or three, and this really gives us a back-up power if we are not able to make the progress we would like. The National Intelligence model is more than a computer system with information on it, it is a system for receiving police intelligence and information, for analysing that into patterns of criminal behaviour, enabling you to identify key criminal suspects, their linkages, their wider criminal activities and as a result of that to target police activity effectively on those criminals. There are forces which are making very good use of the National Intelligence model and there are areas where progress has been very slow. The problem that we have is that the failure to have a consistent approach in using intelligence does not just have an impact at force level, it has a wider one, with criminals' stubborn refusal just to operate in Police Authority areas, so the ability to share information across the systems is limited. If I can give you two or three others. I am grateful for this, you phrased the question, "in potential areas", where we have had in the past public disturbances and it has been necessary to call on mutual aid from other forces it is important to be confident that the training from those other forces is of the same sort and the same standard and approached in the same way as the forces which they are joining if the mutual aid is going to be fully effective. If you have a police operation, for example, around armed robbery, which might involve tracking suspected robbers from one police force area to one many miles way, across several police force boundaries where the robbery is due to take place, one needs to be able to ensure that there is a consistent quality of armed support available throughout that journey if need be so the operation or the public or the officers are to be put in jeopardy. The common strand in what I am saying here is that there is an element of national or cross-border interest, where the standardisation of approach is important to deliver an effective policing service across England and Wales as a whole.

  539. Clearly it is felt in the Home Office there is a need for Clause 7, so can you give any examples where in the past 10 years perhaps it would have been used had Clause 7 been in existence?
  (Mr Denham) Personally I wish the National Intelligence model was far more widely adopted and embedded in the Police Service than it is at the moment. If you are asking me to pick out one particular driver behind this, where we have looked round at where we are and the pace of change it would be the National Intelligence model.

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