New Landscape of Policing - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 644-662)

Derek Barnett

28 June 2011

Q644 Chair: Mr Barnett, my apologies for keeping you waiting. As you saw, the Committee was asking the Commissioner a number of questions of importance. Your presence at this hearing is, of course, extremely important to this Committee. I want to start with a fairly general question, which is about your wish for a Royal Commission. Is it still the case that you believe that the establishment of a Royal Commission would help in respect of what is happening with the new landscape of policing?

Derek Barnett: Thank you, Chair. Around about 10 years ago, the Superintendents' Association debated whether or not to call for a Royal Commission. At the time, we took soundings clearly from the wider police family but also from our members. At that stage, we were persuaded that a Royal Commission would take too long and would be too expensive and, therefore, as an association, our view was that we should not push for a Royal Commission. Nothing has changed in the intervening years because, quite clearly, we understand the imperative to review policing, but still we are not persuaded that a Royal Commission is the best way. I think what we do believe, and I certainly believe, is that there is an awful lot of reform of the police service in general. A lot of it is very good, very valuable, but there is a sense that it is not connected up with any coherence or vision.

Q645 Chair: How would you describe morale at the moment among superintendents, members of your organisation? Is it good?

Derek Barnett: It is a question that has always been asked of the police service since I joined in 1978, 33 years ago. Morale, I think, is something that changes from individual to individual, from force to force and from unit to unit. So I think it is always a dangerous thing to say that is there a general picture of morale across either the service or my members.

Q646 Chair: You must be able to gauge this. You have an organisation; obviously some people are necessarily happy people, some people are sad people; but, generally speaking, what is morale like?

Derek Barnett: At the moment we have 1,468 members. Twelve months ago we had 1,650 members. So clearly we are seeing a significant reduction over a relatively small period. That is bringing about a sense among our members that they are being asked to do more, and command a more challenging and complex environment, with reduced numbers. So that is bringing some challenges in terms of our members' own personal resilience and the resilience of the officers they command and the units they work in. So there is a question, in that respect, about their own resilience.

But there is another element clearly; they are facing many challenges themselves personally in terms of not only reduced numbers but terms and conditions, pensions, pay and the pay freeze. That is having an impact on people, but not to the point where it is to the detriment of the work that they are doing. My members are superintendents and chief superintendents in key positions and it is not deflecting them from the work they are doing.

Q647 Nicola Blackwood: Mr Barnett, now that we have seen the detail of Peter Neyrouds' review, could we ask for your opinion on his proposals for the creation of a professional body and, in particular, what role you see superintendents and chief superintendents having within that new body?

Derek Barnett: I think, for a group of senior people within policing, it would be perverse if we did not want to see the professionalism of the service. So we have always agreed in principle and support in principle Peter Neyroud's view about professionalising the service and we supported in principle a professional body. The difficulty appears to have been in the terminology, because nobody is quite clear what a "professional body" means in policing. The Royal College of Nursing, for example, is a trade union that acts in furtherance of the interests of its members. I think what Peter Neyroud is suggesting is something that is both regulatory but also membership-focused, and that has caused us a bit of difficulty because it becomes a bit of a hybrid organisation.

The second thing is that Peter Neyroud suggested that this new professional body would be led by ACPO, which would be the head and the heart of that organisation. Clearly, for senior people in policing, that causes us a little bit of disquiet because, if there is to be an overarching professional body for policing, or whatever we call it, it should be one that takes in governance and engagement from the whole of the service, including superintendents and chief superintendents.

Q648 Nicola Blackwood: Have you taken soundings from your members? What recommendations will you be making for the formation of such a body—that it should be primarily membership-led, that it should be primarily regulatory? What would be your preferences?

Derek Barnett: Strangely enough, we are the only body in policing that has asked the question of all our members and, among the 1,500 or so members, there are quite split views, I am afraid. There is no consistent view. I have talked about the confusion about the name "professional body", and about how it would be governed. So there is no clear consensus about what this should look like. But I think there is clarity that the reason for the creation of a professional body is primarily the demise of the NPIA, the desire to see a change in the governance of ACPO and, clearly, the financial situation. Our view as an association is quite clearly that that should be fixed first before you then move on to a professional body, because there is the fear that the professional body is a way of masking those problems.

Q649 Nicola Blackwood: In what form did you ask your members that? Was it a survey or a letter to which you received responses?

Derek Barnett: It was a direct e-mail from me to every single member, forwarding Peter Neyroud's report and an executive summary and then posing a number of questions about it and seeking their views.

Q650 Nicola Blackwood: Would you be willing to send the results of those responses to the Committee in some kind of digested form? It would be very interesting for us to see it.

Derek Barnett: Certainly we have made a formal response to the Home Office, which will be published, and you are very welcome to see that, yes.

Nicola Blackwood: Thank you.

Q651 Mark Reckless: Mr Barnett, I have never fully understood this great divide in status between assistant chief constables and chief superintendents. The Police Authority has played a role in their appointment and they have been through the strategic command course, but isn't it just that they are a member of this organisation called ACPO and people of your rank are not? Is that a barrier we should be breaking down in the new landscape?

Derek Barnett: I agree entirely. We are a product of where we are now, but in years gone by I guess we lived in a far simpler world than we do now and policing was divided into the practitioners right the way through to chief inspectors, and chief officers from ACC onwards, and chief superintendents sat somewhere in the middle. That worked and has been proved to work, but what we are finding now is that in the new landscape—to use the terminology of the Committee—we are seeing a blurring now of the lines between chief superintendent and ACC. I have no doubt at all that, in the future, that line will become even more blurred and then we will question what exactly it is that we ask an assistant chief constable to do that is different from what we ask a chief superintendent to do. We have the quite bizarre situation in some forces now that chief superintendents are directly line-managed by one ACC, so almost a one-for-one situation. Clearly that is not something that we believe is right. In time, I think we may see a more sensible division of labour, if that is the right way to describe it.

Q652 Lorraine Fullbrook: ACPO receives around £10 million of taxpayers' money. Does your organisation receive any taxpayers' money?

Derek Barnett: We receive a grant that is called "grant in aid" each year from the Home Office, but we are funded primarily one third by that grant and two thirds by our members' subscriptions.

Q653 Lorraine Fullbrook: How many pounds is that?

Derek Barnett: Gosh, I'm not the treasurer so it would be difficult to answer that for you, but it is two thirds, one third. I guess it is between £500,000 and £600,000.

Q654 Steve McCabe: Can I just ask you quickly about the National Crime Agency? When the Police Federation gave evidence on this—this was before the Government had published their plan on 8 June—they described it as an "empty vessel". Obviously, since then the Government have produced this plan. Are you clear now about what functions and responsibilities the National Crime Agency will have and how it will operate?

Derek Barnett: Clear inasmuch as I have seen the document produced by the Home Secretary proposing the NCA. As an association, we welcome that focus on serious and organised crime and recognise the impact on the economy between £20 billion and £40 billion per year. So I think we welcome that particular emphasis. We do have some concerns about the detail but, listening to the Commissioner, I would agree entirely that what we desperately need now is to appoint the head of that organisation. I think, once we have cleared that particular hurdle, some of the detail will become more apparent.

Q655 Steve McCabe: On that, do you have any idea of when you think that head may be appointed? I am just conscious that we legislate for this in 2012; it gets going in 2013. I do not know what the technicalities of appointing someone to a body you have not legislated for yet might be, but what kind of time scale do you envisage for appointing someone?

Derek Barnett: Other than knowing that the job description has now been finalised and an advert completed, I do not know the time scale. I should imagine there will be a relatively small number of people applying for that role, which I think would foreshorten the process; but it is about getting that individual in place as quickly as possible and then taking forward some of that detail.

Q656 Michael Ellis: Mr Barnett, in your written evidence you express some concern about the future of some functions currently performed by the NPIA and also the gap between the phasing out of that agency and the setting up of the new National Crime Agency. That was a few months ago now, so I am just wondering if your concerns have been addressed.

Derek Barnett: No, I think those concerns are still there. What we are unsure and unclear about is what exactly will happen to those legacy services and products that the NPIA currently provide. We have to remind ourselves that the NPIA was set up to bring together all those parts of policing that had hitherto been in different places, so it did fulfil a function. With the demise of the NPIA, we are not sure where some significant pieces of work will go to. We have a feeling that some of the IT things will be taken care of in some sort of organisation, but we have concerns about those things that are not big ticket items like PNC, PND, DNA and witness protection.

Q657 Michael Ellis: You have suggested, have you not, the possibility of creating a new body to manage certain of those NPIA functions like the DNA database and the police national database?

Derek Barnett: No, we haven't suggested that. There will be something, I am sure. There will have to be something that will take hold of those services. The worry I have is about where what remains will go to. We believe that that is in the region of £60 million and if there is not a proper home or funding for that, that burden will then fall on individual police forces.

Q658 Michael Ellis: Could those functions go to a lead force, for example, or to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary or something like that; a functional model?

Derek Barnett: As it is currently constituted, I don't think HMIC could, because a lot of these things require people and they require them to do things. It is the people that cost money. It is less about the buildings. But some of these things are about vital services such as operational support in times of crisis and the co-ordination of activity to deal with critical incidents. Our fear is that eventually somebody somewhere will take control of that, but the cost will fall across the police service generally. If that goes into individual forces, each of the 43 forces will have to take their share of the £60 million or so, and that will then have an impact, again, on service delivery to the public.

Q659 Alun Michael: In your written evidence, you were critical of the fact that only the abolition of stop and search forms had contributed to reducing bureaucracy. There have been recent announcements. Do those go far enough?

Derek Barnett: What is positive about the Home Secretary's recent announcement is the clear, determined focus to reduce bureaucracy, and that is welcome because the—

Alun Michael: I was not talking about focus. I was asking you whether it is achieving that reduction.

Derek Barnett: I think the point I was coming on to is that that focus is probably more unremitting than it has been in the past, because we have had previous attempts to reduce bureaucracy. I think already we have seen stop and account, but we are beginning to see, for example, the return of charging powers to custody sergeants, which has the potential, I think, to reduce the bureaucracy even further. But when I ask the question of police officers and my members about we are seeing any evidence yet of bureaucracy reduction, the real answer is that it is slow progress. I think one of the reasons for that is that quite often it is our own members, our own senior officers, who contribute to the bureaucracy. I think it will take some time.

This is why I come back to the unremitting focus. It is something that has to be pursued as a long-term objective. It is not just a question of cutting out forms. It is not just a question of giving better technology. It is about moving on from this culture that everything has to be written down because if it isn't, it didn't happen. Lawyers tell chief superintendents that, when you are managing a critical incident you have to write every single decision down and the reason behind every decision. That is bureaucratic in the extreme.

I also think we have been very comfortable as a service within a performance culture, because that sometimes is easier to manage than a culture that allows discretion. Again, I think the message to my members and to chief officers is to trust the police officers more, trust our staff and give them the discretion to do the job without being overly prescriptive.

Q660 Steve McCabe: Can I just ask a very simple question on that? I am with you in wanting to cut bureaucracy and trust police officers; but when you are facing criticism for having got something badly wrong in a major inquiry, if you cannot point to how you made your decision, how are you going to defend yourself?

Derek Barnett: Absolutely, and that is the advice that we get; so I don't think the answer to that particular problem lies within the police service. I think that lies much more generally with people like yourselves, in politics, but also people in the legal profession. There is no short-term answer to that question about being accountable. It is also right to remember that, as a profession and as a service, we are daily making decisions that affect people's lives—taking their liberty, using legitimate force, prosecuting people and putting them before the courts. So it is right that there is a measure of accountability in what we do, and people have a right to expect accuracy as well as detail.

Q661 Chair: Can I just finally ask you about the Winsor proposals? How have they gone down with your members?

Derek Barnett: There has been an understanding, I think, by our members of the reasons why, perhaps, the Winsor Part 1 Report was commissioned. Our members are particularly disappointed with one or two specific recommendations and one of those is the recommendation to freeze annual increments of pay. But, generally speaking, the concern among our members is less about ourselves and more about those whom we supervise and manage—the federated ranks. We do have concerns about how the report will impact on them. It is worrying to see the focus of their mind-set taken away from the profession and the service they should be providing and a distraction towards pay and conditions at a time when they also face a two-year pay freeze and changes in pensions. It is the same for them as everybody else in the public service, and they understand that and accept that as well.

Q662 Lorraine Fullbrook: A very quick question. Can I ask how you disseminated the Winsor Review to your members so each of your members was aware of the facts, rather than the perception of the facts?

Derek Barnett: Again, I took a personal decision that every single member of the Superintendents' Association would get a full copy of the report and they would also receive the executive summary and they were all invited to comment and feed back responses to me at the same time.

Lorraine Fullbrook: So they all had a copy?

Derek Barnett: Every single one.

Chair: Mr Barnett, thank you very much for giving evidence, and thank you for the co-operation that you show with this Committee. You are always very ready with your organisation to supply us with the views of your superintendents and we are most grateful.

Derek Barnett: Thank you.

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Prepared 23 September 2011