Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ashes To Ashes

The pre-post-modernist version

Ashes to Ashes, the BBC's new retro post-modernist Sweeney ripoff started this week. Given all the hype, Tyler watched the first 15 minutes, but really, life's too short, so he read the Flanagan Review of Policing instead.

As we know, British policing is a catastrophic mess. Detection rates are less than 25% - half what they were in the 60s - there's a wobbling mountain of paperwork, real coppers on the beat have been replaced by numpties in yellow jackets, police stations are being closed all over the shop, and you're only really safe if you buy your own private security.

So what does Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the Home Office’s adviser on policing, say we should do?

Actually, he starts well, claiming he does not want "to specify every outcome and control and bureaucratise every aspect and process, from the centre to the force and within the force from the chief constable to the constable, in an attempt to cover every risk and meet every demand."

Hurrah! So that's an end to the commissar driven lunacy of the last ten years then?

Er... not exactly.

Yes, he wants to abolish the ludicrous Stop and Search form (the one that Tyler has picked up three of - see here, here, and here), and various other bits of bureaucracy. But in essence, he wants top-down policing to continue.

He totally disregards what we taxpaying punters want- more real police patrolling the streets and banging up criminals- and says even maintaining police numbers at their current level is not a runner:

"I am persuaded that we would not be making the most effective use of the resources dedicated to the police if police officer numbers were sustained at their current level."

There are two levels to the argument. First, he says the police have to cut the number of officers from the current 140,000 because for the next three years Brown has frozen spending while costs go on increasing. But this short-term funding issue is not really the heart of the matter.

What's really going on is that the commissars are pursuing a long-term strategy to "engineer" a cheaper more malleable police force by deskilling the job- just like with the NHS and our schools (see many previous blogs). The trouble is, it's been a grotesque failure, costing a ton of money and screwing up real policing.

As the Home Affairs Select Committee noted last summer, over the last ten years police funding has increased by 40% in real terms. Which means in today's money the police have something like an extra £7bn pa to spend (about £300 per household). But the number of police officers has increased by just 11% - only one-quarter of the increase in money (see this blog).

So what's happened to the rest? Ah, the rest has gone on a lot of "stuff", driven from the top - micro-management aimed at making the cops another arm of central government.

But although they've laid down all kinds of detailed requirements from the centre, it hasn't delivered the well oiled machine they'd intended. All they've actually done is to impose huge additional costs and hobble the cops in their day-to-day work.

We know about the Stop and Search form, but another good example is Activity Based Costing.

ABC was dreamed up in Whitehall as a means of understanding and controlling the cost of various police activities rightacross the country. Unfortunately, while it might have looked good on paper, it ended up spawning a huge bureaucracy of its own, while shedding virtually no useful light on anything (except those embarrassing details of how much time officers spend on "refreshment" breaks- see this blog). Flanagan now recommends abolishing ABC, but it's already cost us a packet.

So we find ourselves in an expensive mess, which can only be sorted by localising the police, not more centralisation (see previous blogs).

A shame then that Sir Ronnie wants more centralisation: although he makes 33 recommendations, not one actually returns control of the police to local taxpaying voters. Not one.

And the whole Report is couched in such commissariate gobbledigook that even a hardened report reader like Tyler can't fathom it. For example, here's recommendation 27:

"To promote improved partnership working and the closer integration of Neighbourhood Policing within a neighbourhood management approach, the relevant local government and policing agencies (NPIA, IDeA, LGA, Welsh LGA and Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnerships (RIEP)) should develop a national leadership and training resource through a joint excellence programme. These bodies should explore whether the REIPs can provide funding for the programme. This national resource will build local partners’ capacity to deliver shared community safety outcomes through joint training and development for both leaders and practitioners."

Ashes to ashes.

Why oh why oh why TF can't we just have the proper police back?

PS Tyler's local force, Surrey, gets a special bigging up in the Report. That's because, as we noted here, Surrey has been at the forefront of something called "mixed economy" policing, which basically means employing fewer real police and more "civvies". Much cheaper, you see. Except... whah? According to the following chart from the Flanagan report, this approach has landed Surrey residents with the very highest increase in policing bills of any force in the entire country:

250% real terms increase in the Surrey police precept (rate) in ten years! If that's what "mixed economy" policing means, let's go back to good old single economy policing asap.

PPS Talking of bonkers ideas we do not want our tax-funded police engaged in at any price, what about Flanagan's Recommendation 9:

"Chief constables should ensure that they are taking an entrepreneurial approach to policing, not just in ethical income generation through private sector sponsorship and business enterprise, but also through encouraging finance directors to create and exploit ‘business opportunities’.

Arrgh! We do not want our police scouting round the manor looking for entrepreneurial earning opportunities. WE JUST WANT PROPER OLD FASHIONED LOCALLY ACCOUNTABLE POLICING.


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