September 28, 2011 8:30 pm

Minister attacks Labour’s police review plan

Nick Herbert, policing minister, has denounced Labour’s plan for an independent review on the future of policing as a move that shows the “abdication of any kind of political leadership”.

Speaking at a conference held by the Police Foundation, a criminal justice think-tank, Mr Herbert on Wednesday slammed the opposition’s decision to fund an inquiry led by Lord Stevens, a former Metropolitan Police commissioner, accusing Labour of “subcontracting” its political decision-making.


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“I’m afraid that Labour’s announcement today merely reveals the vacuity of their policy on policing,” Mr Herbert told delegates. “[Their policy] seems to me to consist of opportunistic opposition to cuts, in spite of the fact that they themselves are committed to cut policing by over £1bn a year, and now subcontracting decisions on police reform – reforms which they espoused in government and are now opportunistically opposing – to a committee.”

The inquiry was unveiled earlier in the day in a speech by Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, to the Labour party conference in Liverpool. Ms Cooper said that since the government had resisted setting up a Royal Commission into the future of policing – an overarching examination of forces’ roles in the wake of the coalition’s policing reforms – Labour would initiate its own review, taking advice from experts in the UK and abroad.

Mr Herbert argued, however, that holding a Royal Commission would have delayed the “urgent” fiscal challenge of cutting the deficit – which has led to a 20 per cent cut across police budgets – and making public sector reforms. He added that while it was sometimes right to seek professional guidance, government could not “funk the big challenges”. “It’s little use setting up committees of wise men if you don’t even acknowledge that there’s a problem to be solved”, he said.

Blair Gibbs, head of crime and justice at the think-tank Policy Exchange, added his own criticisms, suggesting that Ms Cooper’s inquiry would not be without bias. “A review set up by a political party, paid for by a party, with members appointed by that party, isn’t independent and shouldn’t claim to be,” he told the Financial Times.

By contrast Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, who spoke at the Labour conference alongside Ms Cooper, embraced the idea.

“Lord Stevens is a highly respected man within the policing word and he knows what he’s talking about, so it is going to be interesting to see what he comes up with,” he said.

In an opinion piece in today’s FT, Mr McKeever argues that the Conservatives are no longer on top of the law and order agenda, and that police officers feel “under attack” from the coalition’s onslaught of police budget cuts as well as changes to pensions, training and pay. “It almost feels like they lost a grip on this area when a certain Tony Blair grabbed the torch from them in the mid-90s, with his ‘tough on crime’ speech. They have not looked at ease on the topic of criminal justice since,” he writes.

The Police Federation chairman also urges the government to impose the same period of reflection on its “seismic shifts” in police policy – which includes the introduction of elected police and crime commissioners – as it did on changes to the NHS. “In the same way, it is not too late to put the brakes on this misguided process of reforms,” he writes.

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