01 May Exclusive interview with Home Secretary
Christopher Locke asks Theresa May about Police Commissioners, child abuse, racism and sexism in the police, PCSO’s, immigration and other questions on policing
Theresa May was a product of both the comprehensive and grammar schools system ending up studying Geography at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University. Her original career was working for the Bank of England then working for the Association for Payment Clearing
Services. Having served as a Councillor in South West London she was elected as the MP for Maidenhead in 1997 and went on to hold a number of Shadow positions until she was appointed Home Secretary in 2010. Current thought to be a future contender for the leadership of the Conservative party and perhaps a future Prime Minister.
What achievements are you most proud of during your term as Home Secretary?
I think one of the most important things this Government has achieved has been the return of professional discretion to police officers. When I became Home Secretary, I found that 13 years of Labour government, central targets and Whitehall bureaucracy had turned crime fighters into form fillers. So I am proud of the fact that we have abolished those restrictions and freed up police officers, saving 4.5million hours of their time in the process, and given them a clear mandate to do what they are trained to do: cut crime.
I think my time as Home Secretary has also been characterised to some extent by a determination to take on some of policing’s most intransigent issues, including those which had previously been neglected or overlooked. In particular, I think of issues like modern slavery, where our Modern Slavery Act was the first of its kind within Europe, and Stop and Search, where our reforms are having an impact in terms of making stops more intelligence-led and appropriateness. There is more work to do in all of these areas, but I am pleased to have been able to deliver meaningful change.
Do you still feel the introduction of Police Commissioners has been a success and if you do why? What do you think of Labour’s proposals to abolish them?
Absolutely. I introduced Police and Crime Commissioners to replace the invisible and unaccountable system of police authorities that existed before them. Just seven per cent of the population knew police authorities even existed and not a single person voted for them. PCCs have important powers to hold the police to account and are themselves accountable to the communities they serve at the ballot box.
Since 2012, PCCs have built local awareness and, as the Home Affairs Select Committee and others have said, proved the value of singular, local and directly elected leadership in policing. Many are also developing innovative proposals of their own to save money and cutcrime in their area, whether it is Adam Simmonds’ plans to bring together police and fire services in Northamptonshire or Chris Salmon’s development of a new model of rural policing in Dyfed-Powys.
Labour’s proposals to abolish PCCs are a return to the dark days of police authorities, pure and simple. Under their plans, policing will be less accountable to the communities.
Why was the investigation into child abuse relating to politicians, police and other government officials delayed until after the election? Do you think this has caused a huge loss of confidence from the public and the police?
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was established on 12th March 2015, with Judge Lowell Goddard appointed as the Chairman. The Inquiry has already begun its work and announced on 29 April that one of its first pieces of work will be to conduct a full investigation into the allegations of abuse relating to Lord Greville Janner. As I said in Parliament, this Inquiry represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver justice and expose what went wrong in the past.
I am confident that the new statutory Inquiry will challenge individuals and institutions without fear or favour and get to the truth. This will not be an easy task but I believe the Inquiry now has right leadership, individuals and powers to make this happen.
The police have coped remarkably well with the cuts in the police budgets since they were introduced but why do you think they will be able to cope with the further cuts you will bring in should you be in office in the next government?
Decisions about the policing budget beyond 2015/16 have not been made and they will only be decided through the next Spending Review process after the General Election. However, the last five years have shown that, with reform, it is possible to deliver more with less. When I arrived in the Home Office, the Labour Party and ACPO were united. They said financial efficiency would mean crime rising year on year. Five years on, and crime has fallen by more than a quarter, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales. HMIC and others have shown that there remain further efficiencies to be made in procurement, further collaboration and ICT. With the continued hard work of police officers and staff, it is possible to help cut the deficit and keep cutting crime.
The police are often in the front line dealing problems relating to the huge number of immigrants that have come to live in the UK. e.g.: racial assaults, thefts, overcrowding etc. Can you assure police officers that action will be taken to control immigration before things get worse?
The Conservative Party believes in controlled immigration, not mass immigration. We recognise that immigration brings real benefits to our economy, culture and national life, but we also know that when it is out of control, immigration puts pressure on schools, hospitals and policing, and causes social pressures if communities find it hard to integrate.
That is why we have set out a comprehensive plan to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, by removing EU migrants’ access to many benefits until they have properly paid into the system and tackling abuse to allow only those who come to legitimately work and study and to prevent migrants from overstaying at the end of their visa. We will also introduce a new Controlling Migration Fund to ease pressures on local public services affected by high levels of migration and to pay for additional immigration enforcement.
Do you plan to increase the number of PCSOs and give them greater powers?
PCSOs do an incredibly important job in communities up and down the country but I have always been clear that decisions about the size and composition of the police workforce are a matter for Chief Constables, not politicians. That includes the number of PCSOs in any individual force or across the country as a whole, and neither do we have any plans to increase their current suite of powers.
Do you think police forces have successfully addressed issues surrounding institutional racism within the police?
In my time as Home Secretary, I have seen some profoundly shocking and disturbing revelations about police misconduct, from the appalling conclusions of the Hillsborough independent panel to worrying reports from HMIC about the use of stop and search, to the findings of the Ellison Review, which I commissioned into alleged corruption in the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Whether or not racism has been involved in particular instances, I have always seen the priority to be to tackle the issue, rather than simply to label the police in one way or another, because that can in fact be counter-productive.
That is what has driven my Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, which all forces are now signed up to voluntarily, which has helped cut the number of stops and searches from around 1.5 million in 2010 to 870,000 today. And it is why I have supported schemes like Police Now, a new graduate scheme for policing which has nearly triple the proportion of BME officers starting compared to traditional recruitment.
Do you think issues surrounding sexism in the police have been address or what more do you propose to do?
This year is the centenary of the first female police officer and we have seen great strides in the representation of women in policing in recent years. It is striking to me that a number of key senior roles in the policing field are held by women – Sara Thornton, the Chair of the new National Police Chiefs Council; Dame Shirley Pearce as Chair of the College of Policing and Dame Anne Owers as Chair of the IPCC.
We are making progress in female representation at all ranks, especially ACPO and superintendent ranks, and the proportion of police officers that were women overall rose from 25.7% in March 2010 to 27.9% in March 2014. However there remains much to do, which is why I have supported new schemes like Direct Entry and Police Now to attract a more diverse group of people into policing. In their first year, both schemes have attracted considerably more women into policing than normal channels.
What is on the top of your list of things still to be done with regard to policing and criminal justice?
My priority is to finish the job of police reform, backing officers to fight crime unimpeded. We will expand the use of police-led prosecutions to speed up the process of justice for victims and ensure that police officers use their professional judgement to prosecute more low-level cases. We plan to let police forces keep more of the criminal assets they seize to reinvest in local policing for local communities. And we will deliver proper provision of health and community-based places of safety for people suffering mental health problems in order to save police time and stop vulnerable people from being detained in police cells.
To see the result of a recent voting intention poll of 300 police officers, please click here [http://www.constabulary.org.uk/2015/05/05/ge2015-constabulary-poll-sees-police-unsure-on-who-to-vote-for/].
To see the how parties are doing by policy across the country take a look here.