Lisa Townsend is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.
With police and crime commissioners and chief constables gathered in London for our annual joint conference last week, it was inevitable that much of the chatter would be about James Cleverly and whether we would see a change in tone from the new Home Secretary.
As a PCC I have been clear, both in private and in public, that operational independence is a cornerstone of British policing. While I may appoint the person I see as being the most suitable to lead the police force in my area, I am not his boss, and do not direct him to carry out specific functions or interfere in his decision-making.
I am not in the room when operational tactics are discussed and if I were I would not possess the training or knowledge to presume I know better. His salary is twice mine and that reflects the years of experience and the burden of protecting the public from very real harm.
My role is to ensure that the publics’ voice is heard in the setting of strategy and priorities, the amount of money that is made available, and to hold the force to account for the decisions they take. That has meant some difficult discussions in private but always with the same goal of ensuring Surrey is as safe as it can be by using the resources available in the most efficient way.
Which is why, along with a number of others in policing, I was concerned by the previous Home Secretary’s increasing involvement in operational policing decisions. Setting the expectations in terms of following all reasonable lines of inquiry, a reminder that the police must act without fear or favour, and fair criticism when they let down the public they serve, are all important parts of holding to account.
Directing them as to how and where to deploy resources is not – and I believe it is right that she has now left that post.
On Thursday morning PCCs and chiefs gathered to hear the woman who hopes to be the next home secretary. Yvette Cooper has spent many years waiting for the job, shadowing from 2011 to 2015, as Home Affairs select Committee Chair from 2016 and then again as Shadow Home Secretary since 2021. So perhaps it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise to hear the same old, tired anti-Tory speech again last week.
But as I sat listening to her plans for the police under a Labour government, I became very fearful for what that would mean for our country.
If chief constables were looking for a sign that life under Labour would leave the tactical decisions to chief officers, they didn’t get it. Instead, the left’s need to centralise and control was loud and clear.
PCCs would remain, but Cooper clearly thinks that a Labour government would know better than local champions. What communities need from their police forces would be out in favour of top-down targets and threats of further action from the centre if chiefs don’t perform to the Labour mandate.
In my experience, local officers know where their trouble hot-spots are and, following Uplift, are finally getting more resources to deal with them. The challenge for many forces is that in maintaining policing numbers we face having to make savings elsewhere. Given that 80 per cent of my forces’ budget is spent on wages, that means not being able to hire as many of the people who answer 999 calls, prepare files for court, or work tirelessly to find and prosecute those who prey on children online.
While criminals have become savvier, seldom leaving fingerprints at the scene of a burglary, few crimes happen now that don’t leave a digital trace. Labour’s insistence that chief constables hire more officers to put on the streets may sound great in a manifesto, but it will leave our most vulnerable unprotected.
If chiefs had thought that at least a Labour government would pay for all this, they were in for a second round of dismay. We were told that “inefficiency savings” would plug the gaps we are currently experiencing but that those same savings would also allow us to hire hundreds of more officers.
It can’t be both, but either way it means less money for your local police force. It’s all very well having more officers, but that’s no good if you lack the staff to answer 999, process the digital forensics, or see those criminals prosecuted.
The only people who will benefit from Labour’s power-grab over local police chiefs are the digitally-savvy, organised criminal gangs who trade in abusive online images, rely on the phone network for county lines drug-dealing, and commit crimes from well beyond the local bobby’s reach.
Jeremy Corbyn may have been ejected from his party, but we must not be fooled by the savvier Sir Kier Starmer into thinking that Labour are anything other than socialists, just waiting for the opportunity to re-establish central control.