Speech to the Police Federation Conference 2012 - Yvette Cooper

15 May 2012

Yvette CooperYvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, in a speech to the Police Federation Annual Conference 2012, said:

Can I thank Paul McKeever for the invitation to speak at the Police Federation Conference.

It is 12 months since I joined you in Bournemouth.

12 months on Thursday to be precise. Today being Tuesday.

I always have to check what day it is, shadowing Theresa May.

Or Theresa April as she’s known in the Home Office now.

When last I came, and when last you gathered, I said then I was worried about the perfect storm building around policing.

At that time we feared 12,000 officers would be lost

  • We feared the frontline would be hit.
  • We feared morale was falling.
  • We feared that Ministers were not listening.

Turned out we weren’t afraid enough.

The Home Secretary told your conference last year she was on “a rescue mission, to bring the economy back from the brink and to make sure the police come through not just intact but better equipped for the future.”

Since then the economy has gone back into double dip recession. And 5,000 police officers have gone from the frontline.

Some rescue.

But as we reflect on the last 12 months, we should also pause to reflect and pay tribute to the serving officers who have lost their lives in the last twelve months.

Ian Swadling.

Scott Eastwood-Smith.

Perviz Ahmed.

Anthony Wright.

Stephen George Cully.

Ramin Tolouie.

Mark Goodlad.

Neil Jeffrys.

Andrew James Stokes.

Karen Paterson.

David John Rathband.

Preston Gurr.

The whole country was deeply moved and saddened by the tragic death of PC David Rathband.

He became Raol Moat’s target simply because of the job he did and the public service he gave. Shot and left in darkness by a murderer because he was a police officer.

An officer who inspired so many by his battle to return to service and to stand up for others injured in the line of duty.

We must make sure the Blue Lamp foundation stands as his legacy and his tribute now.

But I also want to pay tribute to PC Mark Goodlad whose funeral I attended in Wakefield at the end of last year and who lived just outside my constituency in West Yorkshire.

PC Goodlad was a traffic officer. Stood at the side of a motorway helping a woman who had broken down by the side of the road. A lorry driving on the hard shoulder knocked him down and took his life.

PC Goodlad wasn’t fighting crime when he fell. He was helping someone in need. Like so many officers day in day out. Doing his job. Taking risks to keep the public safe. And he gave his life.

Police officers are crime fighters yes, but they are so much more besides. And I want to pay tribute and say thank you to all the police officers across the country working hard, taking risks every day of the week to keep us safe.

But so many police officers and staff are now are worried about the future of policing.

Over 30,000 police officers gathered on the streets of London last Thursday.

Constables, sergeants, inspectors, superintendents and chief constables.

Police officers on their rest day, taking annual leave, slipping in before the night shift. Over 2,000 from the West Midlands, Over 1,000 from Greater Manchester, 650 from Thames Valley. Officers from Devon and Cornwall getting on coaches at 2am and travelling through the night to make their voices heard.

Officers from across the country who know that their forces are facing a cliff edge, worried that the service to the public is falling, and afraid that crime and public safety are being put at risk.

Because the Government is cutting too far and too fast. Hitting jobs and the economy. But also putting public safety at risk.

Labour MPs have voted four times in Parliament against the 20% cuts.

David Hanson, former Policing Minister many of you know and here today as Labour’s Shadow Policing Minister has called repeatedly in Parliament for the Government to change course.

Last week we supported your march against 20% cuts.

You are right, communities are being put at risk.

Cutting 16,000 officers is criminal.

Thank you for gathering last week to stand up for the communities you serve.

Because we are seeing the real consequences now.

In the Midlands, officers told me about a 999 call that came in about a hit and run involving a child. Thanks to cuts in response units, the nearest officer was 45 minutes away. He got there as fast as he could. But he arrived to a slow hand clap from the gathered crowd.

And in the South West, officers told me about a 999 call from a woman who was afraid because her partner was making threats. She was told to go round to a neighbour’s because there wasn’t a car to send. She called a second time as she became more worried and afraid. Only when she called the third time to report an assault was the response car dispatched.

Eighteen months ago, the Home Secretary promised that the frontline would not be hit.

Yet now we know 16,000 officers are being cut.

16,000. That’s the number of officers it took on the streets of London to take back control of the streets after rioters burned Tottenham and Croydon, and looters ransacked Clapham and Hackney.

The Prime Minister promised:

“We won’t do anything that will reduce the amount of visible policing on our streets”.

But over 5,000 police officers have gone already from 999 response units, traffic cops, and neighbourhood police.

So when 30,000 officers took an hour and a half to march ten abreast past the Home Office to demonstrate the strength of anger and concern, I think the Home Secretary should have answered you.

We called the Home Secretary to Parliament to respond. It is an utter disgrace that on police cuts she had absolutely nothing to say.

Everyone recognises the police have to make their share of savings.

Labour has said repeatedly since before the election that the police budget would have to be cut.

We supported 12% cuts. Based on expert work in the Home Office and by the Inspectorate. But not 20% cuts.

We supported £1bn annual savings over the course of a Parliament. And yes that would require pay restraint, reforms and back office cuts to achieve it. But it would also mean you could protect the frontline rather than watching 16,000 officers go.

Ministers would have you believe that means we support their plans. Quite the reverse. Instead of the £1bn cuts we accepted, they are cutting £2bn. Going too far too fast. And that’s why so many officers are being lost.

I know and you know that we won’t always agree.

Labour in government had disagreements with the police.

And there will be issues we disagree over in future too.

On pay and pensions, we believe further reforms are needed.

But they should be done through fair negotiations.

Some officers I know now support the police having the right to strike.

I strongly don’t. The police are the emergency service of last resort.

But there’s a flip side to that.

Government should respect and value the office of constable on which we depend.

When I spoke last year I supported your call for a royal commission

Not because policing in Britain is broken. But because to cut crime and keep the public safe, we should always seek reforms and improvements to make policing better.

I said then we would press the Government for a royal commission or major independent review of the long term future of policing in the 21st century.

And I said that if the Government refused to set up any kind of overarching review, then we would do so instead.

We have done so.

Lord Stevens, former Commissioner of the Met, has now begun work. Drawing on expert advice and contributions from serving officers, members of the public, academics and top criminologists, former Chief Officers, business people, local government workers, even our security and intelligence agencies, from Britain and across the world.

Looking at:

  • Challenges of the future – more national, international and high tech crimes. Greater expectations for fast and responsive local policing.
  • The talented, flexible and professional workforce needed.
  • Accountability, checks and balances.
  • The balance between national and local policing priorities.

But this Government has no positive vision for the future of policing.

Instead we have just chaos and contradictions:

Scrapping the NPIA with no proper plan for national training and development when it goes.

Abolishing the Forensic Science Service before sufficient quality services are available in its place.

Fragmenting forces with elected police and crime commissioners just when forces need to co-operate more.

Major cuts in service, yet £100m for elections in November that no one wants.

Promising less bureaucracy yet forcing officers to do more paperwork because so many police staff have been cut.

Undermining neighbourhood policing – one of the most important and successful reforms Labour introduced – as some areas consider removing officers and leaving PCSOs alone to do the job.

And demoralising the officers and staff who we need to be highly motivated by the cack handed approach to Winsor reforms.

The detail of the Winsor proposals is of course a matter for you and your representatives to pursue in the negotiations.

But let me raise some general points.

I think there should be reforms to pay and conditions to support modernisation of the police. Many police officers I’ve spoken to recognise that too.

I think there should be greater emphasis on skills, and the development of talent, faster track promotions, greater flexibility. We supported the Neyroud report. Fitness tests make sense too.

But the Home Secretary was completely wrong to give whole sale backing to the Winsor report when it raises so many concerns.

For example:

  • Regional pay is likely to cost more not less.
  • Calling for higher qualified recruits whilst cutting starting salaries makes no sense at all.
  • Too little consideration has been given to the impact on individual officers at a time when family budgets are already being squeezed.
  • Compulsory severance looks frankly like a plan for another huge round of cuts to policing or contracting out police work.

Time and again the Government is failing to value the office of constable or to recognise the complex mix of skills, experience and judgement the police workforce need.

We see it too in their plans to force through widespread privatisation of core public policing with no safeguards in place.

Public private partnerships can be very effective. The police can and should work closely with business on new technology and developing new ways of working. There is important work for the private sector to do.

But government needs to draw a line – in the interests of public confidence and public safety too.

Core public policing – such as neighbourhood patrols, serious criminal investigations, or assessing high risk offenders – should not be contracted out, no matter how cheap the contract price.

British policing is based on consent and it depends on the confidence of the communities being policed.

The public need to be confident decisions are being taken in the interests of public safety, the community or justice, not distorted by contract or profit.

We don’t want private companies on the beat on our public streets, we want crown servants, public servants, police officers doing the job to keep us safe.

Chaotic, fragmented, contradictory changes.

Cuts and confusion putting at risk the very best of British policing.

With no vision in its place.

That’s not reform. It is destructive chaos.

This Government is giving reform a bad name.

Reform should make the police service better.

Reform should improve the quality service to the public.

Reform should make it easier not harder to cut crime or keep the streets safe.

And reform should create a highly motivated, talented, committed and professional police force.

We want to see reforms from the Stevens review that support good policing rather than undermining it.

And that also means giving police officers the confidence that they will get the backing of the public and the force when they go the extra mile to keep people safe.

There is one reform the Government could sign up to straight away.

Doing more, not less, to help those officers injured in the line of duty who want to get back to work in the policing jobs they love.

Like PC Guy Miller from Kent Police who was run over by a car driven by two men he tried to arrest. At the time it was said that PC Miller would never recover from his injuries.

Yet less than three years later, PC Miller was back working for Kent Police.

He has since received recognition for his work in the Serious Collision Investigation Unit, solving crimes, and helping to protect the public.

Or PC Gareth Rees, a traffic officer for Hertfordshire police, hit by a car at the scene of an incident. Now back on full duties. But only after many operations and two years recovery.

As he told a journalist, “We are in harms way, but if it all goes wrong you hope you will be put back together again”.

Under the Government’s plans officers who want to return, but who need time to recover and rebuild will be penalised and probably forced out.

I believe we owe a duty of care to officers like PC Miller, PC Rees, or PC Rathband hurt working to keep us safe.

When a police officer, seriously injured in the line of duty, is determined to return to the policing job they love, they should not be penalised. I think they deserve the confidence of knowing their force will back them all the way.

And we need more action too from the Government to make it easier for the police to do their jobs – cutting crime and keeping people safe.

Because in the end that is what policing is all about.

In thirteen years of Labour government, crime fell by 40%.

That was the result of hard work by police and communities. Reforms that built partnerships with councils and housing associations to prevent crime. More police. New PCSOs. Neighbourhood policing to get back into the community. New powers on anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, knife crime or counter terror.

Most people think crime is still too high and they want it to come down further.

And that in the end should be the joint aim of communities, the Government and the police.

Instead the Government is making it harder for the police to do the job:

  • Fewer police.
  • Fewer powers.
  • Making it harder to get CCTV, taking rape suspects off the DNA database, ending ASBOs, watering down counter terror powers.
  • More bureaucracy not less.
  • And no over-arching strategy to cut crime.

Yet in the end, that means it is communities that pay the price.

Victims of crime who get less support.

Families who feel less safe.

Personal acquisitive crime already going up by 13%.

Other crimes have stopped falling when they should still be coming down.

I believe we can work together again – the police and communities, forces, councils, voluntary sector, businesses and government all pulling in the same direction to do more not less to keep people safe.

But it needs the Government, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to change course before it is too late.