Martin Hewitt reflects on 6 months as chair of NPCC and October’s Chief Constables' Council
As I come to my six-month anniversary as chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council, I reflect on how much the environment has transformed for policing in such a short period of time. The discussions that were held at the third Chief Constables' Council of my tenure, the senior decision-making forum for police chiefs held in Winchester last week, reflect this. Looking back at my first Council as chair in Manchester earlier this year shows how much has changed, but also how much has stayed the same.
We began the first day with a discussion on how much the political and funding environment for policing has changed in recent months. The additional 20,000 officers that I have been tasked with bringing into the service over the next three years will be a significant challenge, but it is certainly a good challenge to have. This increase in officers will help us to provide a better service, reduce crime and ease the pressure on our people, but crucially it will also help us to accelerate our plans to improve the diversity of our workforce so that we properly reflect our communities.
Chief Constable Ian Hopkins gave us an update on the ongoing work to make policing more representative of the communities we serve and the significant challenges that we need to tackle if we are to improve female and ethnic minority representation at every level, including senior leadership roles. A national survey of our officers and staff will be taking place which will help us to understand the levels of change and improvement across the country since the introduction of the National Police Wellbeing Service and our national diversity strategy. Two national reports will be produced on the back of this which will examine key statistics, issues raised and areas of concern. Chiefs also agreed to contribute to research to create an evidence base which looks at the factors behind the lack of diversity at chief officer level and the reduction in the tenure of chief constables. This will be used to bring forward proposals for change.
We have a long way to go on diversity, but Council was pleased to hear from College of Policing CEO Mike Cunningham that the latest figures show the highest ever percentage of women passing through the Senior Police National Assessment Centre (SPNAC), becoming eligible for the most senior leadership development programme, the Strategic Command Course (SCC).
We also have the challenge of transforming how the NPCC and wider policing operates to make sure that we can make the most of the opportunity these new recruits represent and ensure that we are able to encourage and support both current and future police leaders in their roles. Our Vice Chairs Dave Thompson and Giles York led a discussion on ideas to improve this support and Council endorsed the need for a thorough system of continuous professional development in senior leadership roles. They will be working closely with the College of Policing to develop proposals.
Chief Constable Matt Jukes gave a broad update on pay and pensions, briefing chiefs on further work underway around police pensions in light of recent court cases. He set out proposals to make a policing career even more attractive, with steps to retain the skills and experience of our current officers and staff and encourage those with specific skills and experience to join the service. One of the proposals is to extend the time that our officers and staff receive full pay while on maternity, paternity or adoption leave aiming at bringing policing in line with the most competitive offers in the public sector. With the support of chiefs, Matt is now developing a detailed proposal before putting the case for change to government.
We concluded a full day with an update on the officer safety review that I commissioned in September, which will examine in quick time the key issues - training, equipment, deployment, support after an assault and the deterrent effect of the wider criminal justice system response. The aim is to give us some evidence about what more could be done to protect officers and staff from violence. This is a very important piece of work and all were pleased with the progress and the broad engagement that the team have achieved in such a short period of time. Chiefs have agreed the terms of reference for this work and they will be published soon.
Day two began with an update on the implications for policing of the UK leaving the European Union. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Martin and Steve Rodhouse from the National Crime Agency have been preparing policing for the loss of tools and powers that we currently rely on to manage crime and offenders if we leave without a deal, while Chief Constable Charlie Hall and Assistant Chief Constable Owen Weatherill have worked on resilience plans to manage the broader policing requirements that may be needed. Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke brought to life the specific challenges faced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in managing our exit.
While policing has prepared extensively for any outcome, all chiefs are conscious of how stretched our resources are and will be in the run up to the end of October, and how the tools we may have to rely on will be more time consuming and less effective than those used currently.
We were joined for the final session of Council by the recently appointed Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, who took part in a discussion led by Chief Constable Gareth Morgan on the issues which limit police performance. These range from officers being expected to act as first responders for those in mental health crisis to the increasing amount of frontline officer and staff time taken up with crime recording requirements.
Council closed with a talk by the Policing Minister outlining his aspirations for the outcomes he would expect from policing as a result of increased resources and he took a wide range of questions and feedback from chiefs. These will be discussed further at the National Policing Board that is chaired by the Home Secretary. I speak for all chiefs in saying how much we appreciated the minister’s time and his willingness to engage so directly and thoroughly.
This was another busy two days of Council at a very busy and challenging time for policing and my thanks go to everyone there who engaged in the discussions and lively debate.
While we are in a much different, and better, position than even six months ago when I first took on this role, I cannot understate the challenges that policing faces. Some of those are new, such as the challenge of recruiting 20,000 additional police officers, and some are not, such as preparing for our departure from the European Union or ensuring we are promoting and supporting the best and most diverse people into leadership roles. All chiefs are up for the challenge and are embracing the opportunities to deliver for the public.