What a difference a week makes
Friday, 01 July 2016
Vice Chair Calum Macleod reflects on a rollercoaster week of activity following the UK's decision to leave the European Union and the unknown landscape ahead for UK policing.
This time last week the country was beginning to absorb the news that the UK was to leave the European Union, something many leave voters didn't even think would actually happen.
Since then I'm not sure we've ever quite seen such a rollercoaster seven days in UK politics, all of which will impact on us both personally and professionally.
A new Prime Minister is a definite, a new leader of the opposition a strong possibility and a new Shadow Policing Minister a certainty. The question on a second vote for independence in Scotland hangs in the air and we could even be headed to the polling stations again in the autumn for a general election. Who would have scripted all this last Thursday afternoon? Not me!
Most significant for us is the almost certain changing of the guard in the Home Office with Theresa May yesterday declaring her ambitions for the top job. In doing so, she cited how she had taken on our organisation where many said she couldn’t. However, warnings are not actions. We ourselves recognised the need for change and through the commissioning of the Independent Review by Sir David Normington, took proactive steps to ensure we set out on that journey, for the benefit of our members and ultimately for those we are trusted to protect, the public.
We are only halted in our ambition to achieve many of the aims set by a lack of legislative support. Any effective relationship has to work two ways. All the good work we have done to reform this organisation has to be supported by the very people who continue to call for change.
We have suffered a rough ride in recent years to say the least, with continuing financial cuts year-on-year and a reduction of some 17,000 officers and 17,000 police staff since 2010.
Official statistics paint a false picture of reducing crime with many areas going uncaptured and only reflective of a small proportion of what police actually do. For example missing person’s enquiries and monitoring sex offenders aren’t included but are a huge drain on resources. Other areas such as violent crime and sexual assaults are in fact increasing. The cost of combatting this is one we won’t soon be able to afford.
It is one of ever-increasing workloads, a result of cuts elsewhere in the public sector, emerging areas of priority crime including fraud and cybercrime and areas of previously under-reported crime including child sexual exploitation. This in turn is impacting massively on our workforce with increasing stress and mental health related illness and a subsequent lack of support to effectively manage this. Our recent welfare survey found that over 60% of officers went to work even though they felt they shouldn’t because of their state of mind and when they did seek support it was often unavailable or inadequate.
Sadly we’ve also seen the dark side of what such a big decision of leaving the EU can bring with a spike in hate crime since the ballot papers were counted. Speaking yesterday, the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Chief Constable Sara Thornton, outlined how police across the country are playing a crucial role in helping people feel safe and secure about being themselves and going about their lives. This is something our officers do every day of every week but in a time of heightened tension this becomes ever more crucial and I know every one of them will meet the challenge.
All the ongoing change, chaos, turmoil, call it what you will, is set against a background of an ongoing and significant threat from terrorism. The events in Paris in November, Brussels in April and in Turkey this week make it fundamental that we must continue to effectively share information with partner law enforcement agencies, in or out of the EU, to ensure the security of our country.
One thing we can be sure of is that we are heading into unchartered waters for UK policing in the coming months and years. Echoing the comments of our General Secretary, Andy Fittes, last week, what other changes will take place and what these will mean for those we represent remains to be seen. What is important is that we will involve ourselves in those discussions and negotiations throughout for the benefits of our members.