No, Sir Hugh Orde, the police reforms should not skip a beat08 July 2011
The Government's U-turn on the NHS earlier this year was a moment that will have consequences throughout this parliament. It was certainly bad news for the National Health Service. But just as importantly, it set a precedent that has given encouragement to opponents of change across the public sector.
This week, the Association of Chief Police Officers duly called for the precedent to be repeated with the Government's police reforms. Acpo, which represents the senior ranks of the police forces of England and Wales, called for a "pause" – on exactly the same model as the "pause" in the NHS reforms.
It wants ministers to delay and dilute their plans to create new elected officials that can hold police forces to account. It wants the police budget to be protected from cuts in the way that the NHS budget has been. In general, it wants the Government to take its foot off the accelerator, to "listen to the profession" and to enjoy a long and sustained rethink. It wants a U-turn in all but name.
In truth, a "pause" is the last thing that the police need. Of course, no organisation reacts to a budget cut with a heartfelt hallelujah, and any change represents a challenge. But in fact, the police would emerge from the Government's reforms in very good shape. The budget cuts will help them confront the essential challenge of getting value for money. The elected officials will clarify what people want from their forces, and will begin to build new trust between officers and communities. In two years' time, the police will be on the front foot and be able to look forward with confidence.
The NHS, by contrast, will be in a very difficult place. The "pause" hasn't solved the service's problems: it has created the conditions for chaos, confusion and an absence of leadership. Above all, it will waste at least two years, during which around £10 billion in savings should have been generated (only a little less than the annual cost of the entire police service). In two years' time, both the NHS and the Treasury will regret that decision: the health service will have deteriorated, and the answers to its problems won't have got any easier.