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Gavin Lockhart: This is an opportunity to mend the broken Met

Gavin Lockhart is Head of the Crime and Justice Unit at Policy Exchange. The think-tank has covered police reform in a range of its reports including Manifesto for the Met, Footing the Bill and Fitting the Bill. Policy Exchange published Million Vote Mandate in conjunction with Localis earlier this year.

Despite a fall in some crime rates in London over the past decade, people still feel threatened by what they believe are escalating problems associated with antisocial behaviour by disruptive youths and violent crime in their neighbourhoods. And in common with many, Londoners feel that there is a general lack of respect, discipline and leadership whether at home, in schools or on the city's streets. The yearly cost of crime is still £400 for every Londoner - increased accountability and greater pressure on local authorities would help cut this bill.

Four weeks ago Sir Ian Blair angrily denied that he was being ousted from his job as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. But although police insiders were surprised by the timing of the statement, Blair's resignation was increasingly likely after he lost the confidence of the public, his senior commanders and the Mayor of London. The Acting Commissioner's in-tray is testing: the inquest into the death of Mr de Menezes and investigation of claims that Blair influenced the award of contracts worth 3 million will both be completed in the next few months.

But this is not just a story of one man's failure to do his job properly. It is about a system that is broken. London needs a new Police Commissioner who will reform the Met and the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA). With a workforce of nearly 30,000 officers, 14,000 police staff and a large share of the national policing budget, the Metropolitan Police Service is amongst the most challenging and complex organisations in the nation to manage. But it is also overly bureaucratic (in 2005/6 the force spent £122 million on "non-incident related paperwork"), top heavy and has a poor record of delivery.

Pinning down the accountability structure for London's police is difficult. The Commissioner of the Met is accountable to the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Mayor, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Greater London Assembly. The Mayor cannot order the Met police to prioritise certain types of crimes. The Metropolitan Police Authority sets the Met's budget and appoints its senior ranks.

Policy Exchange has long argued that that the MPA should be abolished and that the Commissioner should be directly accountable to the Mayor. This would help drive the fight against crime in London and give Londoners a clear sense of who is leading the charge. More recently in Million Vote Mandate, Policy Exchange and Localis suggested that the Commissioner's office should be stripped of its national responsibilities for counter-terrorism while the British Transport police should be incorporated into the Met. These changes would mean that a separate national counter-terrorism police force would be independent of Scotland Yard, giving the Met a clear local focus on policing London. These structural changes are essential, but there are other changes which could improve the Met's performance.

Met finance needs to be reviewed. At present, there is no effective financial accountability in the Met. And the MPA hasn't got a grip on it either. The 6 million credit card scandal earlier this year, during which nearly a quarter of 3,500 credit cards issued to Scotland Yard detectives were withdrawn should spur to the new chair of the MPA into action.

A recent article in the Evening Standard reported that the financial cost of sickness "abstractions" for the London Metropolitan police totaled 36 million a year, with officers "signed off on conditions including insect bites, colds and vertigo". Absenteeism is a litmus test of good management and the level of "abstractions" - the proportion of police officer posts that are considered 'non-operational' - remains a barrier to effective policing. CompStat was famously used in New York to provide a focus on issues in each neighbourhood. Policy Exchange suggests that a similar, transparent management system that encourages local focus should be used to reduce abstractions. Publishing the actual (not rostered) number of reactive police officers in a given area at any one time would be powerful incentive for local commanders to cut the number of police officers 'off sick'.

A close link between police, the local authority and the public is required for the Met to be effective. Confident that London residents would support him, the Mayor should press the Government to change financial regulations so that the council tax police precept can be spent within the local authority area or the BCU in which it was raised.  While the police can identify problems that may generate antisocial behaviour, it will be the local authority that has the resources to respond to them. For a decade successive crime audits have highlighted the importance of social factors in both antisocial and criminal behaviour, and the significant role that can be played by the local authority in dealing with this behaviour. Relevant powers and responsibilities such as education, liquor & public entertainment licensing are still not used to full effect. Performance management has increased bureaucracy and stifled innovation, distracting police from focusing on the safety of the communities they serve. Local commanders lack the control over resources to ensure that decisions are taken as close to the point of delivery as feasible.

Boris Johnson has taken control of the Metropolitan Police Authority this week. The Mayor and the new Commissioner must ensure the opportunity for reform is seized.


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