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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 09:30 GMT
Blunkett's bold plans for police reform
police on beat patrol
The home secretary wants more time spent on the beat
Jon Silverman

The last time a home secretary set out such an ambitious plan to modernise the police he ended up with a bloody nose.

In the early 1990s, infuriated by what he considered to be incompetent leadership and inflexible working practices, Kenneth Clarke set up an inquiry into police conditions under Sir Patrick Sheehy.

Sir Patrick's key proposal was performance (or appraisal) related pay and it was roundly defeated after a highly-motivated campaign by the Police Federation.

Although peace was restored between ministers and the police, this left a host of issues - such as pensions, sick leave and overtime allowances - unresolved.

Many fronts

Now, David Blunkett - with his agenda to reform the public services - is seeking to grasp some of these unplucked nettles.

It is characteristic of the current home secretary to attack on a number of fronts.

It is only part of his brief to reform working practices and bring the police into the 21st Century.

Home Secretary David Blunkett
David Blunkett wants to compare forces
He also wants the police (and others) to be far more effective in tackling anti-social behaviour and low-level crime.

These "others" include neighbourhood, park and traffic wardens who will become part of what he calls "the extended police family".

They will not have the power of arrest but, wearing a uniform of some kind, they will be highly visible in the community.

The police will also be relieved of some of the tedious and time-consuming paperwork which follows an arrest and keeps them off the beat for almost half of their working day.

More money

But this too, was "tackled" with a blaze of publicity by a former Home Secretary, Michael Howard, and does not seem to have made an iota of difference.

What may be more effective this time in keeping the best officers on the "front line" is more money.

The aim is to devise a new pay structure which rewards those who do dangerous, difficult or community-related jobs rather than gives them an incentive to do a desk job.

Another intention is to keep the most experienced officers rather than see them retire with 30 years under their belt.

Possible interference

But changing the pension structure of the police is a mighty task and will take a lot more negotiating with the staff side.

For chief constables, the most contentious issue is possible interference in their autonomy by the new central standards unit.

This will monitor performance by Basic Command Units - especially detection and conviction rates - and try to bring the worst-performing forces up to the level of the best.

Not quite a league table on the lines of those for schools and hospitals, it will introduce an element of competition which may breed uncertainty and resentment.

But if public confidence is boosted, the package will be seen as a success by the government.

See also:

05 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett to unveil radical police reform
02 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Plan to reform 'failing' police
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Police anger over Blunkett reforms
12 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett reveals police reform plans
11 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Top police recruits to be fast-tracked
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