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20 April 2012 - Police Privatisation - A Threat to Policing by Consent - Myth or Reality?

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Since May 2010 we have witnessed 20% cuts to police budgets, Winsor's alleged independent reports into police pay & conditions, the privatisation debate and pension woes. In a previous blog I have shown how many, if not all, of these are linked to further the privatisation agenda.

Last week, the Home Secretary proclaimed Tom Winsor as the preferred candidate to be the next Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (CIHMIC). This provoked a firestorm of outrage - twitter went into overdrive.

As the dust settled I was left wondering whether in reality there were two issues within the announcement. Firstly, and the most vexatious, Tom Winsor's appointment! Secondly, could anybody, devoid of police experience, be able to perform that role. Would we have seen such an outcry if almost anyone else had been appointed? I suspect not. I will leave this for others to debate, as they already are, and turn my attention to Tom Winsor.

Tom Winsor has become the "bogey-man" for police officers. He is seen as the man who, despite assurances to the contrary, has done the Home Secretary's bidding over police terms & conditions. His two reports have been accepted by the Home Secretary lock, stock & two smoking barrels. Is it just a coincidence that he has managed to produce scores of recommendations that have just happened to coincide with the Home Secretary's views? I am of the firm view this was pre-ordained, payback for earlier victories over Sheehy in the 1990s. I have been told so by Michael Fallon MP (Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party) a man presumably in the know!

The advert for CIHMIC called for a candidate with a profound knowledge of policing and an inspirational leader. On the basis that Tom Winsor required the services of police advisor (Sir Edward Crew - former chief constable) for his two reports, it is fair to conclude his application should have fallen at the "profound knowledge hurdle". Could he be an inspirational leader? In fairness, he did in part inspire 35,000 off duty police officers to march in protest through the streets of London. However, I'm not quite sure that counts!

When judged against chief constable applicants for role, it does beggar belief that, in the words of Nick Herbert, Tom Winsor triumphed as "by far" the best candidate for the job.

So, what is the motivation for Tom Winsor's appointment? Police officers will view this as a £200,000 per annum reward for his reports. Tom Winsor will be seen as a Home Office "placeman", there to do their bidding. PCCs will have political control at a local level and the Home Office will have political control at the top. It is a recipe for the politicisation of policing and, like privatisation, it is happening in a piecemeal way. I suspect that once Tom Winsor is in post, we will see an acceleration of the privatisation agenda.

Is his appointment a piece of ill-judged provocation? I suspect the Home Secretary has bigger fish to fry than the simple provocation of police officers. This is about political control. The provocation is a welcome by-product of her real agenda; a welcome payback for Conference perhaps.

In conclusion, whilst I don't see provocation as the motive for Tom Winsor's appointment, it is however an ill-judged appointment. It is difficult to find a commentator who thinks it isn't. One think tank has described the move as "risky if not reckless". It is plain that such a move would provoke police officers, not a wise move when relationships are already at an all-time low. Far from aggravating this relationship, the Home Secretary has political, social and professional responsibilities to do all she can to improve it. There is a real need for such an improvement; this constant state of war is not good for us, for her or, more importantly, for the public. If there was any chance of this happening I fear that chance has now been lost.

Ian Pointon


Kent Police Federation.