Comment: Our compromise on policing reform

By Julie Nesbit

Later today, former rail regulator Tom Winsor will appear before the home affairs select committee, theoretically to be interviewed by Keith Vaz’s group of cross-party MP’s. But on Thursday last week, the home secretary confirmed what we’ve known for a month – it doesn’t matter what the committee says about Winsor’s suitability for the role he's been selected for. It’s the home secretary's decision and a decision she’s going to stick with. This does beg the question of the point of today’s appearance, but perhaps that question is best answered by politicians, journalists and constitutional experts. For the time being, Winsor is set to become HM chief inspector of constabulary (HMIC).

Asked by political journalist Adel Darwish whether she would re-open the selection process if the committee called for it, Theresa May said Vaz's group of MPs “cannot make me re-open the selection process”. Darwish then suggested the appointment “looks personal”. May responded: "This isn’t about stamping my authority, it’s about choosing the best candidate for the job”.

This is pretty unambiguous language and a de facto acknowledgement from the home secretary that not everyone backs her decision to appoint the first never-warranted individual in the history of the HMIC role.

So we, the constables of the Police Federation can either continue to fight the impossible battle to urge Theresa May to think again, or we can – and must – use this opportunity to say 'yes'. In common with all police officers, we have major concerns about the selection process. We are surprised a man will be appointed to a job, supposedly independent of government, which will involve the inspection of sections of his own report, again notionally independent of government, at the personal recommendation of a senior government minister.

But realistically, we are resigned to the controversial appointment and we must be absolutely clear that we will work with whoever succeeds Sir Denis O’Connor. So let’s start work now.

Firstly, Mr Winsor is going to have a huge job winning the respect of police officers, who have just been told that they must work longer, pay more and get less in retirement – assuming that they’re not sacked or made redundant under his proposals. There will be understandable concerns that Winsor may find it impossible to independently evaluate which of his own proposals genuinely improve the police service and which serve to hinder it. If he’s wise, he will seek to address these concerns from day one.

Officers will want to hear that the HMIC will examine the issue from scratch. We’ll want to know that constables, as well as chief officers, will be listened to – including on issues of work practice, shift patterns, conditions of service and yes, frankly, morale.

The bottom line is that police officers are the public, and the public are police officers. As members of the public with policing experience, we want Tom Winsor and the government to hear our message: We will work with you, but 20% cuts are too deep and public safety is already being compromised.

Julie Nesbit is chairman of the Constables Committee of the Police Federation of England and Wales.

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