Blair Gibbs

Policing the local and the national

Today’s announcement on a proposed new National Crime Agency (NCA) is a key element in the government’s ambitious police reform agenda.  Recent political attention has focused on changes to police pay and conditions and budget reductions, but the structural reforms that Theresa May and Nick Herbert are pursuing matter more in the long-term.  And before it is dismissed as another attempt to create a “British FBI”, the background and rationale for the NCA is worth exploring.

The NCA is much more than a rebranding of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) – the troubled organisation set up by Charles Clarke.  Instead it is one part of a major recalibration of our policing arrangements, the other being elected Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs).  Both should be seen together as a joint attempt to resolve an ongoing national/local tension in British policing over accountability and where responsibility should rest.  Nick Herbert has spoken about the policing paradox that until now has meant that too much of the local was monopolised by the Home Office, but the national was neglected even as the problem of serious crime grew.

The first step was to get the Home Office out of local policing, and the devolution of oversight to elected PCCs from May next year will be the first time a major public service has been under direct democratic governance and it is the best expression – along with new city mayors – of the coalition’s localism agenda.  But the Home Office’s devolution agenda cannot succeed without a stronger national capability as well – in that sense the creation of PCCs and the NCA are two sides of the same coin.

The new national agency is not a betrayal of localism policies but their natural corollary. 

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