29 December 2012
Last updated at 22:56 ET
The Home Affairs Committee chairman warns of weakened public support for the police
Public confidence in the police has been hurt by a “dangerous cocktail” of controversies including the critical Hillsborough report and Andrew Mitchell “plebgate” row, a senior MP has warned.
Labour’s Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, also said government restructuring of the service had undermined police morale.
He urged talks between government and police at this “defining moment”.
The committee begins an inquiry into police practices next month.
This will look into issues of training, accountability and integrity, and the effectiveness of processes for dealing with internal corruption and malpractice.
Writing in the Sunday Express, Mr Vaz said: “Crime may be low but confidence in the police service appears just as low and their morale is even lower.”
About the “plebgate” row, Mr Vaz wrote: “What appears to have happened to Andrew Mitchell could well have been a Christmas special script. The chief whip had to resign following a 60-second ‘incident’ in, of all places, Downing Street.”
Mr Mitchell’s resignation followed an accusation that, during an argument while leaving Downing Street on his bicycle in September, he had called police officers “plebs” – a claim he has always denied.
CCTV footage has since emerged appearing to cast doubt on officers’ version of events, and a serving Met police constable has been arrested on suspicion of misconduct in a public office and suspended from duty.
Mr Vaz went on: “Take a police officer apparently masquerading as a member of the public, a confidential log book finding its way into the public domain, add the results of the Hillsborough Inquiry, which have resulted in thousands of serving and former police officers being investigated, and the fact that 26 out of the 43 police forces do not have a permanent chief constable, and you have a dangerous cocktail.
“This is a defining moment for policing. Cool heads, clear thoughts and strong leadership are required.”
However, while he acknowledged that some restructuring of policing was needed, he said the government’s changes had been “too rapid and too far-reaching”.
Currently almost half of officers questioned said they would prefer a different job, Mr Vaz suggested, and more than 90% felt the force lacked government support.
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The big questions now are what do we want from our police service and how much are we prepared to pay for it?”
Chairman, Commons Home Affairs Committee
“Some of the causes of disquiet are not the result of change but of the way change has been handled.
“One of the first rules of management is to ensure that during a period of radical change you carry your workforce with you. Unfortunately this has not happened,” he said.
“With these profound changes taking place the last thing you should do is start to alter the pay and conditions of those who will implement the reforms without entering into a proper dialogue with them.
“The Government was wrong to change police pension arrangements retrospectively. It was unfair and forced out a number of experienced officers.”
Mr Vaz argued that the prime minister had to open “a constructive dialogue with the police service” that would continue at annual summits involving senior officers.
“The big questions now are what do we want from our police service and how much are we prepared to pay for it?” he said.
“We need a Royal Commission that sets out a new Magna Carta for policing in this century.”