Reforming the Home Office: A modern vision for a Great Department of State – video and speech transcript

Check against delivery.

Thank you, Charlie. It is a pleasure to be speaking to Reform once again. You are always a great audience – but your role in the debate about public sector reform and how we can deliver better, cheaper and more accountable services, and delivering more for less, makes this occasion particularly apt

Of course reform isn’t always easy. But whenever I’m asked at the Home Office whether we really need to change the way we do things, I think about an incident that happened last year. I was having a meeting in my office when part way through a conversation, the telephone on my desk rang. My private secretary got up to take the call. When she finished the call, she was looking perplexed. “You are never going to believe this,” she said, “But that was the IT department. They want to know if they still need to come up to your office… to fix the problem with Charles Clarke’s computer.”

Yes, that’s right. For those of you that do not remember, Charles Clarke was the Home Secretary in 2006. I know they say the wheels of government turn slowly but even Sir Humphrey would be aghast!

Of course things aren’t really that slow at the Home Office. My officials there are smart, dedicated and work with a tremendous spirit of public service. But when I first arrived at the Home Office in 2010 what I found – in almost every part of its business – was a culture, a set of systems, an institutional framework that held officials back and prevented them from delivering for citizens, partners and taxpayers. What the last five years have shown most powerfully is how reform can not only make savings for the taxpayer, but also radically improve outcomes for the public.

Lessons from police reform

Nowhere is that lesson more profound than in policing.

Back in 2010, the problems in policing were painfully apparent.

The leadership was political and perverse. There was an unaccountable, corporatist, centralised model of governance, known as the tri-partite, in which the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities ran policing across England and Wales.

Accountability to the public was diffuse and opaque. Theoretically local forces were held to account by unelected police authorities, yet only seven per cent of the public even knew they existed. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary was led and staffed by former chief constables. And serious and sensitive complaints against the police were all too often investigated by the very force that was the subject of the ongoing grievance.

Police productivity was held down by targets and key performance indicators set by the Home Office – and which meant priorities were dictated by Whitehall, rather than local need.

And the systems that underpinned policing were fragmented, expensive and out of date. From ICT to procurement and specialist units, 43 forces were doing everything separately, spending £1 billion every year on 4,000 people operating 2,000 separate ICT systems, and buying everything from police uniforms to batons 43 times and at varying prices. And because reform to police pay, terms and conditions had been resisted by the Police Federation, officers were rewarded for time served, not skills gained or outcomes achieved.

The culture in policing benefited no one – not the police officers, nor the public they served nor the taxpayer who paid for it. Not only were officer workloads bloated by waste and bureaucracy, but because you could only enter policing at the bottom, it was closed to outside talent, thinking was insular, and it was difficult for some people to progress.

So when I became Home Secretary, the case for reform was plain to see. I did not try to reform the system in one fell swoop – as chief constables may have liked – by top-down restructuring of the 43 force model from my office in Whitehall. Nor was it the time for a Royal Commission, which the Police Federation have called for virtually every year since the last commission in 1983.

Instead, I set about implementing an urgent programme of methodical, yet radical, reform. I systematically overhauled each aspect of policing – bringing about those things that successful public services depend on most of all: strong institutions, proper accountability, real productivity, efficient systems, and a culture which rewards the right things.

I swept away outdated and inadequate institutions. I gave policing back to the police, and made the Home Office focus on those things that only government can do. We created the College of Policing – run by the police, for the police – to set standards, training and establish an evidence base for what works in cutting crime. We replaced SOCA with the National Crime Agency – a powerful crime-fighting body with the clout to get to grips with organised crime.

We brought in proper, local accountability through police and crime commissioners, beat meetings and crime maps. In Sir Tom Winsor, I appointed the first Chief Inspector of Constabulary for 45 years not to have been a serving chief constable, and, through its PEEL inspection programme, HMIC has shown that it is not afraid to say hard truths to chief constables on their force’s efficiency. And the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been beefed up so that in future it can take on all serious and sensitive cases.

We improved productivity by scrapping all government targets but one – to cut crime –  and giving officers back their professional discretion. We prised open the closed shop of policing by introducing direct entry and supporting new schemes like Police Now to bring the best and the brightest graduates into policing for the first time.

And we got on with the gritty and unglamorous business of improving the systems of policing. It may have been a struggle, but the Police ICT company – funded by forces – is now up and running. In one recent initiative, it saved £300,000  by reducing 43 arrangements with a common supplier down to a single contract. We supported forces to come together to buy goods and services, and now more than 80 per cent of police procurement is done collaboratively. And following the Winsor Review, we delivered an up to date system of pay and conditions that rewards skills and frontline service, not just time served.

Not only did we deliver this quiet revolution in policing, but we did so while improving outcomes for the public and their communities. Crime is down by more than a quarter, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales. Public confidence in the police has remained strong. And police officers are now more likely to be deployed in front line roles – like neighbourhood policing or patrol – than at any other time in modern policing history.

And the striking thing is we were able to deliver these changes not despite spending cuts but because of them – by focusing our minds and forcing us to look critically at how we deliver services. That important point has lessons for the rest of the Home Office.

The roof did not fall in

In the last Parliament, the Home Office did not shy away from the challenge of deficit reduction. Between the 2010 and 2015 general elections, I reduced the Home Office budget by 30 per cent in real terms – the equivalent police constables showed extraordinary innovation and creativity to find £1.5 billion of savings in local police force budgets. And leaving aside the counter-terrorism budget – which is rightly protected – we reduced overall taxpayer funding in the rest of the department by 52 per cent in real terms, through both spending cuts and changes to the visa charges system.

And just as with policing, far from the roof falling in, services and security have in fact improved.

Since 2010, we have excluded more hate preachers than any government before us. We cleared the backlog in asylum, increased the number of visas issued to genuine applicants and reduced appeal success rates since 2010. The border is also more secure, with higher drugs seizures, better detections of illegal immigrants and more targeted activity than in 2010.

We have supported growth by issuing more passports and processing more visas. And we have increased the number of international students coming to study at Russell Group universities, while cracking down on more than 900 bogus colleges that had abused the system.

The principles of reform in this Parliament

So as we approach the next phase of reform, we do so as living proof that it can be done. And I am clear that we must undertake our work in this Parliament with the same methodical and meticulous approach that we took in the last.

Not just because eliminating the deficit and building a strong economy requires further savings to be found. But because we enter the next five years facing a new set of challenges, and we must change the way we work to meet them head on.

The world is more global and more dynamic. More people and goods cross national borders, and more communications and payments cross the internet than ever before. If we are to continue building an immigration system that is fair to British citizens and people who come here legitimately to play by the rules and contribute to our society, we must ensure that it is balanced, sustainable and that net migration can be managed.

We also face a multi-faceted terror threat: at home, overseas, and online, and the threat shows no sign of abating.  In the last year, six significant terror plots have been disrupted here in the UK; more than 750 extremists from this country have travelled to Syria since the start of that conflict; and we now remove over 4,000 pieces of terrorist or extremism content from the internet a month.

Crime is falling but it is changing, too. Traditional crimes have been driven down, but cyber crime and fraud can create hundreds of thousands of victims with a single click of the mouse, from another country entirely.

We are only just beginning to shine a light on previously under-reported crimes, like rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking and modern slavery, where victims are only now coming forward with confidence and the authorities are only now treating their claims with the seriousness they deserve.

And our faith in institutions has been shaken repeatedly, from continuing revelations in regard to the death of Stephen Lawrence to the shocking revelations of historical child sexual abuse that went unchecked in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford.

This pace of change is destabilising for people and communities, who expect the government to control the border, keep them safe and enforce the rules.

If we want to meet their expectations, there are five important things we must get right. The right institutions and structures. Accountable governance. High productivity. Efficient systems that serve those operating them, rather than the other way round. And a culture that embraces change and is open to new ideas and people.

The right institutions

Having put in place a new institutional framework in the last Parliament, we must strengthen it in the next. I have already set out how we have established a new order in policing, with chief constables and PCCs in charge of crime fighting in their local areas. As crime changes, these new institutions must lead the response. So next month I will bring together chief constables and police and crime commissioners to consider how complex or specialist capabilities, like firearms, financial crime or cyber units, can be delivered between forces or in regional organised crime units, and how the National Crime Agency can better lead the fight nationally and internationally against serious and organised threats.

In the immigration system, the three successor bodies to the dysfunctional UK Border Agency – UK Visas and Immigration, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force – will lead the effort to protect our borders, support prosperity, and reduce immigration to sustainable levels. But this work must now extend beyond the Home Office, across all of government. In the last few weeks, we have seen joint enforcement activity involving not just the Home Office, but HMRC, Trading Standards, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the NHS, and the CQC. That must be the rule, not the exception in the next five years.

And the centre must reform too. My Permanent Secretary, Mark Sedwill, has already established a comprehensive review of the Home Office headquarters – so that the top of the organisation is slimmer, more flexible and better able to provide the leadership required. And I have set up a new Counter-Extremism Directorate, to be headed by a new Director General, to lead the generational fight against extremism and build a new partnership with communities to counter those who seek to divide us.

Accountability to the people we are there to serve

Our institutions are now accountable, but the challenge in this Parliament will be to ensure that level of accountability across the system. In May, the public will hold their police and crime commissioners to account in the most powerful way possible – at the ballot box. The next step, which I will set out in the Police and Criminal Justice Bill, will be to allow that directly elected system of governance to extend to fire and rescue services, police complaints and other services – so that local services are accountable to the people they serve.

And we must bring accountability to the immigration system too, by rewarding those who play by the rules, for example with faster processing, lower costs and less onerous inspection. And cracking down on those who abuse the system, not just with penalties but by limiting their ability to benefit from immigration in the future. Because coming to work, study or visit this country, or sponsoring people to do so, is not an unqualified right but a privilege with strict conditions attached.

And as we prepare to give our law enforcement agencies and security services the powers they need to keep us safe in a digital age, we must also bring much greater levels of accountability and transparency to their sensitive work. That is at the heart of the Investigatory Powers Bill I introduced last week: a single bill to replace decades of obscure and opaque legislation, a double lock of authorisation for the use of the most sensitive powers, and a world-leading oversight regime through the new Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

Higher productivity

Having abolished targets in policing, we must use the same approach to improve productivity elsewhere. That means measuring success not by resources deployed, but by outcomes delivered. Detections and seizures at the border. Customer satisfaction of passport and visas services. Crime, not targets.

It means getting decisions right first time, especially in immigration and asylum cases. Because when we don’t, it’s not only a waste of taxpayer’s money, but it undermines confidence in the system for the public, and for those for whom the final judgement about their case takes far too long.

Efficient systems

And technology and data must be harnessed to reform the way the Home Office does business – in every way. Her Majesty’s Passport Office shows what can be done. You will shortly be able to apply for, renew and update your passport online with limited or no human intervention.

Use of biometric visas and analysis of exit checks data will transform the way we tackle illegal migration. The new Emergency Services Network will allow police, law enforcement and emergency services to develop and use mobile apps to improve the service to victims, better catch criminals and spend more time on the front line. And e-gates at the border will free up border officers for more targeted activity, while actually delivering a higher level of security.

A culture that rewards the right things

And I am committed to embedding a better culture. In the past, we have been too accepting of a mentality which is closed to external ideas and a bureaucracy that hinders our ability to deliver. So I will give officials greater discretion over how they do their jobs and introduce greater flexibility in how resources are used across the department.

And we will support greater diversity. Because while the Home Office has a proud record on diversity, and nearly a quarter of staff are currently black or minority ethnic, it remains the case that hardly any senior civil servants are from BME backgrounds. So we must go further, through initiatives like blind recruitment, which the Prime Minister recently announced – to set the example for police forces, our agencies and our suppliers that we must represent the people we serve.

The outcomes we hope to achieve

If we stick to these principles, if we reform radically along those lines, we will meet the challenge of the changing world, even with lower budgets.

For citizens, the Home Office will be less bureaucratic and more accessible. Services will increasingly be digital and more convenient, from visa and passport services to reporting non-emergency crimes.

For those we seek to disrupt, the Home Office will be harder to evade. Criminals, extremists and illegal immigrants will find law enforcement using all of its tools, data and technology to disrupt, investigate and prosecute their activities. Extremists and terrorists will find themselves outnumbered by the much greater mainstream majority – whether they are online, in neighbourhoods, or on the airwaves.

And for those that work in the Home Office, there will also be a profound change. There is no escaping the fact that spending reductions may lead to there being fewer people, fewer buildings and less room for error.

But the changes we will make will improve what we do and how we do it by using better technology. Individual discretion and greater organisational flexibility. Flatter structures and clearer accountability. And above all a strong sense of purpose.

A Great Department of State

I have spoken up until now about the business of reform. I have talked about the services, the budgets and the people of the Home Office, and how they must change to respond to the changing operational and financial reality, and what services might look like as a result.

In the run up to a Spending Review, it is right that we focus on these matters. Over the last five years we have got on with the difficult task of halving the deficit, cutting taxes and reforming public services. And in a few weeks time, the Chancellor will announce how we will redouble our efforts across Whitehall in the next five years.

But in our preoccupation with the business of reform, we must not forget its purpose. Because reform is not the end in itself, but the means to creating a better life and better public services for people up and down the country.

And nowhere is the purpose of reform more pressing than in the department I have the honour of leading.

By its nature, it has always been easy to identify the Home Office with control. After all, it oversees the pursuit of terrorists, the removal and deportation of illegal immigrants, and the investigation and arrest of criminals. It protects the security of the British passport and ensures the integrity of the visa and asylum systems. The Home Office is a serious department, and we should always take seriously our responsibility – above all others in Whitehall – to keep this country safe, at home, abroad and online.

But at its heart, the Home Office is about people. Its mission is to keep the public safe and secure so that they can have a better life. And in my time as Home Secretary, I have been determined that the Home Office takes on those tough, stubborn issues that matter to people.

Issues that in the past have been too frequently ignored. Like child sexual abuse and domestic abuse, which have gone hidden, overlooked or dismissed for decades. I believe that as a country we have yet to face up to what has gone before. But thanks to the tremendous courage of survivors we are now starting to understand the scale of what has been going on for decades, and sadly continues to this day.

Or the shamefully high use of police cells for people sectioned under the Mental Health Act – people with mental health problems and who have committed no crime – purely because of a lack of a safe and suitable health-based alternative.

Issues that are difficult to spot. Like the evil of modern slavery, the perpetrators of which continue to trick and force vulnerable people into a horrendous existence of exploitation, forced prostitution and inhumane labour – nearly two hundred years after the slave trade was abolished in this country.

Or subversion of our values by extremists of all kinds who seek to divide communities and cause great harm – not just through violence, but through intolerance and bigotry, the erosion of women’s rights, and the undermining of religious and democratic freedoms.

Issues that are sometimes even harder to confront. Like the pervasive misuse of sensitive police powers of stop and search which wastes police time and has instilled in some communities a distrust of the police that has yet to subside.

And the breakdown of trust in policing as a result of historic failures like Hillsborough and Rotherham, the flawed investigations into the deaths of Stephen Lawrence and Daniel Morgan, and the undercover and unaccountable dealings of the Special Demonstration Squad.

These are issues which demonstrate the very purpose of reform, and in every case I have acted. I made clear that reform was necessary not just to save money or improve a process – but so that people can get the life they deserve.

And while there is still work to do, the results are encouraging. Traffickers are being exposed and imprisoned; survivors of child sexual abuse are coming forward and perpetrators punished; fewer young, black men are being stopped and searched purely because of the colour of their skin; people suffering a mental health crisis are much more likely to be greeted by care and support rather than a cell and handcuffs.

This list is not exhaustive. And in future there will be other injustices to confront. We are already dealing with issues like the lack of diversity in policing, and the fact that there are some forces without a single black police officer.. And the unprecedented crisis in Syria and the extraordinary movement of people across the continent will be one of the biggest issues that European societies will face in the next 25 years.

These are the problems my Home Office deals with on a day to day basis. And the business of reform may sometimes seem procedural and administrative, but issues like these are not solved by budgets and processes alone. They must be tackled by a combination of common sense, compassion and conviction.


Because if we focus too heavily on the business of reform, if we define it narrowly in purely technocratic terms, it is all too easy to forget why we are doing it and who we are doing it for.

That is why, every year since I became Home Secretary I have stood in the Atrium of the Home Office, and said two things to the officials. Firstly – as I have set out today – that the Home Office is a Great Department of State. And secondly – as I have described – that what we do in the Home Office has a greater effect on the people of this country than any other government department.

The last Parliament showed that more with less is possible. The experience in policing proves this perhaps more than any public service. As I have said before, there is no doubt that we will have to go on delivering more with less, but through reform, by reducing demand for public services and investing in the right ways to release efficiency savings down the line, it is possible.

And in this Parliament, reform in the Home Office will be more than a technocratic process. It will not end at the end of the Spending Review. It will be fundamental, urgent and radical. It will have a purpose, and a deeply important one at that.

Thank you.






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