How to keep a country safe

30 July 2014

The Coalition Government is implementing fiscal consolidation on an historic scale, and there is widespread agreement that consolidation will continue well into the next Parliament. This Government has undertaken significant reform of the police and criminal justice system. In addition to a real terms decline of 23 per cent for the Ministry of Justice and Home Office budgets in this spending review, there have been substantial structural reforms across the system. Reform held a private roundtable to explore the challenges of continuing reform in the context of the expected further budget reductions as part of Reform’s major research programme on “How to run a country”.

Responsibility for probation, prisons and rehabilitation was moved from the Home Office in 2007 into the newly created Ministry of Justice. Both departments continue to work closely together and despite having non-ringfenced budgets that have taken a large share of the cuts, crime has continued to fall under this Government; proving that better services do not rely on increases in spending. The necessity and incentive for the departments to work together is that budget and structure decisions made in one, can directly affect the demand experienced by the other. To meet the continued pressures of evolving crime, such as cyber-crime, and further pressure on budgets, both upstream and downstream solutions must be considered across the criminal justice system. Prevention of crime, thereby reducing the demand on the public sector, will require less resource and provide savings and efficiencies across all departments.

These solutions could include more collaborative approaches across the entire public service sector, upgrading courts and smarter policing technology, more effective rehabilitation and different types of sentencing, including community sentencing and restorative justice. However, crime is evolving quicker than it is detected or legislated for, so there is a necessity to stay ahead of the criminal; technology is increasingly providing the means to do this and a higher degree of specialisation to tackle more complex crime.

Experience across public services has proven that what works to prevent increasing demand is: localism, multiplicity, multiagency and holistic solutions. These, together with shared services and economies of scale, must be considered in order to join up services at every level and across all departments. The Troubled Families programme is an example of this with 52,833 of the 120,000 most troubled families in England put back on track by local authority teams since April 2012. This kind of approach across the system could offer further savings across not just both but all government departments. A failure to take hard decisions now will have long term implications for the entire criminal justice system, and could compound existing problems.

With any large-scale changes there is a need to improve the skills and competence of the people delivering the services. Structural change may not be necessary, but a better use of skills and resources is vital. Information sharing across silos will remain key and reduce duplication of effort or in fact departments, perhaps unwittingly, working against each other as well as increasing understanding of the consequences of decisions. One radical example could be to give lay-magistrates and full-time judges responsibility for managing sentences. They would then be able to better understand the consequences of decisions that they might make and it would create a more supportive relationship between sentencer and offender, reducing the likelihood of reoffending.

Some argue that a long-term outlook to the criminal justice system means spending now to save later. Others point to the importance of piloting solutions, rather than risking sub-optimal outcomes. In its latest report HMIP praised the work of police forces to “rise to the challenge of austerity” but warned that, without considering how funding supports more efficient arrangements for local, regional and national policing services, the viability of some forces will be in jeopardy. Politicians must ensure effective policy making, resist making short-term decisions and not be dissuaded by conservatism, personal bias, ideologies or the media. Open policy making is often cited as the way ahead – these policies must not only be open but work across both real and perceived barriers and silos, to secure the most efficient and effective solutions. Good relationships, communication and a long-term, open outlook must become the default culture across government, ministers and civil servants alike.

A blog by Katy Sawyer, Researcher at Reform, following a roundtable seminar on the theme “Delivering fiscal responsibility: performance of Government Home Affairs and Justice” led by Jeremy Browne MP, Former Minister of State at the Home Office and Rt Hon Lord McNally, Chair of the Youth Justice Board.

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