Howard drops proposals for Met authority

PLANS FOR the structural reform of police authorities, which could bring Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, into direct conflict with Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, are published today.

The White Paper on police reforms is expected to lack a commitment to replace the Home Secretary with a representative authority for the Metropolitan Police, which would have brought London into line with the provinces.

This reversal of a public pledge by the former Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, was signalled in May and is understood to have been based on Conservative MPs' fears that an authority would allow left-wingers too much influence on police budgets. Michael Howard is believed to hold the same view and the White Paper will contain only a modified proposal.

In an interview with the Independent on Sunday earlier this month, Mr Condon emphasised that, unlike his predecessors, he is a strong advocate of a police authority for London, as a means of improving public confidence and to provide a forum for debate.

He said he would be disappointed, and that it would be a missed opportunity if the legislation did not make provision for the authority. He repeated his views last week in the newsletter of the Association of London Authorities, emphasising the high degree of co-operation between police and councils at local level. The White Paper is expected to set out in detail what Mr Clarke described as 'the most important policing reforms in 30 years'. These will include plans to make police authorities more financially independent, reduce them in size and bring in members from the business community and other walks of life, appointed by the Home Secretary.

Mr Clarke said he wanted to create 'strong police authorities, to set clear local objectives and ensure that their force meets them', though it is not clear how this will aim will be tackled.

The White Paper is expected also to include changes that will make it easier to amalgamate forces, although the Home Office has shied away from reducing the number of forces, because of strong grassroots opposition.

A Police Bill is expected in the autumn. It will also include the long-awaited recommendations from the Sheehy Inquiry into police pay and responsibilities, whose report is to be published on Wednesday.

The conclusions, which are expected to lead to major upheavals in police forces, are likely to involve abolishing some ranks, to create a 'flatter' police promotion structure, performance-related pay, to reward those doing arduous jobs, and fixed-term contracts.