Pay differentials at heart of police review: The police have suffered unprecedented turmoil and criticism. Next week the Home Office will set the shape of the biggest inquiry into the service's roles and responsibilities for almost 30 years

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The Independent Online
CONSIDER CONSTABLE X, a 35-year-old man with 15 years' service. As a highly skilled member of SO19, the Metropolitan Police's specialist firearms team, confronting death, in the shape of a sawn-off shotgun brandished by an armed robber or crack dealer, is his daily reality.

Two hundred miles to the north, Constable Y is also 35 and with 15 years behind him. As part of a small community policing team serving several North Yorkshire villages, his pressing problems are car theft, rural drunks, poachers and sheep rustlers. A reassuring presence to the community, he renews shotgun licences for farmers and gives talks on drugs at the local school.

Both receive a basic pay of just under pounds 20,000 a year; both would argue that they perform an indispensable part of modern police work. But then so would the constable who spends an eight-hour shift racing around the inner city in a patrol car, working with a dog search team, in a CID office or as a domestic violence counsellor.

Whether they should all be paid the same is the question at the heart of the inquiry into policing roles and responsibilities announced by Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, in May. Its chairman and precise terms of reference will be announced next week.

The issues it will examine are not confined to the lower ranks. There is the case of a chief superintendent who, after almost 30 years' service, moves towards retirement while running a divisional headquarters and earning nearly pounds 40,000 a year. Despite his belief that he has a role, the officer's meetings and memos in fact obstruct communication between local station commanders and force headquarters, while his instinct for the status quo hinders reform. Furthermore, while in the post, he blocks the promotion of a high-flying, young woman superintendent.

The inquiry is likely to consider whether chief superintendent and chief inspector ranks should be abolished.

Consider the case of a chief constable of a large northern force for more than 10 years, his experience of life on the street dating from the 1960s. The force lags behind in new ideas; the crime rate is rocketing and detections falling.

The Home Office, alerted by the Inspectorate of Constabulary because the force is refusing to introduce performance indicators and faces a critical report, cannot retire him and appoint a go-ahead chief constable; the incumbent has almost complete security of tenure. It is for these reasons that the inspectorate favours fixed- term contracts for chief constables, to prevent stagnation in office.

The inquiry will examine this solution and whether it can be extended into other ranks. Chief constables believe their independence could be hindered by the threat of contractual renewal.

Behind the inquiry lies the fact that the Treasury has made it clear that it will not countenance increases in the annual police budget of pounds 3.8bn - 80 per cent of which goes on index-linked pay awards.

Why, their argument goes, should more money be given when chief constables cannot always demonstrate it is being used efficiently and crime is rising?

Mr Clarke knows that the only way to square the circle is to improve performance and efficiency. If highly skilled officers, happy but unrewarded, are paid more, then surely they will perform better.

The problem remains that someone, most likely the desk or patrol-car based officer, will have to be given less. And those that are paid well will have their performance much more closely monitored.

The Police Federation stresses that the inquiry could present an opportunity to introduce career structures in the lower ranks and enhance the status of officers most responsible for unhappy relations with the public. Privately, it foresees performance-related pay and a privatisation of some duties.

Barry Irving, director of the Police Foundation, the independent research body, believes that the inquiry could be a wasted opportunity. He said: 'There are many issues about the wider role of the service the inquiry could consider. I fear it may become bogged down in detail, trying to sort out issues that police personnel managers have simply failed to tackle.'