Theresa May offers police more powers in 'radical' deal

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Police were offered more powers and discretion to get on with their jobs as part of a "radical" new deal by Home Secretary Theresa May today.

The Tory Cabinet member said the new Government will "do things differently" by scrapping Whitehall interference, ditching paperwork and removing targets.

She said she is "not interested in running the police" and wants to give officers across England and Wales professional responsibility and freedom.

But in her first speech since being appointed last week, Mrs May said officers must accept local accountability through elected police commissioners in return.

And she warned the Police Federation annual conference in Bournemouth that the Home Office and police must "bear a fair share of the burden" as sacrifices are made to tackle the budget deficit.

Mrs May said pay and pensions for police and staff will undergo a "full review" as the Government attempts to cut waste and inefficiency in a bid to protect the frontline.

She said: "I want to give the service back its professional responsibility, getting rid of the centralised bureaucracy that wastes money, saps morale and crushes innovation.

"I want to free the men and women of our police forces to do what they are trained to do, want to do and the public expects them to do - make our society safer.

"But in return for this new freedom, the police service must accept a transfer of power over policing from Whitehall to communities by giving local people a real say over how their streets are policed."

Mrs May added that the Government will respect and trust police, restore pride in the job and "bring some common sense back to policing".

Mrs May said she will return the power to charge people suspected of low-level offences to police, cutting out the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Under the new system, CPS solicitors will remain responsible for serious cases but misdemeanours, possibly including common assault, theft or breach of bail, will be in the hands of police.

The Home Secretary said her Government will examine "untangling the knot" of health and safety rules and re-balance the law in favour of those who stand up to yobs.

She said national "one-size-fits-all" targets will be dismantled and unnecessary paperwork scrapped, starting with a form used for stopping people in the street.

Police were also told more detailed crime maps will be published enabling the public to challenge them on their performance at local beat meetings.

Mrs May said: "I want the police to be crime fighters not form fillers, out on the streets as much as they think necessary, not behind their desk and chained to a computer.

"Perhaps most importantly of all, I want to free you by stopping all the initiatives and gimmicks that emanate from central Government.

"When policing priorities are dictated by the news cycle rather than what works, you only get the most superficial, short-term change.

"We have got to entrench long-term thinking, working with laws that we've got and the powers that you already have to score the line between right and wrong in our neighbourhoods."

Criticising the previous government's "gimmicks", Mrs May provoked laughter and a round of applause with a jibe at former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

She said: "Somebody once said you need to be 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.' And for once he was right. He just did not really do it."

Facing questions from police, Mrs May stepped back from guaranteeing police numbers, currently around 140,000, will not fall as a result of cutbacks.

She said: "In the environment in which we are in I am not going to make any commitment on numbers.

"I think what the public want out there is for police officers to be out on the streets.

"Police want to be freed from their desks and out on the streets doing their job of preventing crime and catching criminals.

"That is what we will do by cutting paperwork and reducing bureaucracy."

Asked about how she would succeed in cutting paperwork when others failed, Mrs May said it needs the "political will" by central Government.

She said the administration wants to set a new "ethos" across all departments by returning responsibility to professional workers of all kinds.

Mrs May was also urged to see through the "smoke and mirrors" and "misinformation" she may be sold by senior officers and civil servants.

She told officers: "I want to hear from you the reality of what is going on, something politicians often do not hear."

The Home Secretary, who is known for her flamboyant and distinctive taste in footwear, was gently teased over her shiny red pair of high heels.

One West Midlands officer remarked: "Can I be the first to say from this side of the platform, nice shoes."

A woman officer from Hampshire asked later, "Do they do them in a seven?" Mrs May replied: "Yes, but I am an eight."

Earlier, Police Federation chairman Paul McKeever told the Home Secretary she had inherited an "economic tsunami" but the security of the nation remains in her hands.

Welcoming her to an "annual appraisal" at the conference, he warned her to be wary of advice from civil servants and highlighted the high turnover of ministers linked to police in recent years.

Mr McKeever said police suffer "initiative fatigue", are fed up with bureaucrats constantly checking their work and want to be left as professionals getting on with a job.

He called for police to be given discretion to work, to be freed from the policing of redundant legislation and for the number of oversight quangos to be reviewed.

Mr McKeever said: "We need to be accountable, but we appear to have such an unnecessary number of quangos and bodies created to check on us that one wonders if this is merely to create jobs than fulfil any useful function."

He added: "Home Secretary, give the public the police service that they want and deserve, a force that recognises what we are there for, to serve the communities we police."

Mr McKeever also called on Mrs May to block the release from prison of police killers, including gunman Harry Roberts.