Leading Article: A new man at the Met

Click to follow
The Independent Online
DURING his five years in office, Sir Peter Imbert, the retiring Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, undertook a necessary job, polishing the tarnished image of the Metropolitan Police. His vision related to the relationship between the police and the community they served.

Sir Peter achieved a great deal. As a result the service inherited by his successor, Paul Condon (who took office yesterday), is more presentable and more confident about facing the public. It is less hysterical about listening to local consultative committees and the conflicting demands of the groups that go to make up that nebulous entity 'the community'. Yet morale is poor, the number of crimes is high and rising, and confidence in the Metropolitan Police as an instrument for deterring or solving crime is at an all-time low.

The new Commissioner yesterday signalled that he intended to move on from Sir Peter's agenda. The first on his list of objectives was 'the detection of crime and the overall productivity of the service'. If Mr Condon repeats in London the procedures introduced during his period as Chief Constable of Kent, his style will involve devolution - including financial - to local superintendents, clear targets and objectives, and a method of measuring their attainment. Police efficiency and morale in Kent are judged to have risen during Mr Condon's term.

Mr Condon talks the language of business and of managerial efficiency, as does Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, who was appointed inter alia to reform the police service nationally. In previous cabinet posts Mr Clarke attempted to apply these concepts to the National Health Service and to the nation's schools. The Home Secretary is now pressing ahead with his plans to make the police service nationally more efficient in anticipation of a move - perhaps to the Treasury - in the cabinet reshuffle. Mr Clarke's enthusiasm is admirable, but it would be wrong of him to assume that efficiency and accountability are incompatible.

We report today that - as part of his review - the Home Secretary is considering whether to end the anomaly under which the Metropolitan Police is the only service in the country not overseen by a police authority. He should do so. The absence of such a body helps to explain the gulf between police and public that developed in London in the Seventies and early Eighties. Moreover, an appropriately constituted supervisory body would encourage the efficiency Mr Condon is seeking.

At present, two-thirds of provincial police authorities are drawn from elected members of local councils. The rest are magistrates. This has not proved a particularly satisfactory mix, either in terms of encouraging efficiency or accountability. The Home Secretary is, therefore, considering the creation of bodies on which business people and managers will sit as government appointees. It is right that a significant proportion of seats should go to those with managerial experience. But Mr Clarke must find a formula that allows local councillors to nominate a number of their colleagues, and permit the board members to co-opt from magistrates, community and voluntary groups. Having done so, he should apply his formula to the capital as well as to the rest of the country.