The Metropolitan Police Authority holds its final meeting on Thursday ahead of wide-ranging changes to scrutiny of the Police in London. Lord Toby Harris, an MPA member since 2000, looks back at the Authority’s success and future scrutiny arrangements.
The Metropolitan Police Authority was established in July 2000 as a by-product of the legislation that also created the London Mayoralty, the GLA and the London Assembly.
Until then the Metropolitan Police had been solely accountable to the Home Secretary, who was uniquely the Police Authority for London.
The MPA is now to be abolished and replaced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC – pronounced “MOPSY”) as a by-product of the legislation that will see Policing and Crime Commissioners elected outside London in November.
The MPA’s final meeting is taking place today and the MOPC will take over responsibility on Monday 16th January.
So what did the MPA achieve in its eleven and a half years of existence?
The early years of the MPA saw a dramatic transformation in the Metropolitan Police.
In 2000 morale in the Service was poor, more officers left the Met each month than joined (police numbers had declined each year for a decade), public confidence was low, financial controls were virtually non-existent (the Met had no system for telling if bills had been paid more than once) and the quality of many serious investigations was poor.
The first tasks of the new Authority included the introduction of financial controls and discipline; establishing a new culture of openness and accountability; and reversing the decline in the number of police officers so that the MPS saw the most significant increase in its size in its history.
This was followed by a sustained focus on turning round street crime and cutting burglary. The MPA led the way nationally on the introduction of Police Community Support Officers and then the setting up of the first Safer Neighbourhood Teams before rolling them out across London.
This contribution led to a general increase in public confidence in the police service, but specific initiatives led by the MPA on stop and search, on hate crime, and on recruitment and retention of black and minority officers also changed perceptions of the Met.
Inevitably, the direction of travel changed somewhat with a change in administration in City Hall after the 2008 elections, but the MPA continued to deliver a much clearer visible accountability of the police in London than had existed before.
Certainly, throughout its life the MPA has ensured that far more information about the policing of London has been put in the public domain.
The MPA also meant that the Commissioner and senior officers were seen to answer questions in public at full Authority meetings and at its Committees. And this was supplemented by detailed MPA scrutinies ranging from rape investigation and victim care to counter-terrorism policing, crime data recording to mental health policing, and landmark reports on the Stockwell shooting, of the Race and Faith Inquiry, and on public order policing.
So will all this disappear with the MOPC?
The first thing to emphasise is that London’s model will – as ever – be different from that in the rest of the country. There will not be a directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner. Instead, the functions will be carried out by the MOPC, led by an appointed Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.
The policing priorities will be set by the MOPC and it remains to be seen how much these will change from those previously set by the MPA with its more widely drawn membership.
The real danger is, of course, that much of the visible accountability and answerability will be lost. Some will be provided by the London Assembly who will have a new and enhanced role in respect of policing and crime, but their focus – as envisaged by the new statute – will be very much on the MOPC and not on the police service itself.
How this will develop will depend on the personalities involved – both at the MOPC and on the Assembly – and on the willingness of the Met itself to be open and transparent.
There are certainly no guarantees on any of this, yet police accountability in the capital will remain as important as ever – as the events of the last few months have demonstrated.
Perhaps the message is watch this space.
Lord Toby Harris has been a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority from 2000 to 2012 and was its Chair from 2000 to 2004. He blogs at www.lordtobyharris.org.uk