National Crime Agency

Last week the Government announced a further key element of our plan to fight crime.  A new National Crime Agency, under the leadership of a top chief constable, will spearhead a co-ordinated approach to tackling serious and organised criminality, transforming a response which until now has been too fragmented.

While the NCA will build on the work currently carried out by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, this is anything but a rebranding exercise.  The new Agency will have both a wider remit and a stronger connection with police forces.  It will be a powerful body of operational crime fighters, accountable to the Home Secretary.  It represents an essential component of a coherent plan to fight crime which ensures both effective local policing and a response to national threats.

Organised Crime costs this country between £20 and £40 billion a year.  The latest estimate is that there are about 38,000 people involved in organised crime which impacts on the UK.  Only a small percentage of identified organised crime groups have been subject to a full law enforcement response.  There are, to borrow a related phrase from a different era, too many ‘untouchable' criminals. 

The need for a more co-ordinated national approach already exists in the current model of policing governance, and has been identified by both Sir Paul Stephenson and HMIC in the past year.  I have often said that there has been a paradox in policing over recent years.  Central government has spent too much time interfering in matters which should properly be determined locally, yet paid insufficient attention to key national issues where a stronger, co-ordinated response is required.

Our determination is to reverse this position.  The election of Police and Crime Commissioners next year will swap bureaucratic control for democratic accountability, giving the public a real say over how their local area is policed.  But this will be matched by a stronger and more co-ordinated approach to those issues - whether in confronting national threats, ensuring interoperability or driving value for money - which cross force and agency borders.

The NCA will have a wide-reaching remit and strong connection to the police.  It will ensure that there will be a single national picture of intelligence and will carry out the mapping of organised criminal groups to tackle these national threats.  It will prioritise actions and operations by the police and other agencies, as well as ensuring the right response by the right agency, irrespective of where organised criminals live or commit their crimes.

The NCA will consist of four commands, which will each deal with a specific area of crime. The Organised Crime Command will lead on action against organised criminal groups, the Border Policing Command will address the gaps in capability at our borders and the Economic Crime Command will overcome the current fragmented response to financial crime and explore the links between economic and organised crime.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will also become part of the NCA.  I know there has been some concern expressed since the launch that the important work that CEOP has been carrying out may be disrupted by this move, but we have been careful to ensure this is not the case.  CEOP will retain its vital national role as well as its unique identity and capabilities.  But at the same time it will benefit from sharing intelligence with the rest of the NCA, putting it in a better position than ever before to tackle child sexual exploitation, and develop its vital work educating children and their carers on how to protect themselves online.

The NCA will have teeth.  It will be backed up by a new Strategic Policing Requirement, ensuring that PCCs and chief constables give proper consideration to national threats as well as local issues.  Under this measure, the Home Secretary will set out what, in her view, are the national threats affecting the country, and the appropriate policing requirements to counter them.  Organised crime will feature as one such national threat.

As a result forces will be required for the first time to share resources and intelligence to fight national threats. The important principle of the vertical integration of forces, whereby chief constables and those who hold them to account are responsible for the totality of policing in their area, will remain intact, but at the same time the Home Secretary will be able to ensure that forces fully support the NCA in its work. This will not, however, be a one-way street. The police will be able to call on the specialist capabilities of the NCA and, when support is needed from others, the authority of the NCA to secure collaboration in difficult cases.

Taken collectively these reforms herald a fresh approach for both local and national policing.  At the local level policing will be better connected to people and communities.  At the national level, silos and barriers in the law enforcement response which enable rather than hinder organised criminals will be broken down and replaced with a co-ordinated approach to tackling serious and organised criminality.

As a Government we are committed to fulfilling our responsibility to keep this country and our communities safe and secure.  This involves fighting all forms of crime, including serious and organised crime.  We must do more to tackle the scourge of drugs, secure our borders, reduce fraud and cyber crime, and stop the exploitation of children.  Organised criminals are agile and adaptable.  Our collective challenge is to match them.  There should be no criminal untouchables.

Christopher N Howarth