IOPC responds to Home Office reviews and new Director General announcement

Published: 21 Mar 2024

The Government announced today (21 March 2024) a new Director General for the IOPC alongside the publication of the Cabinet Office commissioned independent review into our effectiveness. It has also announced the results of its review into the police accountability system. 

Commenting on the reviews the IOPC Unitary Board said: 

“We believe it is vital to have a complaints and misconduct system which commands the confidence of both the public and the police and has independence at its heart.  

“This announcement reflects what we have been saying for some time – the arrangements for holding the police to account need fundamental reform.

“We all have a part to play, and we are pleased that the progress the IOPC has made is recognised, but this is bigger than one organisation.  

“Police leaders must take real and meaningful action to rebuild policing’s contract with the public, particularly those parts of society who often feel marginalised, left behind or lack confidence.  We stand ready to support police leaders to take that step.”

Accountability Review

The accountability review was announced by the then Home Secretary last year to provide clarity and confidence in the accountability system.

The government’s response includes:

  • three changes to the law which the IOPC proposed in our response to the review to make some immediate improvements
  • a White Paper to look at how the entire system can be reformed

The IOPC Unitary Board said:

“It is important for everyone who has a stake in restoring the public’s trust in policing that we listen to the feedback of both police officers and victims of crime. We all rightly cherish the principle of policing by consent, which is why independent scrutiny matters, even though it can sometimes be uncomfortable for policing.

“That scrutiny protects policing, and the public. When things go wrong it’s vital that an independent body can get to the bottom of what’s happened. But we understand that when it takes too long it can feel oppressive. 

“We all want to get the balance right between scrutiny which protects the public but doesn’t leave the police afraid to use their powers to keep us safe.”

Cabinet Office commissioned independent review

In March 2023, the former Home Secretary appointed Dr Gillian Fairfield, who is the chair of the Disclosure and Barring Service, to lead an independent review of the IOPC. All arms-length bodies like the IOPC are subject to periodic reviews to ensure they are effective, efficient and work for the public good. Amongst Dr Fairfield’s findings were:

  • the IOPC is an essential and vital part of the complex system holding the police to account
  • there has been an extraordinary increase in demand on the IOPC in recent years – for example, referrals from police forces have gone up by more than 80% since 2018 to around 7,000 a year. However, the number of investigations we can carry out is reducing and we can only conduct around 300 a year
  • the IOPC is under significant financial pressure with a projected 34% real-term reduction in funding at a time when our work has never been more vital
  • measures are needed to improve quality and timeliness including cross government working to improve timeliness and the way that different parts of police discipline and the criminal justice system interact

The report makes 93 recommendations: 73 of which are for the IOPC.

They include suggestions for significant reform of the governance of the IOPC, including the creation of an independent chair.

The IOPC Unitary Board said: 

“We are grateful to Dr Fairfield for conducting such a thorough and detailed review. We are pleased that she recognises the vital role we play at a time when independence in the system that holds police to account has never been more important.

“We’re also pleased that she has highlighted that we work in a complex and challenging environment at a time when demand is increasing, confidence in policing has fallen, and our funding is reducing. 

“We welcome proposed changes to our governance structure and ask the Home Office to give this urgent consideration. Any changes need to be done properly and in a way that ensures the progress we have made since being established in 2018 can continue.

“We’ve accepted almost all of the recommendations and work has already begun to implement many of them. This includes a major transformation programme to improve our processes and continue to make progress on the timeliness and quality of our operational work.”

Director General

The Home Office has announced that Rachel Watson is to become our new Director General. This position, which is a government appointment, has been filled on an interim basis by Deputy Director General Tom Whiting since December 2022 following the resignation of the substantive post-holder. Rachel is currently Policing Director at the Home Office.

The IOPC Unitary Board said:

“We welcome the appointment of Rachel Watson as Director General as her expertise and experience will be vital at a time when the system that holds police to account is under significant scrutiny.

“Tom Whiting took on the role of Acting Director General in the most difficult of circumstances and has been outstanding. We thank him for his stewardship over the past 15 months, which was commended by Gillian Fairfield in her review.

“Rachel could very easily be taking over an organisation in crisis. Instead, she inherits one with a committed and motivated workforce ready for the challenges of the future.

“The board looks forward to welcoming Rachel to the IOPC and working with her in the years to come.”