The Metropolitan Police is on the trail of a new director of media and communications. The vacancy has arisen after the previous incumbent resigned rather than face a gross misconduct charge. He was accused of hiring a former News of the World ‘reporter-turned-PR’ on a consultancy contract without paying due attention to the Met’s procurement policy. He was 14 years in the role.
The force employs 50,000 officers and is responsible for law and order in one of the greatest cities in the world. The Met’s jurisdiction takes in 7.8 million citizens, the world’s second largest financial services centre, the world’s busiest international airport and this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games. It also boasts the busiest 24-hour press office in Europe. On the face of it, this is the prime cut of communications roles.
The institution has faced some very real public relations challenges over the last decade or more. In every major category of crime, the Met underperforms average detection rates across England and Wales. In the late 1990s, it was accused of institutional racism in the MacPherson Report, a condition that has not been fully put to bed.
In 2005 came the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by Met officers after he was mistaken for a terrorist. In 2011, the force was widely criticised for what many saw as a flaccid response to the London riots, which themselves were blamed by some on the killing by Met officers of Mark Duggan.
More recently thanks to the Leveson Inquiry, the Met’s senior officers have been shown to be too close to media executives whilst a number of front line staff enhanced their lifestyles by systematically taking cash for information from (mostly tabloid) journalists.
Today, the Met is being squeezed on all sides. The Government is demanding savage cost cuts, while the governed have all but lost faith in the Met’s performance. Older citizens have lost faith in the police’s ability to solve crime while the youth have little fear or respect for the badge.
The Met’s 50,000 staff, 5,000 of whom are volunteers, feel increasingly disengaged and believe they spend more time on administration than enforcement and expect legislation to undermines their efforts. At the same time, the risk to their personal well-being has never been higher.
On the face of it, this is a meaty communications role with the opportunity to rebuild trust in the police force, to re-engage the work force and re-build bridges with the policed. These are important and interesting communications challenges that need to be addressed.
Every senior comms role includes an element of stakeholder management. This post holder is required to build and maintain appropriate relationships with the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the London Mayor’s Office, the Greater London Authority, Parliament, each of the 32 London councils and a raft of policing bodies.
And that’s the rub. It’s more likely the candidate will spend their time playing politics and avoiding blame missiles with politically-motivated and competing parties than addressing the comms challenges that would improve the Met.
The job is a vocation, not a career opportunity and one that promises scarcely enough money to compensate for one role, never mind two.