The National Crime Agency (NCA) replaced the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) yesterday as the home secretary published the government’s strategy to ‘relentlessly pursue’ organised and serious crime. The agency will have significantly less funding than it’s predecessor.
Labour chairman of the Home Affairs select committee Keith Vaz raised questions as to whether the budget will be sufficient, as the organisations forming the agency have a combined budget of £812m, but the agency will have only £473.9m next year. This marks the third occasion since 1998 that the crime agency has been rebranded by the Government and the question does need to be asked, apart from a new name and shiny new logo, what else has really changed? The Home Office claims that the new National Crime Agency will provide a ‘national lead’ against organised crime. But let us not lose sight of the fact that the Home Office itself undergoes regular rebranding is a shining example of how rebranding does nothing to improve a problematic agency.
It is difficult not to compare the latest NCA rebranding with the regular rebrands attributed to the Immigration Department of the Home Office. What used to be known as the Home Office was rebranded into Immigration & Nationality Department, only to be replaced by the UK Border Agency which has now, in a spectacular U-turn, been returned to being called to the Home Office. The initial difficulty was delay in processing applications, general confusion and employee dissatisfaction with their work practices. 20 years of rebranding and we ask, has anything changed in the Immigration Department? Is delay under control, has confusion been replaced with control, is there employee satisfaction? We think not!
The new NCA plans to tackle crime under four commands – organised crime, economic crime, border and policing and child exploitation and protection, alongside a National Cyber Crime Unit. According to Home Office estimates more than 5,500 organised crime groups operate in the UK involving around 37,000 individuals and costing more than £24bn each year. (Not sure how they calculate all that, but that is the claim).
It is suggested that the National Crime Agency strategy, announced yesterday, will use the counter-terrorism framework to set out action that will be taken ‘at every opportunity’ to ‘relentlessly disrupt’ serious and organised criminals. Does that mean that they will be using the same systems currently in use by counter terrorism forces? Perhaps so! What are those systems? We don’t know! But it certainly sounds impressive.
It is claimed that the NCA strategy will include strengthened powers to attack and seize criminal assets; a crackdown on foreign organised criminals operating in the United Kingdom; more aggressive use of serious crime prevention orders and travel restriction orders; and a cyber emergency response team to deal with the most serious cyber attacks, including cyber crime.
We wish the NCA the very best of success in their operations and all look forward to living in a safer and better environment. However; we are nevertheless left wondering whether there is substance to this change beyond the rebranding and name change.