The former head of Britain’s equivalent of the FBI has said she fears ministers’ plans to cut civil servant posts could have a “devastating” impact on tackling serious and organised crime.
Speaking to Policing TV, Dame Lynne Owens, the former director general of the National Crime Agency (NCA), said she was keeping a “keen eye” on discussions about proposals to axe 90,000 jobs and how they may affect the agency she led for five years.
Owens, who retired last year, also revealed that she had not “ruled out” applying to become Metropolitan police commissioner in the future – despite deciding not to after Dame Cressida Dick resigned in February.
On potential job cuts, she said: “When I started in the agency, the budget was about £400m. I think it was £711m in the last year I was there. And rumour has it that it’s just knocking on £800m this year.
“I’ve got a keen eye on the current discussion that is going on in government about civil service cuts, and how that might impact on the agency because it would be devastating if that took the agency backwards.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Owens discussed her decision not to go for the Met commissioner role after Dick stepped down.
“It was definitely the hardest career decision about ‘what am I going to do with my career’ I’ve ever made, and I definitely wouldn’t say never,” she said. “So I don’t rule out I’d apply at some point in the future.”
The next commissioner will be chosen by the home secretary, who has to show due regard for the views of London’s mayor. The job advert for the Met commissioner said the force needed radical reform to boost flagging public confidence and rectify “serious failings”.
Among those who applied is Mark Rowley, a former head of counter-terrorism who left the Met in 2018. A former chief constable of the Surrey force, he is seen as the favourite to be the next commissioner.
Also waiting to see if he has got through to the next stage is Shaun Sawyer, the head of Devon and Cornwall police, who steps down in August as chief constable.
The only Met leader to apply is assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave. Mike Bush, the former commissioner of police in New Zealand, who led the force during the Christchurch terrorist massacre, has also applied.
Owens also expressed disappointment that her permanent replacement at the NCA was yet to be appointed.
She said: “I am sad. I’m sad for the agency. Graeme Biggar has been, is, still is doing a really good job as the temporary director general.
“But being temporary is really hard. I’ve done temporary jobs at different times. And you’re constantly trying to work through, you know, if I make this decision, is it going to bind the permanent person into something that they can’t turn back from? So it works for, sort of, three to six months, but beyond that, I think it’s hard, so I sincerely hope it can be resolved sooner rather than later.”
Former head of ‘British FBI’ fears impact of Whitehall cuts on fight against crime