· 10 min read · Features

Interview with Martin Tiplady human resources director at the Metropolitan Police Service

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HRD Martin Tiplady rebuffs accusations that the Met has failed to tackle deep-rooted racism. Great strides have already been made, he says, and workforce diversity is his priority.

It's always a thrill to turn the corner into Broadway from St James's Park tube station and see the familiar New Scotland Yard revolving sign ahead. The second most photographed landmark in London (the first is Buckingham Palace), that view has been the backdrop to some of the biggest stories of the past four decades, from the final imprisonment of the notorious Kray twins to policing during the Brixton Riots, the largest civil disturbance of the 20th century.

Recalling these, I wonder if what lives behind the facade will be up to my expectations but the experience of entering the Metropolitan Police Service's headquarters does not disappoint. From having to show proof of identity to the officer outside, to trawling the stark corridors filled with ominously closed doors, there is an immediate sense you are in the nerve centre of London.

"That's the kidnap unit," points out HR director Martin Tiplady, knowing full well this casual remark will bring out the school child in anyone. "Over there is the Intelligence Bureau and upstairs we have Forensics and DNA," he adds. I am just inches away from the secretive world of the police's most elite squads. It's like being an extra in Silent Witness or Waking the Dead. I have to summon all my willpower to stop flinging open the doors for a quick glimpse.

For Tiplady, of course, this is nothing special. He has been working at Scotland Yard for seven years and is clearly proud of his job. No seven-year itch for him then, but perhaps one reason for this is that heading HR for the Met can certainly not be deemed boring.

Indeed the past 12 months have been particularly exacting. New police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson admitted as much last month when addressing a room full of suppliers to the HR department on the day of the G20 demonstrations. "It's been a challenging year," he said, in something of an understatement. For as I was meeting Tiplady, the headlines on the Evening Standard seller's board opposite the Yard screamed 'Met is Rocked by Apartheid Row' in reference to claims that police at a Westminster police station ran one van for white police community support officers (PCSOs) and another for black PCSOs.

This was just one of the controversies facing the Met that week. At a conference that same morning Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered race victim Stephen Lawrence, marked the 10th anniversary of Sir William Macpherson's report into the Lawrence investigation by questioning stop and search policies that still focus disproportionately on black people. Two days later the Met faced more charges when two black PCSOs claimed they endured "monkey taunts" from a white colleague.

Then there was the fallout from the race row with former assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, the UK's top Asian police officer who agreed to quit after a £300,000 compensation deal in November; a recruitment boycott by the Met Black Police Association (BPA) and a media frenzy over the arrest of shadow immigration minister Damian Green in connection with a series of leaks from the Home Office. Oh, and Stephenson had just been appointed following Mayor Boris Johnson's ousting of former chief Sir Ian Blair; the G20 was just around the corner and some commentators were predicting a summer of riots on the streets of London.

Given all this, Tiplady looks remarkably relaxed. He has just rushed back from the aforementioned conference and is clearly impressed with Doreen Lawrence. "She gave a very meaningful and passionate presentation about why things have moved on but why things have not moved on pacily enough. In her view, it would only be at a time when such a conference was not necessary that she would feel things have reached a point of satisfaction," he says.

So, I ask, is it fair to say that the Met is no longer institutionally racist? "Absolutely," he replies emphatically, though adding, "but I don't think that label helps. If we are institutionally racist, then frankly so is the rest of industry."

Yet he concedes that the creation of this terminology a decade ago "struck the organisation deep. We responded by taking the charge and trying to do something about it. I disagree entirely with those people who say we are not a vastly different organisation today. "

Not that Tiplady is complacent. He cannot afford to be, given the high media interest in the force and relentless tide of stories accusing the organisation of failing to tackle deep-rooted racism. "Look, we can all do without the arsy stories that happen in all organisations regarding individual cases of racism or sexism," he counters. "It would be daft of me to say it is not going to happen. It will happen in an organisation of 55,000 people. But the telling point is not whether it happens or not, but what you do when it occurs."

In the case of the Westminster PCSOs, Tiplady says he is reassured the incident happened two years ago and that the manager dealt quickly with it. "I am offended by the fact we have got a bad incident today but one or two people have had their futures curbed as a result and tough action has been taken. That is the test of an organisation that sees such incidents as important, deals with them swiftly and robustly and is therefore not institutionally racist."

But there is no doubt there is a problem with some PCSOs, a fact Tiplady acknowledges. Of all serious discipline cases in which the Met is engaged, more than half are concerned with PCSOs. Yet they number only 4,500 out of a total workforce of 19,000 staff (staff are covered by employment law while the Met's 31,000 cops are not - they are subject to special police regulations).

The numbers worry Tiplady and he has recently put some effort into discovering why this is the case. His findings show that the mundanity of patrolling up and down streets - particularly without the full powers of police officers - may be a factor

"Exit interviews show the job is tedious for those whose main focus is security. They are just walking up and down the streets of London, largely in Westminster. They may provide reassurance to the public but we cannot disconnect the boredom factor in some of the misbehaviour. We have got something wrong when half the discipline cases are from one quarter of the workforce."

In a bid to tackle this, supervisory arrangements have been changed and extra training given to try to make the job more interesting. Of course the majority of PCSOs are not a problem. Indeed, the role has become a breeding ground for new cops. Over the past 10 months 52% of recruits at the Hendon training camp have been former PCSOs.

Examining whether the right processes and training are in place in light of such incidences is par for the course for the HRD of such a high-profile organisation. Few other HR heads find their employer in the news every day. Indeed, as Tiplady tries to convey the thickness of press cuttings he receives each day, his hands move at least 15 cm apart.

This constant barrage of often negative press coverage can be problematic, however, especially when it comes to the Met's reputation as an employer. "It is inevitable we have profile, and most is not going to be about success in arresting lots of people," says Tiplday. "It will be around the fact that a murder is committed, or around organisational activity. What we cannot do is respond to every story and we are very restricted on what we can say about most of the stuff that is reported. So we have to go silent. Anyone can say what they want about us while we look meek and mild. The reality is we want a prosecution."

In HR terms, this means that when an employment tribunal is served, the Met will not defend its position in public. It wants to be "statesmanlike and proper" about the way it deals with things, says Tiplady. I'm left with the distinct impression that he has no truck with people who do not do the same; who prefer to air their grievances in public. And many have, from Ghaffur and commander Ali Dizaei to Green's defenders.

While there was 'insufficient evidence' to bring a court case against Green, Tiplady stresses "the people who took decisions about the MP are people I trust to be some of most balanced and sensible cops around organisation. They are not people who act on whims, or who act on small amounts of information. Therefore I take great comfort from the fact these people had reason to take these decision."

Of course, since this interview took place, one of these people - assistant commissioner Bob Quick, Britain's most senior counter-terrorism officer, has resigned after inadvertently revealing a secret document on terrorism.

As for Ghaffur, all Tiplady will say is: "Do I think an assistant commissioner going out and saying what he thinks of the organisation on TV is helpful? It is not a reputation-enhancing item. But watch this space in terms of how it is dealt with and the outcomes. Then form a view."

Unfortunately for Tiplady, many people have already formed a view and his case is not helped by the BPA's boycott. On this subject, he does not mince his words. "I think the BPA is wrong. We have 18 staff support organisations and one of the main objectives is to assist us with recruitment and retention of that particular minority interest. BPA is by far the biggest and most mature of those associations. Is it helpful we are in 'dispute' with them? You must be joking."

He insists the boycott is not having any discernible impact on recruitment and that the spat is just a blip. "We want to work with the BPA and other staff associations in order to make this a better organisation. We enjoy a very fruitful and positive relationship with all the other staff associations and we just have a little bit of an issue with the BPA at the moment. It will get resolved."

Getting it resolved would be helpful but in reality the stakes are against the Met. Despite all efforts to increase diversity, it is difficult for any force to hit the targets set by Macpherson, who recommended they should mirror the diversity of the community they serve. This means nearly 26% of the Met should be from an ethnic minority - a tall order. But it has come a long way in the past decade. It employs 44% of all black police officers in the UK while black and minority ethnic (BME) recruitment has gone from under 2% to nearly 10%. Nationally the figure has grown to only 4%.

The main problem is that there is no extra money in the pot to increase the size of the force, so the Met has to rely on replacement when officers leave. And attrition is nowhere near the size required to transform the make-up of the organisation overnight.

"What many are failing to recognise is that recruitment is only the beginning of the process. It's easy to say we have 25.9% ethnic population in London, so we ought to have a 25.9% ethnic population in the workforce - oh and by the way, please achieve this by 2009 - without stopping to ask how you get from where you are to where you need to be," says Tiplady.

"Targets are useful if they are meaningful. The 25.9% figure is mathematical but not achievable in the time, so ceases to be a target. However much you do, even if you recruited absolutely everyone from BME groups, you know you still can't achieve the target because turnover is not high enough. By and large all we are doing is dealing with attrition. As people leave, you replace."

However, one positive sign is that one in five recruits into Hendon is from an ethnic minority, and there is an ambition to achieve a quarter by 2010.

The key to this is targeting. For example, the IntroMet recruitment roadshows focus on areas with a dense ethnic minority population, such as Lambeth, Kensington & Chelsea, Brent, Hackney and Tower Hamlets. "We are working with community groups," he says. "It's something we learned from crime strategies. We've established a sophisticated engagement strategy where we work through groups to reach the people they think will be suitable for police officers."

But even if the Met recruits 330 BME cops, it only affects 1% of the workforce. So what can it do to hasten diversity? "It's not about recruitment, it's about development," Tiplady explains. "We have done fantastically well on recruitment and there is now no discernible difference between the rates of black and white staff attrition. But where we haven't made as much advance is in the progression and promotion area. It is really important to cops to be able to progress. They are not just applying for a job."

There is no quick fix for speeding up development. To progress, cops need to demonstrate ability in each rank before they can move to the next one. The wave of BME recruits is newer so it will take some time to see representation in upper ranks. It's all about patience.

But while there is obvious political pressure on the Met to increase diversity, Tiplady does not see this pressure as the driver for change. "It's a pretty easy business case to form," he says. "Why is it important we begin to look a lot like London? Because it will give confidence to people. For example, if we are pursuing stop and search policies we need to account to communities so they understand what the reasons are. We get a better and more efficient organisation by looking and acting like London. It is not about race, gender, disability - it is about diversity in its widest form."

In fact, it's easy to argue the Met is doing a lot more than most organisations, where diversity is often just a tick-box. "It can't be an add-on in this organisation as it is how we do our business," says Tiplady. "Yes, we have a long distance still to travel but when you realise that one in 10 cops and one in three PCSOs is black and minority ethnic, then you start to notice the change."

So the top is committed to diversity and at entry level there is a lot of training. But what about those in the middle? Tiplady concedes this is the biggest challenge. "The middle rump want to be committed but sometimes don't always understand how some older conditions, policies and practices don't always keep pace with a 300-language speaking London," he admits.

Despite all the work around diversity, it is clear there is more to be done. As Tiplady says, it does not add up to much if the perception is still that nothing has changed. So while he describes some of the programmes as "stunning, pioneering - I don't know of any other organisation anywhere in world doing what we are doing", he concedes that "if the view on these programmes is too little, too slow, too late, too everything, then I haven't changed anything because perception is reality.

"It drives all recruitment, retention, progression and the talent management process. This is my biggest challenge for the next 12 months".

As for further out? Well, there's just the little issue of an Olympics to deal with. But that's another story.

Educated in: Chelmsford, Essex; diploma in management studies
1969: Joined local government, rising to assistant director of social
services for London Borough of Haringey by the time he left
1987: Director of personnel, The Housing Corporation
1995: Director of HR, Westminister Health Care Holdings
1999: Group head of human resources, The Berkeley Group
2002: Director of human resources, the Metropolitan Police Service

Outside interests
Plays tuba; Arsenal season ticket holder

Tiplady on:-

Diversity: "I'm always amazed when I am reminded that 300 languages are spoken in London. We can all talk about Afro Caribbean, Asian, Greek/Turk/Cypriot - these are well-established communities. What is less well-established is the East European group. We need to get the richness of that diversity into the organisation in which I work. Then we begin to establish a little more authority, to get a little more presence and instil a bit more confidence in people."

High profile incidents: "I am nothing to do with operational decisions but it falls on me to maximise the workforce and ensure support mechanisms are available. Do we know what skills there are, where they are, how quickly they can mobilise - and if really needed, where could we mobilise a reserve from? There is nothing to stop me donning a yellow jacket and saying 'stop you can't come through'."

Leadership: "Sir Paul Stephenson brings freshness. He brings the benefit of having worked elsewhere but also more than three years of working in probably the most complex organisation that exists - there is a familiarity with the Met's priorities, culture and politics. We have the best of both worlds with Paul."