But this activity masks a wider malaise in government. Structural changes across key parts of the Home Office have reportedly complicated joint working with counterparts across the system. Staff in Whitehall departments lament a lack of mechanisms for prioritisation pending the updated strategy, with the current strategic approach followed by different parts of the system not always easily discernible.
Think Big or Go Home
What would then make sense for an updated strategy to prioritise? First and foremost, such a document must respond to the growing sophistication, global reach and digitally enabled activity of today’s offenders.
To do so, it should reinforce and consolidate the earlier focus on disrupting and dismantling the business models of the highest-harm criminals. This includes those at the highest levels of the criminal chain and, crucially, those enabling their activities. Here, focus should lie on the role of corrupt insiders, providers of criminal communications platforms and access to financial assets that allow offenders to enjoy criminal profits. A strengthened machinery to tackle illicit finance must form a central, fully integrated plank in the wider response.
Beyond this, the strategy should be oriented towards the international component of most serious and organised crime threats to the UK. In line with this, greater focus and resources should be committed to action against this overseas dimension (with the potential of under-explored measures such as targeted financial sanctions considered). Indeed, given the cross-border nature of the threat, how the strategy balances domestic and overseas commitments will be crucial. It should be considered carefully whether activity targeted within the UK itself should automatically be assigned highest priority.
With ever-more crime occurring on the internet, the strategy should further centre on responding to the ongoing shift online. Among other measures, this should involve enhanced engagement with the private sector and efforts to tackle the evolving challenges facing law enforcement. In parallel, the strategy must adequately address criminal use of evolving technologies such as 3D printing, metaverse technology, and the use of hyper-realistic imagery created by AI in child sexual abuse offending. It should do so mindful that ongoing technological advances will continue to transform the dynamics of serious and organised crime over the life of the strategy and beyond.
Underpinning all of this, renewed commitment is needed to ensure that the single cohesive approach long advocated is strengthened and translated into action. A new strategy must look again at coordination across local to regional, national and international levels. This will involve reinvigorated work to clearly define who does what, the support provided to fulfil those expectations, and to track shifting demand across the system.
Coordination should extend beyond government. There is much to be gained, for example, from the formalisation of a collaborative network of experts working in and beyond government – with targeted academic research able to provide a more nuanced understanding of the threat and insights capable of improving the wider response.
Across the system, more broadly, greater focus is needed on governance and oversight of the strategy’s implementation. This should include stronger emphasis on assessing how the government is performing across priority areas. To achieve this, the right tools and metrics must be developed to measure activity and effectiveness against the threat as it impacts the UK in 2023 and beyond.
Overall, an updated Strategy must provide clear direction, means for prioritisation, sufficient detail and clarity on roles and responsibilities across the system. Beyond a statement of what has been achieved, it must articulate a compelling and ambitious vision for the UK’s response to serious and organised crime. Time is running out for the government.
The views expressed in this Commentary are the author’s, and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.
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