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Exploring the future of Serious and Organised Crime

Serious and Organised Crime (SOC) affects more UK citizens, more often, than any other national security threat. It manifests itself through the drugs trade, use of firearms, illicit finance, sexual offences and cyber-crime, and the 2019 National Strategic Assessment highlights “continuing growth in volume and complexity across SOC threats.” The UK Government recognised the need for a ‘whole system’ response in its 2018 SOC strategy, but few believe the current model can meet the increasing complexity and changing nature of these threats.  

So, in the recent Spending Review, the UK Government committed to undertake a “formal review of the powers, capabilities, governance and funding needed across the policing and law enforcement landscape, including the National Crime Agency and the wider justice system, to enable it to improve its response to serious and organised crime in all its forms. The Home Office formally launched the review in late October and it will be led by Sir Craig Mackey QPM.  

While its impossible to predict exactly how SOC will evolve, we’ve used our FutureWorlds methodology to explore possible future criminal landscapes and the implications for a whole system response. By considering the mix of criminal activities that could form the future threat landscape and the number of criminal gangs that could appear, we’re able to outline four possible ‘worlds’Using these outlines, we can then anticipate the capabilities needed to respond to a range of challenges in the future.  


Each of the four possible futures needs a different strategy, so we’ve suggested how the whole SOC system could develop to most effectively tackle the unique challenges that could exist in each of the future worlds. 

Wild West 

The number of criminal gangs and diversity of threat types will require a strong local and national response. At a local level, there will be significant benefit in having multiple, omnicompetent teams that understand local criminal gangs and can adapt their focus as threats evolve. They will also need command and control mechanisms to quickly redeploy officers as priorities change. Nationally, law enforcement organisations will need to attract, recruit and train teams of generalists who can share knowledge to disrupt a range of crime types. There will also need to be access to supporting national specialist capabilities. 

One-Stop Shops 

The dominance of a small number of criminal gangs with a diverse crime portfolio requires a truly multi-disciplined ‘whole system’ response. Addressing individual crime areas at a local level will be inefficient and the criminal gangs will adapt quicker than law enforcement. Instead, efforts must focus on tackling and disrupting a criminal gangs’ central operations and finances. This will require strong national leadership and will expand well beyond the traditional law enforcement domain, seeking to draw in resources from the likes of HMRC and international partners.  

Seriously Organised 

With a handful of criminal gangs investing in a few lucrative and predominantly technology-enabled crimes, there needs to be significant investment in national capabilities. These capabilities can then be deployed at scale across the country and continuously improved. Without this focused investment, the evolution of threats will outpace the ability to respond. 

Criminally Competitive 

With vast numbers of criminal gangs focusing on a few lucrative crime types, there must be national collaboration to set up threat-specific centres of excellence that support operations and deployments at a local level. Crimes are likely to spread to other geographical areas in this scenario, and so its critical to share ideas and best practice across the SOC system to deliver a consistent response. 

Irrespective of how the future develops, the UK Government must place collaboration and national co-ordination at the heart of its whole system response. Uncertainty and technological disruption are the new norm. This will require continued investment in key collaboration enablers, including technology, tools, processes and resourcing, and a renewed focus on addressing historic cultural barriers that have hindered cross-system collaboration. 

Contact the authors

Contact the defence and security team