National Crime Agency details outlined by Theresa May

The proposed National Crime Agency (NCA), which is to replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency, will have the authority to instruct police and other agencies, the home secretary says.

Theresa May said it would put right a "patchy... response" to dealing with organised crime and border control.

The agency would have the power to step in to coordinate police work and identify national priorities, she said.

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the plans were chaotic.

Wide-range of powers

Mrs May told the Commons that NCA officers will have powers "beyond" those of the police.

She said organised crime cost up to £40bn a year, with around 38,000 people and 6,000 gangs operating in the UK.

However, only 11% of those gangs were being hit "in a meaningful way" by law enforcement agencies, she said.

As well as replacing the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), the new agency will take in the work of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), and also house the national cyber crime unit. It will also cover border policing and economic crime.

It will be led by a senior chief constable and two key "commands" - one focusing on organised crime and the other on border policing.

Mrs May said the new body would have the authority to "undertake tasking and coordination, ensuring appropriate action is taken to put a stop to the activities of organised crime groups".

It will step in "to directly task where there are disputes about the nature of approach or ownership".

'All suffer'

"NCA officers will be able to draw on a wide range of powers, including those of a police constable, immigration or customs powers," Mrs May said.

This will mean that NCA officers - unlike anybody else - will be able to deploy powers and techniques that go beyond the powers of a police officer."

The NCA's budget will not exceed that of the agencies it replaces, and about £3m of government funding has been committed "for the national coordination of organised crime policing" in 2011/12, including an intelligence centre.

Earlier, the home secretary told the BBC the new agency would be a "powerful crime-fighting body" able to help police to put a greater focus on organised crime - such as drugs, people trafficking and prostitution - at a regional, national and international level.

Chief Constable Jon Murphy, the lead on crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said the NCA was "an opportunity to raise our game against some of the most harmful and dangerous individuals in the UK".

"Good neighbourhood policing provides eyes and ears on the streets and, along with hi-tech methods of policing, is just as important in providing the intelligence that police need to get to grips with serious and organised crime," he said.

"This is why the fight against these threats must engage law enforcement collectively and collaboratively at every level."

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the creation of the NCA, together with the introduction of elected police and crime commissioners, could cost money at a time when 12,000 officers were being cut.

"There is a risk this chaos and confusion will make it harder for them to cope

with the drop in resources that they have seen," she said.

She added: "For the renamed national crime agency to be successful, it needs steady leadership, clarity and the resources to deliver. In the end reorganisation is no substitute for police officers on the ground doing the job."