If not PCCs, what?

The Stevens Report published yesterday, which follows a two year independent review of policing, recommends that Police and Crime Commissioners should be replaced. This raises the very valid question: with what do you replace them?

I think there are much better models. Even simply reverting to the previous police authority model would be better: given that the Home Secretary says her only measure of success is reducing crime, it is worth remembering that police authorities oversaw the biggest reduction in crime since records began.  As I have often said, they had the most successful record in public administration since Birmingham MP Dennis Howell moved from being Minister for the Drought to Minister for Floods within days.

I would personally welcome a commitment to review the PCC role, which any objective observer would concede is deeply flawed.  Even the Americans, who historically adopted this model, have moved away from and replaced this particular structure. I would however caution against an election commitment that substituted an alternative model.  I would advise doing everything we can to build consensus and stability in how we support and scrutinise policing, possibly including a Royal Commission. 

In the time I have been involved in police accountability I have already seen four different ways of holding the police to account, with changes to the West Midlands Police governing body in 1974, 1985, 1995 and 2012.

I was always taken by the irony of the main justification for PCCs being the need to produce a highly visible structure that could robustly hold the Chief Constable to account.  Anyone who was around when police authorities replaced policing committees and joint boards - which had party political majorities - would have told you that Parliament's will was to move away from highly visible clashes with Chief Constables, as these were undermining confidence in policing. Police authorities were effectively abolished for being too successful in achieving Parliament's objectives!

It would also be helpful to have some stability. So, with that caveat, I would suggest a model that I feel would be much more appropriate than both PCCs and the previous police authorities, particularly in the West Midlands where the police cover an area too big for communities to meaningfully identify with.  The approach would be very similar to one of the options in the Stevens report.  I would base a future structure on my developing model of local policing and crime boards, where each of the seven cities and boroughs is producing a board that is itself an evolution of the statutory Community Safety Partnerships (set up after the 1998 Crime & Disorder Act).  

The local policing and crime boards are becoming a community-led local accountability structure, where instead of the CSP approach - which mainly saw heads of statutory services around the table - the majority membership will be members of the local community and representatives of victims' organisations, small businesses, and voluntary organisations.

The impact of a board representing the whole of the community would, I believe, give greater ownership and confidence than accountability by a single remote politician.

In the West Midlands the local policing and crime boards will set the local policing plan, have community safety funds to disburse in support of that plan and will very much drive the priorities of their Local Policing Unit.  The commanders of the Local Policing Units whose boundaries match the boards will have support and scrutiny of the policing services which deliver 90%+ of the policing that the community wishes to influence.  If there is a desire to keep an elected representative, the Chairs of such bodies could be elected and could even be called a Commissioner.  With minor legislative changes they could additionally be involved in the appointment of local commanders and local policing budgets.

It is worth noting that in the West Midlands the Birmingham Chair (or Commissioner) for the local policing and crime board would still cover an area with a population of 1.1 million people - twice the size of a PCC area like Warwickshire.  In areas like Warwickshire you could simply operate on the current county area, but still gain efficiency by bringing together the office of the PCC and Community Safety Partnership administrations, rather than again having a model thrust on us by manifesto commitments emanating from think tanks with little understanding of or sympathy with policing. 

No-one looking at the distinguished members of the Stevens Commission could have similar concerns about their understanding of or approach to policing.  A lasting and consensual solution, providing certainty and stability, would be in the best interest of British policing and I hope any future government will do its utmost to achieve such consensus.

With greater focus on local accountability, you could then brigade the strategic functions in a more cost effective way, perhaps learning from Scotland.  Here they have made savings in structures and management rather than operational services, producing much better crime reduction performance than we've seen in PCC areas since April.

In summary I feel such structures would:
a)         Be at a level the community identifies with
b)         Not have party political majorities
c)         Generate savings from:
            1)         Combining the statutory structures of Community Safety Partnerships and the offices of PCCs
            2)         Reduce the cost of payments to PCCs and Deputies
            3)         Allow more efficient brigading of strategic functions
I offer this to a debate which I hope will be triggered by the Stevens report but I hope we will all have a chance to participate in.

Written by Bob Jones at 10:00


david said...
I do wonder where democratic accountability features in your new model for local policing boards.

This slightly edited passage is key to understanding your model and I quote:

'The local policing and crime boards are becoming a community-led local accountability structure.....the majority membership will be members of the local community and representatives of victims' organisations, small businesses, and voluntary organisations'.

How are these boards community-led? Who chooses the membership?

Nowhere is this explained. I do recall in your election campaign at one public meeting you referred to "councillors know what is going on" and hinted they would form such local boards.

Given the legislation required to create the PCC function and the experience to date - surely a local board system will need legislation too?

The power of a PCC to set priorities, which you have clearly done several times, notably over business partnerships, is quite different from 'the community wishes to influence'. What will happen when such an envisaged local board has a profound disagreement with the local police commander, who simply can say "I've listened, it is my responsibility to decide".

As for learning from Police Scotland, a national police service, when it has been operational for a short time seems rather early. Even more so when you refer to it 'producing much better crime reduction performance', well I think the jury is out on whether such police recorded reductions are likely to be genuine.
November 30, 2013 05:44