What next for the Police Commissioner model?

A future commissioner or a model for disaster?

The last few weeks haven’t been kind to the police forces, especially in London. First there was the phone hacking scandal that led to the resignation of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Then there were riots on the streets of London and other major cities which the police were seemingly slow to react to. In light of this one of our favourite guest bloggers asks what the effect of the past few months might be on the Government’s proposals for elected police commissioners.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill 2011 is proposing to replace Police Authorities with directly elected Police Commissioners. The soon to be replaced police authorites are currently comprised of local government Councillors and co-opted Independent Members.

At work a couple of months back I speculated with a colleague about whether the Police Bill might suffer the same procedural delays that the Health Bill had. His view was that it was less controversial with the public and the political classes.

That was in the Spring and of course, the police have since had a roller coaster few months. First the public opprobrium arising from the phone hacking scandal and now public concerns about civic unrest. My question is have these two events impacted on the debate regarding the elected police commission model?

Ahead of the recent riots there were some political responses that might show that political support is weakening.

1)    In response to a query regarding why officials did not pass on briefings from Yates of the Yard to David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt stated that:

We don’t know exactly what it was the John Yates wanted to brief him (Cameron) about, but we do know it appears that it was about operational police matters and there is a very strong convention in this country under the separation of powers, Politicians don’t involve themselves in operational police matters, so that the police are in no way compromised.

How does this stack against the proposal to directly elect police commissioners?

2)    In a recent letter to the Times, following a similar approach to previous issues, senior local Liberal Democrat politicians have called for the model to be scrapped.

3)    News that the Conservatives are considering whether they will bother putting forward official candidates. Is that because they don’t want the expense, and if they don’t (considering the parties relative financial health) who will?

I have seen no mention, bar a few tweets, as to whether a police commissioner would have helped or hindered how the police dealt with the riots. However, with Boris Johnson recently stating that the government should ‘look again’ at the proposals to cut the police budgets could this strengthen the argument for at least postponing the implementation of this new governance model with its attendant costs on Councils and Police Forces.

The challenges outlined above, aligned to those provided by the current troubles of the Met, could raise concerns over the police commissioner model.

The policy however, is well on its way to implementation and under the proposed timetable we will be having our first elections for police commissioners in May 2012

Any elected police commissioners will need to be relevant, legitimate and locally inspiring if they are to be effective. The perceived crises in the police may help the public to get engaged in the elections but if local politicians don’t engage with the process, or set their face against it there is a very real risk that the model will fail before it starts.

There are no plans to delay or abandon the model but following recent reports in the Times that Senior Lib Dems in parliament are concerned that ‘now is not the time’ to spend an estimated £150m on elections that some don’t want and others don’t want to stand for, may make the Government pause for thought.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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14 Comments on “What next for the Police Commissioner model?”

  1. LG Worker Says:

    Great post. I have many concerns about the model and you raise just a few of them. However, you are right these plans are long on the way to being implemented. Yet, and this is my big concern as an LG Officer working in this area, no one seems to know how it will work, especially in the Capital (sorry to be London Centric). I have been trying to find out what the relationship will be between the Local Authority, the Local Crime Partnership, the Local Crime Scrutiny Board, the proposed Crime Panels and the elected Commissioner. And you know what, no one can tell me. That scares me. Oh and I have no idea if an elected Commissioner would have helped with the riots, though the comments of Sir Hugh Orde today show us another group not completely behind this model; the Police themselves.

  2. Will Says:

    Thanks LG Worker. Something similar happened when a colleague went to a DoH seminar on the GP consortium model. She asked them ‘What will the relationship be with statutory Health Select Committees’ and the civil servants running the shows response was ‘What’s a Health Select Committee’.

    A point not covered in the post, I ran out of space, is the importance of Partnership working. Police Authorities tend to have a mixture of cross party representatives. If you replace that with one politician of one particular hue how well will they work with other local authorities to agree strategy and resource allocation.

  3. localgovalso Says:

    I’ve long been struggling to find a single positive benefit of elected commissioners to either operational or strategic delivery of policing/community safety. This article rather excellently demonstrates why there really aren’t any.

  4. Will Says:

    On the face of it the elected commissioner model should give the public someone who they can make directly accountability for the broad strategy and budget of the police. As I understand it they will be a Committee of representatives local authorities within the constabulary area which can also how the Commissioner to account. Are there any lessons to be learnt from the Elect Mayor model?

  5. Ed Hammond Says:

    Will – your point rings bells. At the National Overview and Scrutiny Forum (yes, alright, alright) a couple of weeks ago, we had some health civil servants and Home Office civil servants in the same room. My emphatic impression from this was that they found this enormously useful as hitherto they hadn’t been talking to each other (this may be unfair…)

    As others have said this *will* be happening. Government has been merrily convening 13 (or twelve and a half, depending on who you speak to – not making this up) project groups for the last six months, to manage the “transition” process. The Home Office seem to be strained between saying, “Everyone should do what they like” and “Actually, we’d quite like to make some prescriptions in some key areas – but we’re not telling you what these key areas are”. Frustrating for a number of reasons.

    Nowhere is this proving trickier than with the Police and Crime Panels, which will apparently hold the Commissioner to account. They have been subject to almost endless tweaks in the role and composition over the last few months. Their powers now seem to be pretty much set, but there’s still confusion about who will sit on them. Government is providing about tuppence ha’penny per lead authority to run them, and my concern is that they will end up providing no meaningful accountability in these new processes at all – a gaping hole in the modern, responsive, transparent police service we are supposed to be building.

    This isn’t the fault of the Home Office though, entirely. Local government is also umming and ahhing about all this far too much. Vacillation and woolly thinking in many areas about shadow arrangements, rather than a serious and concerted effort to put some real brainpower into this, means we are inexorably creeping towards May 2012 without anyone having any confidence in the new system that will come into place after the elections. The argument about whether we do, or don’t, have elected commissioners has been lost (assuming that you approach this from that side of the argument). The task now is to put a strong message to the Home Office, and within our own authorities, about implementation. I’m not much more than a spectator in all this, but I don’t see that happening at the moment.

  6. Ed Hammond Says:

    Should add that if this *is* cancelled or even postponed now, it will be the most colossal political u-turn in the history of the world. Not to be hyperbolic about it.

  7. jgh Says:

    What overview structure to the police *themselves* think would be best? All I seem to see if Westminster politicians in thrall to the USA trying to impose systems labelled with the same names as USA models without actually thinking through what they want to actually accomplish.

  8. Will Says:

    Ed, You’re mention of even a postponement being a massive political u-turn is interesting. I wondered if the political pressure from the Lib Dems and the Police would increase the it’s likelihood now I almost think the police have over played their hand. Perhaps the Conservatives, after forest, health and criminal justice will not want to look too weak in the face of opposition especially as the subject of elected commissioners has not caught the public’s attention.

  9. Ed Hammond Says:

    I think a lot of the police would be happy with the current system staying in place.

    That said, it’s important to recognise the crucial difference with the US model – here, there will be (I think) a statutory requirement for the commissioner to work in partnership with other bodies. The PCC will have to negotiate and liaise with other partners to achieve his/her objectives. PCCs will also, of course, have to work within legal advice and within national prescription on certain types of policing.

    May 2012 is *the date* and is still very much what is being worked towards. As far as I know the intention is still to get Royal Assent in mid-October and to take it from there. From the Government’s point of view, concessions have already been made to the critics and they won’t feel that last week’s events should have any influence on the broad, strategic agenda they are pursuing.

  10. Will Says:

    Ed, Do you know if it’s something that requires further regulation to implement? Would that give government an opportunity to delay? With regard to the point about statutory duty to work in partnership. The experience of other types of partnership working shows that a lot will depend alot on personalities as well as structures. If a bellicose is appointed how will they work effectively with a (often a multitude) of local authorities within their Constabulary area. Efforts over the last year have been on connecting police in beat areas through local PACT (Police And Community Together) meetings and through CDRPs with individual auuthorites. Could one political voice for a large undermine this work?

  11. Ed Hammond Says:

    Regs are planned (as well as some “light touch” guidance from the Home Office) but I think that this has been built into the schedule. Both will be out by December, which does raise issues with the transition timescale.

    Good partnership working will, absolutely, depend on the personalities. The structures though will be established to heavily favour partnership working over a “go it alone” approach. A bellicose PCC will probably find it is essentially impose to secure what they want without working in partnership, such is the nature of modern community safety funding and decision-making. You’ll probably find that most of the commissioners will be former cllrs and/or people who have sat on PAs so will understand the context. In many instances they will be of the same party as the leadership of a number of the local authorities in the area (ie they will all be Tories). The difficulty will come in Doncaster-style situations with a PCC of a different party, and with different priorities, to local authorities and other partners. The proof there will be in the pudding. We will have to rely on people being pragmatists to get things done. There’s no doubt though that there will be some high-profile ding-dongs – certainly in the first few months as things are bedding in.

  12. Will Says:

    Ed, I’m going to guess that the turnouts will be quite low as there are no other elections going on in many places in May 2012 and the areas being covered are quite large (I think in most cases bigger than Counties) so people won’t relate to them very well. Do political parties have the funds to run effective campaigns across all the England? If not I predict that we will see a large number of independent and populist candidates slipping by who are not used to pragmatic politics.

  13. Ed Hammond Says:

    You may well be right. By definition it will lend itself to single issue politics. But the main three parties are surprisingly far advanced in their preparations.

    I expect turnouts *will* be very low, although they may be higher when they coincide with other elections… maybe.

    It’s all an unknown quantity at the moment – no party has the money to run a big campaign at the moment, so the race may, in fact, be extremely open in many areas. The assumption being made at the moment is that 30-35 will be Tories, 5 Labour and the rest “independents” (UKIP, English Democrat etc) but we may be surprised.

  14. Will Says:

    When I did a bit more digging on candidate selection, I found on LibDem voice that only people already on the approved parliamentary candidate list can put themselves forward to become an official Lib Dem candidate for the Police Commissioner elections. Some concern was expressed that candidates would only be announced in November leaving not much time to get their profile up.

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