Examination of Witnesses (Questions 367
THURSDAY 7 MARCH 2002
367. Dr Henig, Mr Peel and Ms Leech, welcome.
Can you just start by telling us, in the case of Dr Henig and
Mr Peel, which police authorities you are members of?
(Dr Henig) Yes, indeed. Obviously we
are very pleased to have the opportunity to be here this afternoon.
I was going to start off by introducing ourselves.
368. Please do.
(Dr Henig) Dr Ruth Henig, that is myself, I chair
the Lancashire Police Authority and I chair, also, the Association
of Police Authorities. Mr Anthony Peel chairs Essex Police Authority
and is the Vice Chairman of the Association of Police Authorities.
Melanie Leech is our Executive Director. I just thought perhaps,
in case there were members who were not fully familiar with the
way the Association of Police Authorities works, I would outline
that. It is a body which operates through a plenary committee
and that plenary committee has all police authority chairs from
authorities throughout the countryEngland, Wales and Northern
Irelandand a lot of vice chairs as well. The Executive
of the Association has representatives from the three main political
parties and from the magistrates and from the independents because
effectively we operate through those five groups: Conservative,
Labour, Liberal, magistrates, independents. We operate largely
by consensus. I hope that might become clear this afternoon because
Mr Peel and myself perhaps do not always agree on all political
matters, being on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but
as far as policing issues are concerned I think we are at one
pretty well down the line and that would be true of the Association,
generally speaking, and of our members.
Chairman: Perhaps I ought to tell you what we
are up to. We are attempting a little pre-legislative scrutiny
of the Police Reform Bill. It is having to be done necessarily
hastily since the Bill will be coming to the House of Commons
very shortly. We are taking evidence from all the main interested
parties, of whom you are one. Perhaps we can start, Mr Singh has
some questions about the national policing plan.
369. In terms of your submission, your only
comment on the annual national policing plan is that it will not
be subject to a statutory consultation procedure. What are your
thoughts on the national policing plan in more general terms than
lack of consultation?
(Dr Henig) I will start off with a general answer
and then perhaps I will defer to my colleagues on this. There
exists already the basis of this plan in the sense that ministers
lay down already a number of things that we have to follow. They
lay down ministerial priorities. There are certain things that
we have to comply with across the board. Their argument is that
the national policing plan is simply a way of drawing together
those basic ingredients which are prescriptive already and that
would be a better way of operating. I think we can see the logic
of that argument. We do accept that there needs to be a national
strategic framework within which we operate. I think the argument
is about the degree of prescription that is required and the flexibility
to operate within that. We do accept that there should be this
strategic level nationally and there then has to be a debate about
what is appropriate to be dealt with strategically and what should
be dealt with locally. I do not know whether my colleagues want
(Ms Leech) I think there is not much to add to that.
Obviously we have some concerns about how that balance is going
to be drawn and how the decision about what is truly strategic
is going to be made. That partly underlies our concern to be full
consultees in that process along with the Association of Chief
Police Officers, as the three partners who actually deliver policing.
Obviously we have some concerns, which I guess you may come on
to, about some of the things to do with regulations and codes
of practice and so on, and how those are going to be derived.
In general terms, as Dr Henig has said, we welcome the idea of
pulling together the various things which ministers currently
rightly set out at that strategic level. We do have some concerns
that the Bill as currently drafted would enable a much more prescriptive
and detailed national plan which would be able to go beyond the
strategic and we would welcome the amendment that has been tabled
in the Lords to try to address that issue and to narrow down the
focus. At the strategic level we have supported the plan.
370. You would like to push for consultation
on the context?
(Dr Henig) No, clearly there is an issue about consultation
and as one of the tripartite partners I think we would want to
be fully consulted about what falls in which category and how
things should be processed. I think that has to be part of the
tripartite relationship. I think if the consultation was not meaningful
and embraced all the partners on an equal level then there would
be concerns about pulling too much power to the centre and that
would be part of our general concerns that while no single measure
in this reform legislation can be pointed to, the cumulative weight
is putting power to the centre and clearly that is a concern that
we have and this is part of that concern.
371. Do you have any worries that the national
police plan might squeeze out local priorities? We have the national
policing plan; we have the force wide plans and I believe also
we have policing plans at basic command unit level.
(Dr Henig) That is right, yes.
372. Do you see a problem with this together?
Do you see a problem in terms of local priorities, basic command
unit plans will be squeezed?
(Dr Henig) This comes back to my point. I do not see
a problem provided everybody draws a clear demarcation between
what is national and strategic and what is appropriately local.
If you have a clear national framework that should allow more
of an emphasis then to be placed on what are local initiatives,
local strategies, and indeed you are right there is a force policing
plan and then within the different localities. We have in Lancashire
six divisional plans and then we have a number of other plans
under those, it could be community safety partnerships and I am
sure the same is true of Essex. I think if you draw this properly
you can maximise and emphasise and give more weight to the local
but if you are not careful you are going to blur the two and that
is where our problems then would arise.
373. ACPO I do not think are very happy at the
Standards Unit looking down at the basic command unit level in
terms of performance etc. In a sense it relates back to the previous
discussion we have had. Do you believe the Standards Unit should
focus at a strategic level or are you happy with proposals for
it to look at basic command unit level?
(Dr Henig) Can we go to the theory first? The purpose
of having a Standards Unit is to drive up the quality of policing.
We do not argue with that at all. We accept that at the moment
there are variations. There are different parts of the country
which perhaps have different levels of policing. We accept that
we should all strive to improve both through police authority
effort and nationally we should try and improve the quality of
policing. In as much as the Standards Unit is being brought in
to forward that objective we support it and particularly we support
it if its role is going to be to spread good practice and to actually
be able to take from one part of the country to another things
which have worked and try and make policing better, because that
is what we are all in the business of trying to do. In as much
as Standards Units are advising forces, as I say we have no problem
with that. Now you introduce the BCU, I think that is a very different
situation because for the first time ever there is going to be
this inspection, which has already started through HMI, of looking
at BC units, and there is of course the whole argument which ACPO
have developed that you have to look at the force, and the way
the force operates and BCUs are only part of the story. You do
not go into a branch of Marks and Spencers if you want to know
how Marks and Spencers operates, you go to head office, you know
you cannot look at one without the other. In terms of BCU inspections,
and the Standards Unit, at the moment, of course, we are desperately
unhappy because I think everybody is involved in those BCU inspections
bar police authorities, and that is something we really cannot
accept without challenging it I think. Certainly we feel we would
want to be involved because just as we are involved in the strategic
oversight of the force so clearly if a BCU is being inspected
the police authority would want to have some involvement in that.
I think at the moment you will find that we are not mentioned
in that process.
374. In a sense you feel this proposal undermines
the position of police authorities? Does it also, maybe, do you
feel undermine the accountability of the chief constables?
(Dr Henig) I think there is a danger here. With all
these things there are opportunities and there are threats. I
think if the Standards Unit is targeted properly there is an opportunity
to use the expertise of the Standards Unit to drive up the quality
of policing but it has got to be exercised with the force and
with the authority and not cut across those processes. The danger
at the moment I think is the legislation as drawn will cut across
those processes, it will then be seen in a sense as a hostile
force and you could then develop antagonisms which would be very
(Ms Leech) I think the key word is the word you used
which is accountability. A police authority is responsible and
accountable for delivering efficient and effective policing locally.
They appoint a chief constable to have operational control of
the force and directional control of the force and those are the
So any process that derives from issues of performance
should flow with those accountabilities and should be tackled
through those accountabilities, not by going around them. As Dr
Henig said, in so far as the Standards Unit can help to identify
the issues and identify the ways in which those issues might be
tackled, and in particular what works and why it works, that is
a helpful tool to help those people who are properly accountable
for performance to tackle issues of poor performance and to raise
standards, but not if it comes in and cuts across the delivery
and the way of dealing with those issues and the management of
those issues in a way that is unhelpful.
375. I understand entirely the point of accountability
and the point that you are making but would you accept that there
are wide variations across different forces in terms of effectiveness
and efficiency and detection rates, etc., and there are wide variations
between Basic Command Units across the country? In those circumstances
do you not think that this proposal is legitimate in the sense
of trying to get that best practice at that basic level?
(Dr Henig) I was trying to indicate that, yes, I did.
I am supportive of it if it works in a positive way but, as with
all these things, they have to go with the grain and not against
it. You will find that police authorities themselves are very
conscious of differences between BCUs. Part of our job in monitoring
police performance is to actually monitor the different divisions
and to ask questions such as why this division is doing well and
this division appears not to be doing so well. In a sense we are
trying to do that anyway and any support we can get we welcome.
It is a question of setting up structures which actually help
us to do our job better and also work to enable the Home Secretary
to be more effective. I am not against the principle of this at
all, I think the way it operates is going to be vital.
376. So would it be helpful if when the Standards
Unit was looking at the BCUs in police authorities if the Standards
Unit actually co-operated, informed and consulted with the police
(Dr Henig) We have got to be involved. If we are involved
then I think we can actually work with the Standards Unit. At
the end of the day whatever they come up with we, along with the
chief officers, will have to implement. I think there is an issue
of ownership here and we need to be in there actually negotiating
with the Standards Unit, working with them to say "yes, okay,
these are the problems and we need to do this, this and this".
I just think it would make the principle work more effectively.
What I am concerned about is effective performance and outcomes
out there on the ground.
(Mr Peel) There is another area where we are concerned
about the Standards Unit. We are already subject to inspections
by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary and to some extent
the two are doing the same job. I think there is a case for saying
that we do not need them both. Which one goes and which stays
is another matter for somebody else to say but we are getting
somewhat confused as to who is actually inspecting us, who is
trying to do this job, is it the Standards Unit or HMIC, and how
do they fit together?
Mr Singh: Thank you very much.
377. Could I address my question to Mr Peel.
There is understandable concern that the Home Secretary under
the terms of this Bill will be able to set improvement targets
without reference to a police authority. Do you think it is possible
to set appropriate and effective targets without consulting the
authority and finding out what the contributory factors might
have been if things had got to a bad state?
(Mr Peel) This is one of the fundamental issues we
take with this entire process. You will know that we have the
tripartite arrangement at the moment, the three legged stool,
and although they are three independent legs they all support
the seat. What is happening here is that two of those legs are
going to be put together in a straight line, hence if he is telling
us direct from above what we should be doing, no, we should be
consulted. I do not know where he is going to get his information
from to give us these improvement targets. I think the simple
answer to your question is no, we would be far from happy if we
were being told directly that way as to what improvement targets
we are aiming at. We have got ministerial targets already and
we accept those, those we include in our policing plan.
378. Could you say what sort of factors are
likely to cause failure in a police authority or contribute to
(Dr Henig) I am not sure what improvement targets
we are talking about.
379. They are non-specific. It is the power
of the Home Secretary to impose improvement targets without reference
to a police authority. The point I was drawing out was without
reference to a police authority how can they know or how can they
form those targets adequately?
(Ms Leech) Are we concerned with clause 5 and the
improvement plan where an inspection is identified?