Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Linda Belgrove (PR 11)

Submission to the Public Bill Committee relating to the section of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill dealing with the abolition of Police Authorities and their replacement with Police and Crime Commissioners.

1. I am an Independent Member of Essex Police Authority and feel the Bill disregards the importance of keeping politics out of policing. In the current Police Authority set-up the co-opted Independent Members are a balancing influence on the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Local Councillors who form the body of each Police Authority.

I am concerned that a single elected person backed by a major political party would have absolute unrestricted power over each police force. The support panel (according to the draft bill) does not seem to have a clear role and will only have two independent members.

2. I live in the area of Tendring and I represent that area on EPA. I am able to go out on patrol with local Police Officers. I follow up news articles where claims of failure of service to the public are made against Essex Police. I have a personalised poster displayed at all Police Stations in Tendring explaining my role and accountability to the public – with my telephone number and email address. I receive numerous telephone calls and emails asking for my assistance in local policing issues. How will one person (Police & Crime Commissioner) be able to offer that personal service/accountability to the public. This aspect must be addressed in the new legislation.

3. Police Authority members also have lead roles – for example I lead on Diversity & Fairness including Young People and Children. Not only to scrutinise in general but also to visit the vast amount of varying groups. Of equal importance is ensuring that Police Forces have a fair representation of BME, Disabled, Travelling Community, Gay/Lesbian etc. This level of scrutiny cannot be done at meetings – this takes personal attention, interest in people, being accessible.

4. Much has been said about Police Authorities being invisible to the public. May I say that replacing seventeen members with one person is hardly likely to remedy that issue. It is somewhat curious to note that crime has fallen to its lowest level in many years. Neighbourhood Policing has engaged the public with many volunteer groups who guide and advise the Police as to what is needed locally and most of this has been accomplished with low level council tax precepts. How is it then that Police Authorities have failed? I would respectfully suggest that Police Authorities have been extremely successful but without any recognition. The Bill needs to address a means of retaining the core experience and local knowledge found within Police Authorities should the change to a Directly Elected Police Commissioner occurs.

5. Another part of the Bill that presents difficulties concerns the legislation surrounding who qualifies to be a Commissioner. Will current PA members be eligible? My personal view is that now some members of Police Authorities are more interested in their future, i.e. how to become the Elected Commissioner- this causes a conflict of interest. They seek to please the "electorate" rather than do the job in hand. The Bill needs to address this issue – without delay.

December 2010