Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by the County Councils Network (PR 114)


1. The County Councils Network (CCN) is a cross-party special interest group of the Local Government Association which speaks, develops policy and shares best practice for the County family of local authorities, whether unitary or upper tier. CCN’s 38 member councils, with over 2,500 Councillors, serve 24 million people over 45 thousand square miles or 87% of England.

Overall Response

2. CCN welcomes the opportunity to engage with the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

3. CCN considers that there are opportunities to improve police accountability structures in England, and that in particular that local people should have a say in how their Communities are policed.

4. However, it is important to recognise that lowering crime and anti-social behaviour is not just the responsibility of the police, but also of local councils and other local agencies, and that mechanisms are already in place to enable joint decision making and joint accountability to communities.

5. Effective partnerships are vital to cutting crime, and it is important that any changes to police accountability strengthen partnership arrangements rather than weaken them. CCN believes that elected commissioners and Police and Crime Panels will only be effective in driving performance improvement if they are integrated with existing mechanisms and responsibilities.

6. Under the Bill’s proposals Councils will have to jointly establish a Police and Crime Panel to scrutinise the work of the directly Elected Police and Crime Commissioner. The panels will have at least ten directly elected representatives (Councillors in England) and two co-opted members and will have to reflect the political make up of the local area. Panels will be able to veto a Commissioner’s proposed budget by a three quarters majority vote and will also be able to veto any candidate recommended by the Commissioner for Chief Constable.

7. CCN welcomes the intention to ensure democratic accountability through the involvement of elected Councillors through the Police and Crime Panels. However we would like to raise a number of issues that need to be taken into account if the proposals are to achieve their stated policy objectives of transforming "the policing landscape in England and Wales by reducing bureaucracy, increasing democratic accountability and getting the public involved in how their streets are policed. [1] "

8. Firstly, the obligation to scrutinise the contribution of all Responsible Authorities to improving community safety and tackling crime in partnerships already exists within the democratic accountability of local authorities. An alternative approach to that proposed in the Bill would be to adapt Scrutiny Committees to enable them to take on the role of the Police and Crime Panel. Scrutiny Committees are able to co-opt members from other agencies and independent representatives as necessary and to form a joint committee covering all upper tier authorities for the area. In multi-tier areas elected member representation could be provided from district, county and unitary members in the area. Such a joint committee would not only be able to hold the Commissioner to account, but would also be able to scrutinise partnership activity on tackling crime and disorder, ensuring join up and value for money.

9. Value for money is a clearly a key concern, and under the provisions of the Bill arrangements for the Police and Crime Panels have to make provision for how the participating authorities are to meet the costs of the panel and how any funds paid to meet the costs of the panel are paid to or distributed between, the participating authorities. The Police and Crime Commissioners Impact Assessment estimates the cost of the Police and crime Panels as £2m in 2010/11 prices. This assumes that the Panels will function as a forum for councils rather than as a separate body, and that Councillor allowances will be met by the existing general local authority at no additional cost.

10. The current provisions in the Bill (schedule 6: section 28) sets out that Police and Crime Panels are to be a committee of the participating authority (if a single-authority panel) or a joint committee of participating authorities (if it is a joint panel), and that where there are ten or more participating authorities each member must be appointed by a different participating authority. This is a particular issue in two tier areas which may be represented by a county council, one or more unitary councils, and a number of district councils.

11. Under this proposal an area covered by a county council, a unitary council and eight district councils would have a Police and Crime Panel with one elected member from the county council, one from the unitary council and eight district councils representatives along with two co-opted representatives.

12. This would mean that the authorities responsible for more than 80% of local government services in the area would make up less than a fifth of the membership of the Police and Crime Panel.

13. The proposal does not recognise the different scale of "participating authorities". Taking one area as an example there is a County Council serving 1,165,800 people, a Unitary Authority serving 140,000 people and 12 Districts serving populations of between 57,000 and 139,800. Under the proposals each authority would have a single representative on the Policy and Crime Panel regardless of population size or responsibilities.

14. The responsibilities of participating authorities are important in this context and not adequately reflected in the current proposals. County and Unitary Authorities have a range of responsibilities that interrelate with policing. Alongside Community Safety responsibilities these include Children’s Safeguarding and Adult Mental Health. There are also wider links between the public health and crime agendas including substance misuse and domestic violence. We consider that the Police and Crime Panels would be considerably strengthened if a larger proportion of their membership were drawn from Senior Elected Members of County and Unitary Authorities who are able to strengthen the links between these key responsibilities and policing.

15. The proposal also includes the requirement that panel arrangements must secure that as far as reasonably practicable the local authority members (when taken together) represent the political makeup of the participating authority, or of the participating authorities taken together. This is a requirement that might seem straightforward in the case of a single unitary authority covering a whole area but would be complex to achieve in areas covering a number of participating authorities that may have different political control and electoral cycles.

16. Although CCN supports the proposal that there should be representation from all types of local council in the area, we consider that the requirements in the Bill are simplistic and unhelpful.

17. CCN therefore considers that the Bill should provide for the membership of Police and Crime Panels to be appointed by the participating authorities from among the members of the participating authorities, with provision for the membership to include representation from each class of principal authority in the area. The exact make up of the Panels would be a matter for local agreement, building on the experience of partnership working locally.

18. CCN endorses the position of the LG Group in supporting the powers for panels to veto by vote the commissioner’s proposed precept and their recommended appointment for Chief Constable, which is preferable to the earlier proposal for a public referendum which would have been both costly and complex to administer. We also support the proposal that the required threshold to exercise either veto should be a two thirds majority rather than the three quarters majority as set out in the Bill. This would strengthen the check on the commissioner without impeding the commissioner in delivering their priorities.

19. We welcome the opportunity to engage with the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, and to highlight issues of concern to members of the Public Bill Committee who have the task of scrutinising the Bill.

February 2011

[1] Police and Crime Commissioners: Impact Assessment HO0021 30/11/2010