Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Welsh Local Government Association (PR 124)

INTRODUCTION

1. The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) represents the 22 local authorities in Wales, and the three national park authorities, the three fire and rescue authorities, and four police authorities are associate members.

2. It seeks to provide representation to local authorities within an emerging policy framework that satisfies the key priorities of our members and delivers a broad range of services that add value to Welsh Local Government and the communities they serve.

POLICE REFORM AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY BILL: KEY ISSUES FOR WALES

3. Replacing Police Authorities made up of 17 or 19 members in Wales with a single elected Commissioner will reduce representativeness and not improve public accountability of the police: The WLGA does not believe that an individual elected at police force level can be truly representative of the divergent communities that exist in police force areas in Wales, particularly geographically large areas such as Dyfed Powys. Nor can a single Commissioner effectively engage with local people and communities in such vast and diverse areas.

The WLGA does not believe that the introduction of a Commissioner at the expense of effective Police Authorities in Wales will increase public accountability of the police in Wales and will not bring about the improvements envisaged by the Home Office. We recognise that there is always room for improvement and the focus should be on further increasing public awareness of and understanding of police authorities.

4. The role of Police and Crime Panels is not strong enough: We do not believe that the current role of Police and Crime Panels (PCP) is robust enough to effectively challenge the Commissioner on important issues (such as the precept level and the appointment of Chief Constables) without recourse to issuing a veto or reporting dissatisfaction to the public. Public disagreements risk undermining confidence in local policing. Rather than the potential for an adversarial relationship between the Commissioner and the Panel, there should be more of a partnership approach between the Commissioner, PCP and Force - as currently operates - in identifying and addressing local policing matters.

The WLGA would like to see an increased role for Panels generally and more specifically in setting the force budget and precept and the Policing Plan, in partnership with the Commissioner.

5. The good partnership work that exists in Wales, particularly between Local Authorities and the police must continue: As PCPs will not be able to directly scrutinise the work of the Chief Constable and the Police Force, we believe that the strategic link between policing and Local Authorities is severely undermined.

The WLGA would like to see increased recognition reflected in the Bill of the important relationship that exists between the police and Local Authorities and the joint work undertaken to address shared community concerns relating to crime. We welcome the role of local councillors on PCPs however given their links to local communities and their influence within the Council in setting priorities, we believe there should be an increased role for elected members in policing matters, rather than only through scrutiny of a Commissioner.

6. The impact on Community Safety Partnerships: We are concerned at the potential impact of Home Office funding for crime and community safety programmes, previously given to CSPs being given to the Commissioner, once established, to allocate and the expectation being that the Commissioner will work with CSPs and others to prioritise the issues to be addressed. We believe that there is a risk that Commissioners’ may be elected on very local crime or disorder issues that may not be reflected as a priority across the whole force area which may skew priorities in certain directions. CSPs base their priorities on strategic assessments of crime levels and priorities for action and allocation of funding is made by all partners.

The WLGA would argue that Home Office funding currently provided to CSPs should continue to be provided to CSPs and any funding required by the Commissioner should be taken from existing budgets.

WLGA members note the concession that has been made by the Home Office to address concerns raised by the Assembly Government about the proposed role of a Commissioner in the Bill in relation to CSPs, recognising the devolved context and the funding provided to CSPs by the Assembly Government.

The WLGA welcome that Police and Crime Panels will need to unanimously agree certain decisions relating to CSPs as recommended by a Commissioner.

7. Appointee of Welsh Minister’s on a PCP: The WLGA note the proposal for Welsh Minister’s to appoint a representative to sit on a PCP and welcome the efforts of the Assembly Government in trying to ensure that the mechanisms in Wales reflect Welsh circumstances and context.

The WLGA views this as a small concession on the part of the Home Office, and one which may indeed be lost following the National Assembly’s No vote on 8 February. We do not believe that enough consideration has been given to the impact of these proposals on Wales. While improvements can always be made, our understanding is that Police Authorities in Wales generally operate more effectively and have a higher profile than in England. Therefore, the current system is not broken or ineffective and we are not convinced that the proposed new system will add value or improve accountability.

8. Funding to support Police and Crime Panels may not be enough: We do not believe that the amount of funding to be provided by the Home Office is adequate to cover all the costs that may be incurred by an authority in effectively supporting a PCP. While it is recognised that the Panel will scrutinise the Commissioner and not the police force, to ensure there are effective checks and balances, the Panel will also require a certain level of support to effectively scrutinise the role of the Commissioner e.g. the Panels will not only require administrative support, but financial advice, legal advice, policy support etc. The Panels will have the right of veto over the Police element of the council precept, veto on the appointment of the Chief Constable and other duties in relation to reporting on the Local Policing plan, appointing a Commissioner if the incumbent leaves office mid term etc. All these responsibilities will require expert senior professional advice.

The WLGA suggest that the Home Office should review how effective the PCPs are after a period of time including whether the resources and support available is adequate. Local Government is strongly of the view that there should be no additional burdens placed on local authorities without additional resources.

9. While the WLGA recognise that some amendments to the original proposals have been made by the Government, we do not believe that the concessions to date are adequate to address the concerns that exist about how Police and Crime Commissioners will impact on the policing and partnership landscape in Wales. There are many successful features to the current approach that has been taken to reduce crime and address anti-social behaviour over recent years and it is important that these positive factors are not undermined or overlooked through the introduction of a fundamentally new system.

February 2011