Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Thames Valley Police Authority (PR 125)

The Authority has considered the provisions of the Bill.

The Bill seeks to reconnect the police with the public they serve and make them more accountable locally. Whilst the Authority understands and accepts these aspirations it believes that many of the proposals are impractical and risk lessening local accountability rather than enhancing it.

The Authority is also concerned at the cost of the proposals at a time of significant pressure on public expenditure and reduced monies for policing.

Specifically there are the following concerns which I have tried to put into a practical context in a Thames Valley scenario:

1) The Authority has concerns that a single Commissioner could not effectively cover the range of responsibilities intended of them in an area the geographical size of Thames Valley. There are 16 Community Safety Partnerships and 9 Local Strategic Partnerships, 18 local authorities and numerous other partnerships/organisations including a Local Criminal Justice Board.

2) The Thames Valley is not only geographically large, covering the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire but also extremely diverse from outer London Slough to rural West Oxfordshire. It has a population of some 2.2 million people and is set to grow significantly, for example with the doubling in size of Milton Keynes. Its communities are diverse in every sense of the word, ethnically, economically and structurally. It is difficult to see therefore, how one individual can relate to and represent the views of the communities of Thames Valley currently fulfilled by 19 people.

3) Given this scenario how could one individual provide the necessary level of scrutiny and hold the Police to account effectively?

4) The proposals have one individual, a Commissioner, to hold the Police to account yet, in Thames Valley there would be a Policing and Crime Panel of 20 to hold the one Commissioner to account.

5) The proposed structure is likely to lead to confusion as to the exact role and responsibilities of the Commissioner. There is an inbuilt tension in the proposal between the Panel and the Commissioner which is likely to increase bureaucracy and introduce conflict – the opposite of the Bill’s objectives. The Policing and Crime Panel will not be at the heart of the decision making process.

6) The proposals may well lead to the politicisation of policing at the local level which is contrary to established principles and values.

7) A model whereby a directly elected Commissioner chaired the proposed Policing and Crime Panel which would effectively act as a Board (similar to that in a company) would provide the checks and balances against politicising policing at the local level and better maintain links with communities through local councillors.

8) This would also reduce cost and avoid having two bureaucracies, one to support the Commissioner and one to support the Policing and Crime panel and avoid confusion to the public.

9) The Government has proposed setting aside a sum of £50 million for election of the Commissioners. This appears to be predicated on the assumption that many councils will be running elections in May 2012 and that the costs will be shared and therefore reduced. In Thames Valley, there are only 6 councils out of 18 holding elections in May 2012. The cost assumptions are likely therefore to be flawed and someone will need to pick up these costs. In Thames Valley the estimated cost of running an election for a Commissioner is £2 million.

February 2011