Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Staffordshire Police Authority (PR 24)

1. Executive Summary

1.1. Staffordshire Police Authority opposes the proposals contained within the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill in relation to the abolition of police authorities and their replacement by Police and Crime Commissioners. The Authority does not feel that a sufficiently robust business case has been made for this change and exposes the policing service to an untried system of governance at an extremely challenging time for British policing.

1.2. The Authority has a number of comments on the detail of the Bill which is contained in the body of this response. In summary, the Authority is concerned that Police and Crime Commissioners will not give protective services and the ‘less visible’ aspects of policing sufficient emphasis; is concerned that the Chief Constable can veto the final Policing Plan and wonders how one person can effectively do the job which is currently undertaken by 17 members, drawn from diverse backgrounds and with a wide skill set.

1.3. The Authority continues to have concerns about the scrutiny arrangements underpinning the Commissioner and feels that the model proposed will only serve to add an additional, costly, layer of bureaucracy into the governance of policing, and will not have sufficient teeth to hold the Commissioner effectively to account. The Authority queries why the Panel only has a right of veto over the precept and not the entire budget; feels that the appointments process for Chief Constables is over-complicated and could be open to challenge by candidates; and that the makeup of the Panel itself lacks the necessary diversity of current police authorities and unduly favours the smaller districts in terms of representation over the larger county and unitary authorities.

1.4. The Authority also would request further assistance in relation to transition, and consideration in the Bill for shadowing arrangements to ensure that effective transitional arrangements can be put in place to allow for a smooth handover to the new arrangements.

1.5. Above all, however, the Authority’s greatest fear remains over the prospect of politicisation of policing which has been avoided in the governance of policing in England and Wales under the current arrangements.

2. Background

2.1. Staffordshire Police Authority comprises 17 members, 9 appointed from Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and 8 independent members drawn from the public. The Authority’s primary role is to ensure an effective and efficient policing service for the people of Staffordshire, and amongst other duties, set the budget, appoint the Chief Constable and other ACPO Executive Officers and hold the Chief Constable to account for the performance of the force, and seek the views of the public on policing.

2.2. The Authority submitted a detailed response to the Government’s consultation "Policing in the 21st century: Reconnecting police and the people", which was the precursor to the Police Reform, and Social Responsibility Bill, during the autumn of 2010. At that time, the Authority expressed its concerns at the proposals to replace police authorities with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners, as it felt that a sufficiently strong business case had not been made for police authorities’ abolition and that the new arrangements were insufficiently robust. Following publication of the Bill, the Authority is still of that view.

2.3. The Authority would wish to highlight that of the 22 police authorities that were formally inspected as part of the HMIC/Audit Commission inspection process undertaken in 2009/10, none was found to be performing poorly, and many authorities inspected were found to be performing well, particularly in the areas of performance scrutiny and community engagement. None were found to be "weak and ineffective", which is a statement being made about police authorities based on prejudice rather than fact. The Authority firmly believes that given the appropriate level of support by Government, authorities could continue to make a significant contribution to policing in England and Wales.

2.4. The Authority has also expressed its concern at the cost of the proposals, which although it is suggested will be within the financial envelope of the current arrangements, doubts strongly that this will be achievable, given the touted salaries for Commissioners, together with the added bureaucratic layer of a Police and Crime Panel. In the current financial climate, the Authority would wish to see these additional costs utilised on frontline policing and is concerned that such resources are being used to support these proposals.

2.5. Police authorities have a good record of securing value for money and securing efficiencies in policing, and in Staffordshire alone over the last ten years, the Authority can point to efficiency savings of in excess of £51 million. The budget allocated to operate the Authority itself is approximately £1 million, and significant elements of this are on services such as insurances and audit fees. Given that two scrutiny bodies are to be created, the Authority believes that this cost will be easily exceeded.

2.6. Above all, the Authority is concerned that the Bill will bring about the politicisation of policing which is something that has, to date, been avoided with the current police authority arrangements. Unless independent candidates are given the appropriate level of financial support to run for elections, which would seem unlikely in the current financial climate, it is likely that the process will be led by the party machinery, which will be required to campaign across such significant constituencies.

2.7. In its submission to the consultation, the Authority suggested an alternative model, based on a directly elected Chairman of the Authority with the existing member support structure underneath. The Authority believes that this would satisfy the Government’s intention to introduce democratic accountability, whilst maintaining the knowledge and experience of the current membership, and not risk the introduction of an untried system of police governance.

2.8. Whilst the Police Authority is not supportive of the proposals around the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners, it is prepared to work with the new arrangements once they become law in order to ensure a seamless transition in the governance of policing in Staffordshire. In terms of this submission, the Authority has chosen not to touch on every aspect of the Bill, but has set out below a number of issues which it would request the Committee looks at in more detail.

3. Detailed comments on the Bill

3.1. Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) will be elected by local communities every four years, and, no matter how carefully the role is defined, it will be inevitable that the PCC will want to be seen to deliver on their promises made to the electorate at the time of the election. Paragraph 5(5) states that the Commissioner ‘must have regard’ to the strategic policing requirement. How is ‘have regard’ defined? Given the PCC’s inevitable desire to see their election mandate fulfilled, which is likely to focus around the more visible, local policing issues, over other less visible areas of policing, such as protective services, it is important that this is defined appropriately to ensure all areas of policing receive the right level of focus.

3.2. Currently, police authorities are responsible for issuing a Policing Plan, which sets out the strategic direction of the force for the coming year. Whilst the Plan is prepared by the Chief Constable, the targets and objectives within it are set by the Authority, and they have the final say on approving the Plan. The Bill (Chapter 3 – paragraph 5(8)) gives the Chief Constable power of veto over the Plan, thus weakening the current arrangements and hampering the PCC’s ability to set the future strategic direction of policing.

3.3. Whilst this could ensure that policing in the round is protected, and that an appropriate assessment of threat and risks against the key policing issues is undertaken, the Commissioner will wish to fulfil the promises they made during the election process, and a possible veto from the Chief Constable could prevent this from happening and call into question the democratic accountability of the Commissioner themselves. The Bill is not clear on what would happen should there be disagreement between the two parties on what should be ultimately included in the Plan. Police authorities currently have the final say on what should be included in a Plan, and this power should be protected, but clarity over how such disputes would be resolved should be provided.

3.4. The Authority has always had serious doubts how the role currently fulfilled by 17 members will in future be undertaken by just one individual. This will be particularly apparent in the role of community engagement. The Bill (Chapter 3 – paragraph 14) transfers those existing powers to the PCC. The Bill does not clarify, however, how it is expected that this role will be undertaken and the Authority’s serious concerns remain, given that, in Staffordshire alone, how one individual could realistically represent over one million people, actively engage with them and reflect their diverse views. Currently, each of the 17 members are active in their community undertaking diverse engagement activity, be it through their role as a police authority member or in the wider role of some members as councillors. Coupled with this the fact that the Chair is heavily involved in national policing issues, in addition to his significant local commitments, it is very difficult to comprehend how one person will have the capacity to undertake such a workload.

3.5. The Authority has serious concerns about the costs of holding elections for PCCs. The Bill (Chapter 6 – paragraph 50 (2)) states that the poll will be held on an ordinary day for election of councillors, yet this will not necessarily coincide with elections being held, (in Staffordshire, only 3 of the 8 districts/unitaries have elections in 2012) and will therefore incur additional costs which would be better spent on policing.

3.6. The Authority has always had concerns about the lack of real power that the Police and Crime Panel will have over the work of the Commissioner, and the Bill has merely served to raise more questions. The Bill allows for the Panel to veto a proposed precept (Schedule 5, paragraph 4(1)), but it is unclear what will happen once that veto has been put in place. Why is the Panel only allowed a role in determining a veto on the precept (which represents about one third of the total budget) rather than having a wider remit in reviewing the whole budget being proposed by the Commissioner? The Authority believes that for the Panel to have the appropriate level of scrutiny, it should be able to review the whole budget proposed by the Commissioner, as police authorities currently do.

3.7. The makeup of the Panel itself is also queried (Schedule 6 – paragraph 3 (2)). In Staffordshire, the Police and Crime Panel will have a single representative from each of the 8 district councils, one from the unitary Stoke City Council and one from Staffordshire County Council. The Authority would argue that some form of population criteria should be applied to the composition of the Panel, as the way the Panel is currently constituted gives representatives from the smaller districts a disproportionate influence on the Panel over those unitary and county authorities which represent a significantly larger population. For example, in Staffordshire the unitary authority of Stoke-on-Trent has a population of 240,000, whilst the smallest district, Tamworth, has a population of just 75,000, yet both councils will be given equal representation on the Panel.

3.8. There is some concern that the ability to co-opt just two independent members will lose much of the additional skills, qualities and diversity that independent members currently bring to police authorities. No stipulation is given in the Bill either about what particular qualities and skills are being sought for both Councillor members and independents, or the recruitment criteria which needs to be applied. Could the Bill allow for more independent members to be appointed, with the proviso that they remain in the minority on the Panel, as they currently are on police authorities?

3.9. The appointment process for Chief Constables (Schedule 8, paragraph 4) envisages a role for the Panel, but merely in ‘confirming’ the appointment, through a hearing process. This would appear to be a very cumbersome process which could lead to the appointment being drawn out over a period of up to three weeks, which could be open to challenge by candidates, whose appointment may be vetoed by a body of people who have not been part of the actual appointment process itself. Would the process not be better improved by involving representatives of the Panel in the actual recruitment process (after all the Commissioner could not appoint alone in any case), thus avoiding the need for referral to the Panel for ‘confirmation’. The proposals as they stand in the Bill weaken the appointments role that is currently undertaken by police authorities.

3.10. Schedule 6 paragraph 15 refers to the promotion of the Panel and the ability to have sub-committees. Given the desire to keep the costs of the new arrangements in line with, or below, that of the current police authorities, the Authority has concerns that the creation of additional layers within the Panel structure will inevitably lead to increased costs and potentially result in a more cumbersome process. As no details on salaries/allowances for both the Commissioner and the Panel are given, it is difficult to categorically say that costs will be kept in line with existing arrangements. It is also interesting that what is being proposed could potentially create a structure for scrutinising the work of the Commissioner which is far larger and more costly than the structure the Commissioner uses to scrutinise the force.

3.11. The Authority is disappointed that the Bill does not include any detail on the issue of transition. As the Bill is currently drafted, it would appear that Commissioners will take over immediately following their successful election and therefore no handover period will be allowed. The Authority would argue that some period of transition or shadowing arrangement is essential to ensure a smooth transition into the new arrangements. The Bill is lacking any detail on how this will actually operate. Authorities are now faced with the prospect of establishing the new arrangements in just over a year with little or no guidance on how the transition period will look.

3.12. The Authority would request that consideration be given to including in the Bill the ability to create a ‘shadow’ arrangement which would allow for a Commissioner to be in ‘shadow’ form for a period of time (preferably a year), allowing them to get up to speed with police governance issues and working with the outgoing Police Authority in developing the forthcoming year’s Policing Plan. Without such an arrangement, Commissioners will come into office not only with little experience of what’s involved in the role, but also will be tied into both the old Authority’s budget and policing plan, which may not be reflective of the mandate on which they were elected. Revising budgets and plans in year could cause too much uncertainty and disruption. At the very least, there should be a handover period to allow for the two parties to work together in developing these key areas of business.

3.13. In relation to the period running up to the election of Commissioners, paragraph 66 implies that current police authority members wishing to stand as candidates for the office of Commissioner must stand down from their membership of the Authority once their candidature is known. This is not the case in other local government scenarios where members can remain on the Authority up until the day of their election, and should therefore be no different in terms of the Bill and should be amended accordingly.

The Authority has serious concerns about the timing of the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners. This will happen in the middle of what will be the most difficult year for all Forces following the Comprehensive Spending Review. Even more difficult will be the fact that he or she will take over just as the Olympics start with the very considerable impact this will have on Forces.

January 2011