Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Surrey Police Authority (PR 41)

1. Surrey Police Authority is an independent body made up of local people. Its job is to make sure that Surrey is policed in an effective and efficient way that meets the needs of the community. It does so by consulting with the public, setting the budget and strategic direction for Surrey Police and holding the Chief Constable to account for the force's performance. In its recent Audit Commission/HMIC inspection, the Authority was highly commended:

· "It (the Authority) has an excellent and effective working relationship with the Force and sets it clear direction and priorities"

· "The Authority is managed well and members and staff of the authority are highly capable"

· "It (the Authority) has played a clear and influential role in setting the long term strategic direction and priorities for Surrey policing through its strategy of Surrey Public First"

· "The Local Policing Plan 2010-2013 reflects not only the views expressed by local residents, but also a keen awareness of meeting local people’s needs within tightening resources"

· "Through its effective appointments of senior officers, the Authority ensures that the force is well led in line with the Authority’s desired style of policing"

· "The Authority ensures that its members are properly skilled to effectively discharge their governance responsibilities"

· "The Authority has robust governance structures and effective scrutiny."

· "It (the Authority) engages well and has a good understanding of its communities. It engages well with its known minority and vulnerable groups to gain a good understanding of their issues"

· "It (the Authority) has high visibility among partners and the public"

· "The Authority’s good financial planning has helped ensure the Force’s future financial sustainability"

2. We make this submission as the organisation currently responsible for police oversight in Surrey and focus our attention accordingly on the proposals in Part 1 of the Bill to replace the current accountability arrangements with elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

Executive Summary

3. Surrey Police Authority welcomes the direction of travel away from bureaucratic central control of policing towards responsive, common-sense local control. Our Surrey Public First strategy, which has shaped how policing in Surrey is provided to great success over recent years, is very much in tune with this idea.

4. However, we are concerned that, in its current iteration, the Bill points to the creation of a more bureaucratic and more expensive system of police accountability. Furthermore, it will do so at a time where the priorities of the service – and indeed the public – are focused on maintaining high performance in the core functions of the police at a time of serious financial cuts.

5. In our submission, we ask the Public Bill Committee to consider amendments that would:

· bring the new accountability arrangements into line with the latest public research on police accountability and elected Commissioners

· stop unnecessary new layers of bureaucracy being created

· limit the sizeable cost increases that will arise from the new system

Local accountability and evidence based policy

6. We support the Government’s broad intention to relinquish more power to the local level. However, the evidence cited by the Home Office as supporting the reform does not point conclusively to any particular model of governance.

7. The desk research carried out by the Home Office and cited in its own Impact Assessment for the Bill [1] indicates that:

· The police service is currently trusted by more than three quarters of the population.

· People believe independent members have an important role to play in scrutinising the police

· People agree that an independent body should hold the police to account. Just 25% of the public would support councils taking responsibility for overseeing the police.

· Only 40% of respondents to an IPSOS MORI survey in May 2010 supported the suggestion to replace police authorities with a directly elected individual. This figure fell to 32% when the risk of politicisation was raised.

8. In the months following the formation of the new Government and their statement of intent with regard to reforming police accountability, a significant body of bespoke research has been conducted locally and nationally into the policy.

9. In Surrey, we carried out research with around 2,400 members of the public over the summer months of 2010. We found that, whilst a majority of residents would support an increase in democratic accountability, only 8% wanted the responsibility for holding the police to account to rest in the hands of an individual. 85% felt the responsibility should rest with a group.

10. In the last few weeks, a national survey of 1030 people carried out by the independent consultancy Andrew Smith Research has added further weight to this point. Again, just 8% of respondents wanted to see the responsibility for police accountability rest in the hands of an individual. 71% wanted to see it rest with a group.

Police and Crime Panel

11. We ask if the role of the Police and Crime Panel could therefore be better developed in line with this convincing evidence of public preference for collective, not individual responsibility for police accountability.

12. We are pleased that the Government recognises the need for ‘checks and balances’ in the new system. It appears that the Police and Crime Panel proposed in the Bill now has more ‘teeth’ than originally envisaged, although more work is required to develop how best this might work in practice. There are concerns that the means of scrutiny available to the Panel could be highly bureaucratic and potentially time-consuming for the Commissioner and the Chief Constable.

13. We believe that it would be of clear benefit in terms of efficiency and effectiveness for the Panel to work with the Commissioner from the beginning of the decision-making process on key issues like the precept and Police and Crime Plan, rather than scrutinising the Commissioner’s recommendations retrospectively.

Appointment & Dismissal of Chief Officers

14. If a new system of governance is to be effective, we agree that the Commissioner must have sufficient authority to hold the Chief Constable robustly to account on behalf of the public and ensure that local people’s views are reflected in the services that the police provide.

15. However, we recognise and accept that the first responsibility of the Chief Constable must be public safety, not public opinion. On the other hand, Commissioners will be in post on the strength of public opinion alone. There is clear potential for conflict between these positions, which could in turn result in damaging conflict between the Commissioner and the Chief Constable, and indeed between the Commissioner and the Police and Crime Panel.

16. We consider that this issue further underlines the importance of a Police and Crime Panel that operates in a more proactive role to ensure that any critical decisions regarding the appointment or dismissal of the Chief Constable are made from the beginning and throughout in a collegiate and efficient manner, not through potentially lengthy and disruptive bureaucratic processes. We would also recommend that the Police and Crime Panel have the same power of veto over the dismissal of the Chief Constable as it does over their appointment.

Division of responsibilities

17. We believe that it is imperative that Chief Constables are able to retain the credible impartiality they need in order to do their job. We support the view of the Home Affairs Select Committee that the Bill should seek to protect the operational independence of Chief Constables and better define the division of ‘operational responsibilities’ under any new system – an understanding of which has been developed over many years under the current system of governance.

18. We also believe it is essential that the ownership and responsibility for the police estate, assets and budget transfer from police authorities to the office of the Commissioner, not the Chief Constable. Commissioners will need control of these fundamental levers if they are to wield meaningful influence on behalf of the local electorate.


19. The costs of Police Authorities vary widely, according to how they have agreed to share various cost responsibilities with their respective forces. Surrey Police Authority costs around £1.4m per year, from an overall policing budget of over £220m. This sum includes staffing, office costs, audit fees, members’ allowances, senior officer recruitment costs and legal fees. This should be viewed within the context of Surrey Police Authority driving in over £5m in annual efficiency savings within the force.

20. Based on our experience and understanding of local arrangements as they stand, we believe that the cost of the new governance model in Surrey would equate to approximately £1.9m per annum over a four year period. Costs would include:

21. Commissioner’s salary -Home Office documents indicate that the Commissioner’s annual salary is likely to be set at around £120K.

22. Support staff - Ministers have rightly underlined the need for an effective secretariat function to support Commissioners. At the time of writing, Surrey Police Authority operates on a staffing basis of 7.4 full time equivalents. Our cost estimates assume that this staffing level remains broadly similar for Commissioners, as suggested in the Bill (and in our opinion the minimum level currently required to deliver an acceptable level of service). However, moving from 17 Police Authority Members to one Commissioner will mean that there is a significant reduction in working capacity, reach and resilience. It seems likely that more staff could be needed to make up the difference. Adding the requirement to plan and run elections and broadening the responsibility of the Commissioner to include wider community safety issues will also have staffing implications.

23. Statutory responsibilities and costs - from its annual budget, Surrey Police Authority pays for audits, consultation, legal fees and many other responsibilities that will continue under the Commissioner.

24. Police and Crime Panel - The Home Office impact assessment suggests an approximate cost for the Police and Crime panel of £82k per year, with an additional c.£35k for a supporting scrutiny officer.

25. Elections - We have consulted with local electoral officers and developed an estimated cost of £1m-£1.5m to conduct an election for Police and Crime Commissioner in Surrey.

26. The policing service is bracing itself for tough times ahead. Officers and staff are losing their jobs. In Surrey we have embarked on a challenging, radical programme of changes to protect the front line.

27. The additional cost of the new model and its effect on public support is a potential bear trap facing Police & Crime Commissioners. The first Commissioners would, in May 2012, take post at significant additional expense at a time when forces will be feeling the front-loading of the CSR cuts most acutely. Will the public begin to question whether they would have preferred to see £50m spent on more elections or on more police constables?

Timing Issues

28. One way that election costs can be reduced is to ensure that, as far as possible, elections coincide with local council elections. We recognise that this may not be possible for all police forces but many are co-terminus with council boundaries and this could be achieved. This will bring Police and Crime Commissioners in at different timescales. However, it would also bring significant cost savings that could be re-invested into front line policing.

The Capability Gap

29. Police Authorities regularly welcome new Members to their ranks and we are experienced in training and developing the people who join us to scrutinise local policing. We have recently been awarded Charter status for our work in this regard.

30. In our view, it takes approximately 18 months of training, development and orientation within the force for a new Police Authority Member to reach maximum effectiveness in their role. The Police Authority can sustain this because of its plurality – our recruitment is staggered so there is, at all times, a core of experienced, expert Members. We further deepen our scrutiny by asking each Member to take the time to specialise in a given area, such as protective services, human resources, finance or custody standards.

31. With Commissioners, we will not at first have this resilience and breadth of knowledge. There will be a significant period of time needed for training the new Commissioner and to develop their contacts within the Force. In the first few months of a Commissioner’s tenure, there will be a capability gap while they familiarise themselves with the job and its context. The Commissioner will need to become conversant with every aspect of the Force’s work and the environment it operates within if they are to maintain the level of scrutiny and experience that a 17 Member police authority can provide.

32. We believe that this is an important issue for reasons of resilience and continuity of service and is something that should be carefully considered by Parliament as the Bill progresses.

Criminal background of Commissioners

33. For as much as the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill opens a new door to law abiding and conscientious citizens to wield decisive influence over local policing, that same door is also open to potentially dangerous and divisive individuals.

34. The Bill appears to only exclude people convicted of serious crimes within the previous five years from standing for the office of Commissioner. This would mean that people with convictions for serious offences in the more distant past could be elected to the post of Commissioner.

35. In addition, a serving Commissioner would not necessarily be removed from office if he or she was to commit a criminal offence during their tenure.

36. The public would rightly expect the highest levels of honesty and integrity from a Commissioner. This is also an important consideration for morale and trust within the service itself. Yet the Bill provides no assurance that Commissioners would be held to such standards.

37. The bar must be set higher for potential Commissioners where previous criminal convictions are concerned.

Closing remarks

38. We have never shied away from challenging central policy that jeopardises the service that local people tell us they want. In Surrey we were ahead of the curve in slashing bureaucracy and focusing simply on local priorities. We have led the way in trying to iron out the inconsistencies in police funding. Our radically reformed policing model is now being adopted by forces around the country. Surrey Police Authority, more than most, appreciates the opportunity for change.

39. However, that change must be for the better. It must be driven and steered by unambiguous supporting evidence and with a realistic view on the costs and benefits.

40. At the beginning of this process, we made an offer to the Policing Minister of support and assistance in developing the policy. Our door remains open to the Home Office and we would be pleased to offer our help in shaping the Bill to ensure that the Government’s aims for improved accountability, robust governance and greater public input are achieved to best effect for the people of Surrey.

January 2011

[1] http://www.homeoffice.gov .uk /publications/legislation/police-reform-bill/ia-police-crime-commissioners?view=Binary