Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Viv Nicholas (PR 48)


1.1 Whilst recognising the need for significant changes in the working practices of police authorities, having served as an independent member of Thames Valley Police Authority from 2005 – 9, it is my view that the current proposals are deficient in that they will result in a lessening of local accountability and democracy.

1.2The appointment of an additional elected individual with an approximate, average span of control 10 times greater than a member of parliament will do little to foster local involvement whilst also diminishing the role and accountability of more locally elected council members who should be challenged to become more effective and accountable.

1.3 The plethora of ‘top down’ directives relating to policing and the criminal justice system should end. A process must be developed on an individual, or cluster, constabulary basis which draws together the progress made in the last 15 years relating to crime and disorder partnerships, local criminal justice partnerships and neighbourhood policing which does reflect and deliver on local concerns and priorities across the whole spectrum of the police and criminal justice system.

1.4 The triangular dynamic within constabularies operating between the chief constable, police authority chairman and police authority lead officer should be reviewed on the basis of a 360 degree appraisal and changes made as a result.

2.1 Autobiographic Note

This submission’s author formed the European Secure Vehicle Alliance (ESVA) in 1992 as an associate parliamentary group dedicated to the reduction of vehicle related crime and disorder. At the same time, I started to take an active interest in local policing and served as a member of the Slough Police Area Policing Board, most of the time as chairman, before being invited to serve as an independent member of the Thames Valley Police Authority from 2005 – 9. This was undoubtedly the most difficult and challenging position I have ever held and despite considerable effort was relatively ineffective in this role. I was disconcerted by the overwhelming focus on being responsive to central government directives and targets at the expense of responding effectively to the needs of local communities. The political culture associated with the workings of the police authority were unfamiliar and after applying to serve for a further four year term, I was not short-listed for further interview. I was, however, in 2009 subsequently selected to become an independent assessor on the NPIA senior selection programme. I continue to serve as vice chairman of my local neighbourhood action group and retain a key interest in all policing and criminal justice matters.

3.1 Local Accountability and Democracy

The low public profile and awareness of police authorities is a cause for concern but the roles and responsibilities of most forms of local government are also not well understood. Furthermore, there has been an understandable tendency to afford primacy on all public platforms to the senior police officer which may have been a misjudgement on occasions. The traditional tri-partite arrangement between the police, government and police authority has considerable merit – but my sense is that the government’s propensity to be overly directive has also resulted in the police authority adopting a stance which has been unduly subordinate.

3.2 My personal experience as a police authority member was that I was never asked to provide an account of my role as a member of the police authority in a public forum and this was also the case for my colleagues on the police authority. The chief constable as part of their role would annually meet with all county, unitary and district councils within their control but I believe that it would have been generally the case that the appropriate police authority member was not invited also to provide an account.

3.3 With the emergence of the cabinet member structure within local councils, I would suggest that the crime and disorder portfolio holder is encouraged to adopt a higher public profile in being considered accountable for some aspects of their role which should also be factored into the appointment of this member to the police authority as and when appropriate.

3.4 As all those who take an interest in politics appreciate – what works in London is not necessarily the most appropriate strategy for the rest of the country! The proposal to appoint a Police and Crime Commissioner for all constabularies will be a major challenge especially for the large constabularies where no individual will be familiar with the needs of all its component communities.

3.5 Whilst a member of parliament is part of a structure of 500 to 650 colleagues representing constituencies in the United Kingdom, is it reasonable to expect somewhere between 40 to 50 police and crime commissioners to effectively be accountable to their electorates? I am mindful that these proposals may not apply to devolved parts of the United Kingdom, but the broad ratios will apply.

3.6 Furthermore, the existence of a police and crime commissioner will weaken significantly the role and accountability of all elected postholders of a crime and disorder responsibility in all county, unitary or district councils.

4.1 End to End Systems Thinking

From a local citizen’s perspective, they generally regard the police as accountable for the operation of the total criminal justice system also embracing the courts, prisons, probation service et al. Effective management of all offenders requires a high degree of integration of effort from all of the above bodies together with other local services such as housing, education and social services.

4.2 The greatest opportunity to operate more effectively in meeting the needs and expectations of local communities is for all agencies who come into contact with ‘at risk members of the community’ across the whole of the criminal justice system to work together on a case by case basis. This ‘end to end’ systems approach needs to be developed at the most local level that is meaningful in terms of assembling the required level of input and will almost certainly be smaller than operating at ‘constabulary level’ other than perhaps in the smallest forces.

4.3 The proposals to elect police and crime commissioners are running counter to addressing this opportunity to develop more coherent partnership working at the more local level.

5.1 Optimise Constabulary/Authority Governance Working

The culture and operating dynamics of all police authorities will be different as indeed will be their strategic challenges and local priorities. A process needs to be nurtured which will empower the police senior management team, police authority officers and its members to reach higher ground in terms of meeting its community’s needs and increasing its operating effectiveness.

5.2 The ability to engage in a period of reflection and review was not apparent from my own experience as a member of a police authority – in part due to the volume of issues raised by central government – for example – police constabulary mergers.

This direction from above was not invariably counterproductive – the emphasis on neighbourhood policing and the appointment of police community support officers were welcome interventions.

5.3 My overall sense is that the optimisation of central government initiatives takes

decades to be absorbed and optimised and that time and leadership are both prerequisites to enable this process. Enhanced partnership working between all areas of the criminal justice system and with local government will be occurring – it needs to be nurtured and further developed on a local basis.

5.4 I have no experience of the recent round of HMIC police authority assessments

but my own recommendation would be to encourage the self-evaluation of the effectiveness of the working relationships between the senior police management team, police authority officers and its members. The infrastructure to review personal and team performance within the police service is well developed – it needs to be migrated so that the ethos also becomes embedded into both other parts of the threesome.

5.5 I suspect that work of this nature has already been developed in some police area and obviously we should all learn from it. My concern is that there is seldom a specific methodology which can be applied to all constabularies. We should clarify the purpose of a review and then invite constabularies to determine their own most appropriate method which should be shared then with both the centre and local communities.

January 2011