Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by AVON AND SOMERSET POLICE AUTHORITY (PR 61)



1. The Police Authority is a statutory public body which provides governance to the Avon and Somerset Police Force, including setting the budget for the force, hiring the Chief Officers and holding the Chief Constable to account for the delivery of policing in Avon and Somerset.

2. is a large and diverse area comprising 1855 square miles from Thornbury to Yeovil to Minehead. It serves a population of over 1.6m and includes large rural areas such as Exmoor, as well as major urban areas like Bristol and Bath, and significant market towns such as Taunton, Bridgwater and Yeovil. It has a complex local government structure comprising nine local authorities, some of which are unitary, and others tiered, and which represent 292 wards.


3. This submission is concerned with the proposal for Police governance reform and the introduction of a Policing and Crime Commissioner (PCC) contained in the bill. We have a number of concerns in principle with the proposal:-

4. Diversity Issues – Given the size, complexity, and diverse nature of the Avon and Somerset area, we have concerns that a single individual will be able to sensibly act as PCC in a proportionate and balanced way, representing all communities of Avon and Somerset. Under the current model for police governance in the Police Authority, we have nine councillors and eight independent members with a range of geographical locations, contacts, and experiences which we feel are very important in ensuring a balanced, proportionate and effective governance approach to an area as complex as policing in a geographical area as diverse as Avon and Somerset.

5. Election Process – We have real concerns with the principle of having a single elected person responsible for overseeing public services in this way. This concern is exacerbated by the timing of the proposed election being May 2012, when the majority of local authorities in the Avon and Somerset area will not be having their own elections - indeed of the nine authorities the only authority having an election is a third of the Bristol unitary authority. We are concerned that this will lead to very low turn out in the election which could give concerns about how representative the PCC is. In addition, the fact that one part of one of the unitary authorities is having a local election may lead to unfair weighting within the various authorities.

6. Other timing issues – May 2012, is a particularly challenging time to introduce such a radical change to the nature of the governance of policing. The Olympics will be taking place 3 months after this date when national priorities will effectively need to apply in precedence to local issues. Moreover, this is in the middle of a challenging budget reduction programme required by the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) process, as well as a process of significant structural reform in key stakeholder areas of the public sector such as the National Health Service (NHS) and local authorities.

7. Potential politicisation of Policing – We share the views expressed by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Association of Police Authorities (APA) that this model threatens the non-political nature of policing governance which has served this country well over the last 200 years. We are particularly concerned at the impact this may have on public confidence – especially in minority groups which is an area where significant progress has been made.

8. Cost and additional bureaucracy – The election in May 2012, we have estimated would cost in excess of £1m in Avon and Somerset alone. The APA has estimated that the introduction of PCCs could cost in excess of £100m over what the current governance model would cost during the next CSR period. At a time when funding and prioritisation of frontline services is at such a premium, this does not seem a sensible step in the interests of the people of Avon and Somerset. In addition, the model proposed in the bill with the additional levels of bureaucracy of the Policing and Crime Panel (PCP) and the requirement to provide staffing for this as well as the other bureaucratic checks and balances introduced will in our view lead to additional and unjustifiable cost.


Clause 1 – PCCs

9. We note that the PCCs have fewer powers than police authorities – is this consistent with the Government’s aim to increase accountability? We have carried out a survey amongst our communities on the proposals last year which found that 72% did not want a politician overseeing policing, 68% did not feel the introduction of PCCs represented value for money and 72% did not see the introduction of PCCs as a priority.

Clause 2 – Chief Constables

10. We do not consider that a system where members of staff are loaned by the Chief Constable to the PCC is workable and practical on anything other than a temporary basis. Individuals in reality will retain responsibility to their ultimate employer. Police Authorities function best where members are supported by motivated, capable and experienced staff employed on a permanent basis. The calibre of that support will clearly be undermined by the current proposal.

Clause 5-8 Police and Crime Plans

11. Further clarity is needed to articulate the specific links and relationship between PCCs and Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs). While PCCs will not be relevant authorities for the purpose of CSPs, they will be important players in Community Safety and working with CSPs and the impact of this and the overall impact in the Force area of the Policing and Crime Plan needs to be further considered.

12. The Police and Crime Plan is presented in the bill as a key document to establish the standard of service expected in the Force area. It seems counter-intuitive therefore that the Chief Constable must agree the entirety of the plan. We would support an approach whereby PCCs should consult Chief Constables and take account of their views in finalising the plan.

13. It is not clear whether the Crime and Disorder reduction grant money will be new money, or how it interrelates to any funding provided via local authorities.

14. The arrangements in relation to the initial Police and Crime Plan need further clarity. In reality, it will take some time for an incoming PCC to establish their own Policing and Crime Plan if appropriate consultation is going to be incorporated.

Clauses 9-10 Crime and Disorder

15. Further clarity is required to articulate the intended nature of the relationship between PCCs, CSPs, and Local Criminal Justice Boards (LCJBs), such as allocation of funding, co-ordination of plans and the role of scrutiny.

16. In addition, the role of PCPs and how this would inter-react with community safety scrutiny arrangements needs to be more fully understood – particularly in the expected climate for community and safety arrangements following the CSR review.

Clauses 11 -13 - Information

17. There needs to be a balance between the requirement for standardised local information to enable greater public understanding and comparability and the requirement for local discretion in consulting and engaging with local communities. Further work is needed to develop this balance in the proposals.

18. Information is crucial for both the public and the PCC to enable them to do their work appropriately. Appropriate information needs also to be made independently available to the PCP.

Clause 16 – Staff related issues

19. It is assumed that in practice the PCC will retain its own staff and will as currently be able to request for further information from the Force through agreement with the Chief Constable. What such information is and how it is to be provided will need to be agreed locally.

20. It is in our view, not otherwise feasible, that Force staff will be directly responsible or accountable to the Commissioner.

Clause 18 – Delegation of Functions

21. In our view, the PCC is likely to need a small team of deputy Commissioners/advisors in addition to the staff team. Reasonable transparency and rules in relation to public appointments should be applied in relation to such appointments.

Chapter 4 – PCPs

22. In areas where there are a significant number of local authorities, there is scope for disagreement on the application of rules for appointments between those authorities to the PCP. It would be helpful to have clarity about how the nomination process and in particular the arrangements relating to political balance will work in practice.

23. Whilst the importance of the PCC being held publicly to account is acknowledged, we have real concerns that introducing PCPs will bring in an additional level of bureaucracy and cost which was obviously not the intention of the proposals.

Chapter 6 – PCC Elections and Vacancies

24. We have concerns about the cost of the election, the balance between local authority areas, particularly where there may be other local authority elections happening in some areas at the same time but not in others, overall level of turnout and what all of this may mean for truly democratic, representative and responsible office holders.

Clause 84-88 – HMIC

25. The ongoing prevalence and weight of authority given to the role of the HMIC when the trend of government generally is against this type of intrusive inspection and particularly in the context of introducing democratic accountability seem contrary to general government policy and counter intuitive.

26. In our view, the real value from such a national body would be in identifying and promulgating best practice and lessons learned to facilitate the work of PCCs as well as establishing robust performance comparators.

Power to borrow or enter into contracts and otherwise deal with assets

27. Given that both the PCC and Chief Constable will have these powers, this represents a potential risk and seems contrary to the avowed intention to allocate responsibilities in particular areas. This needs clarity to avoid confusion later. Overall, this does not seem to be a question of rebalancing the tripartite arrangements in the PCC’s favour.

Appointment, suspension and removal of Chief Constables

28. The arrangements for this seem overly bureaucratic and have the potential to delay important appointments. The structure of these arrangements emphasises the increased bureaucracy of the proposals generally.

Transition Issues generally

29. It is not understood why Police Authority members need to stand down before PCC elections if they wish to be elected. This will not be helpful in terms of transition planning and would not apply in other election procedures.

30. The introduction of the PCC proposal presents a number of risks for the governance of policing at what is a critical time given the significant funding reductions being imposed upon Police Authorities and the Olympics being held three months later. Further work is required to ensure that the transitional arrangements are robust and fit for purpose to ensure ongoing governance and accountability through this period.

31. Guidance about the extent and scope of the transfer scheme and which assets and responsibilities and staff are to be transferred to which bodies would be helpful.

January 2011