Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Association of Police Authorities (PR 76)

This briefing is an outline of the APA’s ‘in principle’ concerns about the reforms to police accountability to be considered by the PRSRB Committee. We ask it be considered as a policy position alongside the extremely helpful, more technical response provided by APACE (Police Authority Chief Executives) on many details within the Bill. The Chair of the Association of Police Authorities (APA), Rob Garnham will give evidence to the Committee on 18.02.11 and following this, the APA will seek the Committee’s support for a range of detailed proposals.

The APA represents all of the 43 geographic Police Authorities in England and Wales (as well as the Policing Board of Northern Ireland and non geographic Police Authorities), each charged with securing an efficient and effective local police service. At a national level, the APA represents the views of local communities on the boards which set national policing policy. The APA website is: www.apa.police.uk

Following a truncated period of consultation over the summer holidays, this Bill proposes revolutionary changes to the internationally-celebrated British model of policing (1) at a cost of £137m. The centre-piece of the Bill is the abolition of the local police governance function provided by 17-19 member Police Authorities which include a mix of local Councillors and skilled independent members.

It is proposed that one ‘Police and Crime Commissioner’ (PCC), elected by AV, would hold the Chief Constable to account for police performance across each force area which could encompass up to 29 Parliamentary constituencies (West Midlands) or 2.4m residents (Greater Manchester), be 180 miles wide (Devon and Cornwall) or cover over 10,000sq km (Dyfed Powys).

Whilst welcoming a number of changes in the Bill, including the shift away from ‘top down’ prescription, the APA maintains principled opposition to Police Commissioners as proposed.

We believe that in the present climate of financial pressure and social disquiet, there is little evidence of public support for these changes and that the costs, the risks to public trust and confidence, the politicisation of policing and the inherent dangers of the concentration of powers within one person under the new model, make the proposal to introduce Police and Crime Commissioners the wrong reform at the wrong time.

Our members’ consultations have evidenced considerable public concerns about PCCs in 4 key areas:

· The risks of concentrating powers

· Costs

· Operational risks

· Timing

1. The risks of concentrating powers

Policing by consent in England and Wales has been built on the firm foundation of a balance of powers between Chief Constables, a range of local politicians and community members, and the Home Secretary. We believe that by effectively shifting effective power from a broadly-based accountability model to Chief Constables; making one, rather than 17 individuals responsible for oversight of policing, these proposals fail to provide what is necessary to secure community confidence, and the essential checks on both Chiefs and Commissioners at a local or national level.

· The Bill proposes that one PCC will replace the day to day influence of 17 diverse police authority members (local councillors and independent members). Though Police and Crime Panels (PCP) are proposed within the Bill, they will have far less power than police authorities (described by their government critics as being ‘too weak’!). The proposed model removes a non-adversarial approach which keeps politics at an appropriate arms’ length from policing and places the entire responsibility for holding the force to account on a single Commissioner (and appointed Deputies). The Commissioner’s work will be subject to the scrutiny of 12 or more individuals, no doubt eager to score political points over him/her. A system whereby the 12 support the work of the Commissioner to hold the force to account, would seem far more sensible, and more likely to yield effective scrutiny of a £12bns+ budget.

· The potential impact on minority communities’ access to influence over policing, and consequently their confidence in policing is a particular concern highlighted by our members and local communities. The present arrangement allows up to 9 independent members to serve on police authorities. Thanks to Independents, Police authorities are more diverse and more representative of communities than local authorities and parliament. The nearest equivalents for PCCs now in existence are the 13 directly elected Mayors who are less diverse and less representative of local populations than either local authorities or Parliament. Diverse membership plays a crucial role in building the confidence of minority communities (whose voices would not command a majority in elections) in the police; ensuring that their views are heard not only through the ballot box but by day-in, day-out interaction and consultation. The Independent think tank IPPR has warned that low turnout could see the election of PCCs whose views are at best un-regarding of minority groups (cf. Doncaster’s Mayor).

· Whilst wary of barring anyone from standing for election, we would urge Members to consider ways in which PCCs can be required to take proper account of the needs and priorities of all communities. For example, the need to maintain the confidence of all communities in policing underpins a reasonable ban on Police officers joining avowedly racist organisations. In the light of this, it is both anomalous and alarming that though the police cannot join the BNP, the Bill could allow the entire responsibility of holding the police to sit with a racist individual. It is obvious that this admittedly extreme, yet plausible outcome of an election for a Police and Crime Commissioner would have a dramatic impact on public confidence in policing.

· However well meaning an elected PCC is, how can s/he ever humanly fulfill the function presently carried out by 17 members? (The example of the London Mayor is often cited to contradict this, but he works with an authority of 23 members!) Policing governance requires that confidence is built across areas as vast as Devon and Cornwall or Thames Valley or as diverse as the West Midlands. Considering the 24/7, 365 nature of policing we believe that in the event of short term sickness or even holidays, the demands on a PCC in vast force areas are unrealistic and potentially unrealizable. The costs of employing staff to support the PCC to effectively replace the work of 17 authority members will add significant costs to the implementation of the proposed model. We are also concerned by the potential conflict between the proposal to appoint Deputy Commissioners as politically restricted staff and the essentially political role they maybe called upon to fulfill (e.g. representation and even setting the precept if the PCC were absent during the crucial November –March period).

· Communities of interest such as small businesses also have concerns about these proposals; as one example, Clause 14 make clear that the requirement presently on police authorities to consult non-domestic rate payers will not be carried over to the PCC.

· We would ask members to consider what might constitute a ‘good day’ for a PCC; you will be mindful of the need, especially in a new role, to require media attention in order to become recognized and get (re)elected. It might be argued that the quickest way to coverage is controversy, since performance improvement take years (not least in a context of starting from a base of the lowest crime figures for 30 years). This proposed system could therefore incentivize PCCs to seek conflict with Chief Officers. As many local authority Chief Executives have found after falling out with an elected Mayor, this could result in significant turnover of Chief Constables at enormous cost to local taxpayers. By contrast, Police Authorities’ consensual, collegiate approach has delivered substantial, tangible public benefits.

· The effective working together of an authority Chair, multiple member authority and Chief Constable towards a common goal of improving local policing has held at bay the potential for single issues, the needs of one particular geographical area or community, political posturing or conflict to dominate or even deadlock local policing. The concentration of power in the hands of one Commissioner, and the cleaving apart of an authority to set up a new function to scrutinize only the Commissioner and not the Chief Constable and force, jeopardizes this. We share the concerns of many commentators on American models of Directly Elected Police Chiefs, who have cited the presence of corruption in such models, and warned against any concentration of powers which could reverse the progress made against corruption in Britain.

More power for Chief Constables: Re-balancing the Tripartite

· We were surprised, given the premise of the Bill to strengthen police governance, to find that it includes a significant shift in power away from those exercising public accountability to Chief Police Officers. In general, PCCs seem to have fewer powers than the police authorities whose ‘weakness’ has been cited as a justification for their abolition.

· We are alarmed that Clause 5 appears to hand the Chief Constable an unfettered veto over acceptance of the Policing Plan (owned by the elected PCC), and any in-year amendments to it, and it is proposed to hand the appointment of ACPO rank (senior) officers to Chief Officers.

· We strongly oppose the Bill’s proposals that control of police staff and assets be transferred from those charged with governing the use of public funds to Chief Constables, or that the support function for the PCC might be located within the force. These measures would reduce the public’s ability to hold the police to account with independent information and resources.

· The proposals to effectively abolish the APA or equivalent body as a statutory consultee and an umbrella body for the 43 authorities has the potential to destroy the delicately balanced tripartite. In the absence of any defined successor body, these reforms would diminish the influence of local communities at the ‘top table’ of National Policing Boards where APA members currently seek to constructively challenge and shape national policing policy in the public interest; giving local views a national voice.

· Partnerships: We are concerned that the failure to carry over Police Authorities’ statutory membership of Community Safety Partnerships to PCCs, shifts power and focus away from the joint working across the public sector that is essential to tackle crime and disorder. This omission leaves those governing policing with little real power to influence partnership working.

2. Costs: Commissioners will cost £100m whilst Officer numbers are being cut

· Though the successes of the present system are considerable(1) the Home Office has yet to provide evidence of how these costly proposed changes will deliver tangible public benefits in policing terms (lower crime or higher public confidence).

· In a period of fiscal challenge, and falling police numbers, the public would reasonably expect that expensive changes should only be made when the benefits will outweigh the costs.

· Independent analysis suggests that the cost of the proposed reforms of police governance over the 5 years (2011/12 - 2015/16) will be a minimum of £453million. That is £101million more than the entire cost of running police authorities during the same period, and the equivalent to the removal of over 600 police officers.

· The Policing Minster has stated that the cost of the new governance model should not cost any more than the current model (excluding election costs). However, independent analysis would strongly contest this assertion; Police Authority members are paid part time allowances usually just 10% of the anticipated £122,000 salary of PCCs and many have fewer than 15 staff. The Deputy Mayor of London, Kit Malthouse has pointed out the exponential growth of public correspondence received following the Mayor’s decision to take a more visible lead on policing. At present the responsibilities to consult communities is shared amongst 17 part time members. Replacing 17 member authorities at a time of uplift in public queries is likely to require the recruitment of considerable numbers of new support staff at significant cost.

· We share the concerns of the Local Government Association that the Home Secretary’s ability to place a cap on the amount local authorities may recover as charges for service rendered during elections for PCCS, may leave significant dents in local authority budgets.

3. Operational risks: could ‘low profile’ national priorities suffer?

· We welcome the Home Secretary’s ability to issue strategic national policing priorities, and the requirement of Chief Constables and PCCs to ‘have regard’ to them, but we are concerned that these matters are unlikely to feature as priorities for locally focused and accountable PCCs and it is unclear as to how’ regard’ to them will be enforced. (Adherence to national priorities might have been monitored by inspections, but it does not appear that the power to inspect authorities has been carried over to PCCs).

· Issues such as domestic violence, or crime suffered by those who do not or cannot vote (children), or crimes on which there are arguably either relatively high levels of public tolerance (the sale of stolen goods) or low levels of public knowledge (people trafficking) are important but largely absent from public debate. We share Chief Constables’ concerns that these issues will not feature highly in either election campaigns or the priorities of an elected Commissioner who will be focused on issues more likely to secure their continued public profile and re-election. Peel stated; "Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law." Our concern is that whilst the Police have demonstrated fidelity to Peel, the pressures of public opinion and polling will render elected Police and Crime Commissioners susceptible to partial public opinion.

4. Timing: costs, elections and the Olympics collide in 2012

· Facing substantial cuts in 2012, (including what HMIC have assessed as likely reductions in the policing presence if cuts of over 12% are front loaded), the public priority in 2012 will be to preserve visible Constables, not introduce Commissioners.

· The CSR settlement for policing set out ‘frontloaded’ budget cuts to policing, so that the most significant cuts of 14%, and thus the greatest upheaval will be felt in 2012.

· Removing all the experience held by police authority members at the very time the implications of the cuts will be most significant has the potential to be disastrous for police governance and oversight. Stability and experience are essential to managing these challenges.

· The APA expects that policing needs to take its share of the financial burden, and shares HMIC’s assessment that, with some initial’ investment to save’ structural and HR changes could realize savings of 12% without unduly affecting the visible policing presence if cuts are evenly spread over four years. However, our belief is that, following year on year efficiency savings over 10 years, cuts of 14% cannot be made in two years without diminishing visible policing.

· Although the Government has undertaken to cover the costs of elections from outside the policing budget, in a context of necessary budget restraint, we would question why the Treasury would prioritize spending £100m+ on this experiment. The costs of elections will fall especially heavily in the many English areas where elections are not scheduled in May 2012.

· Though there is provision within the Bill for Commissioners and Chief Officers to have regard to national priorities and targets, concerns persist about the wisdom of timing the whole scale abolition of established policing governance and priorities just weeks before events including the Olympics, create the largest single demand on ‘UK policing’ in living memory. There is a risk that newly-elected Commissioners may refocus resources on local priorities.

Finally, Public Opinion

We believe that the last election is at best a controversial and contested basis for a mandate for the introduction of elected Police Commissioners and the concentration of power over policing into the hands of one person. The APA accepts that the last election saw calls for reform of policing governance from all parties, and police authorities are committed to working with the Government to improve accountability. However the Conservative’s manifesto commitment to introduce Directly Elected Commissioners resulted in a Coalition with those who fought the election in support of elected Police Authorities (but against Elected Commissioners). We have yet to find a British policing professional who advocates PCCs and we await a response to our FOI inquiry into how many respondents to the Home Office’s consultation ‘Policing in the 21st century’ backed the idea.

What is already clear is that the most comparable polling (referenda on Elected Mayors), provides little evidence of a public desire for political power to be concentrated in the hands of one individual within the UK; since 2000, over two thirds of the 37 plebiscites on proposals to introduce elected Mayors have been defeated. IPSOS MORI recently conducted some focus group work which revealed that though there is some public appetite for a clearer focus for police force accountability, the public do not want either the power to set direction, or to hold the police to account, to be vested in a single elected individual.

January 2011