Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

MEMORANDUM SUBMITTED BY WEST MIDLANDS POLICE AUTHORITY

(PR 86)

Executive summary

· West Midlands Police Authority (‘the Authority’) has the responsibility of ensuring efficient and effective policing across the seven metropolitan district authorities which comprise the West Midlands Police force area. The area has a population of 2.6m people and around 300,000 businesses currently policed through 248 local neighbourhoods. West Midlands Police is the second largest force in the country with an annual revenue spend in excess of £600m, currently with 8,500 police officers, 750 police community support officers and approximately 4,000 members of police staff. Policing is complex and challenging with the service delivering dedicated local policing through to the full range of protective services.

· We welcome the Home Secretary’s intention to rebalance the tripartite but the Bill does not achieve this. Police and crime commissioners appear to have fewer powers than current police authorities thus risking less rather than more effective governance and accountability. While welcoming the drive for greater public involvement in policing at a local level the drafting of the Bill does not provide clarity of role as between the chief constable and police and crime commissioner.

· The Government has indicated that its intention to preserve the link between local and national policing issues. The role of the Home Secretary appears limited and the Bill would benefit from greater clarity on her reserved powers to ensure effective working of the tripartite.

· We believe that the Bill’s provisions in respect of chief officer appointments and complaints are inadequate.

· We believe that the opportunity needs to be taken to provide clarity in the role of police and crime commissioners in the handling of complaints against individual officers or police staff or against the force more generally. The Authority believes that the electorate will have a legitimate expectation that a commissioner will have the ability to more directly deal with complaints than is the currently the case for police authorities.

· We believe that the proposed model risks increased costs and bureaucracy.

· We believe that transitional issues are not dealt with adequately in the Bill.


Introduction

1. Our response considers the Bill under a range of headings which we hope the Committee will find helpful.

Police and Crime Commissioners

2. The Authority believes that the Bill, as drafted, amounts to a lessening of governance arrangements. The Bill as drafted could amount to a significant reduction in the role and power of commissioners compared with existing police authorities.

3. The Authority continues with its view, as expressed in its submission to Policing in the 21st Century; reconnecting the police and the public that without an appropriate balance between the Secretary of State, commissioner, police and crime panel and the relevant chief officer the proposed model will invite unhealthy conflict, add further bureaucracy and ultimately reduce the governance given to policing locally, regionally and nationally. The Authority acknowledges the need for the operational independence of the chief constable and that the Government does not want to define this in statute. The Authority believes that the ability to exercise appropriate governance is equally as important. While not seeking to include this principle within the Bill the Authority would argue that the balance desired by all could be assisted by a provision which would place a duty on the chief constable to co-operate with the commissioner in respect of enabling the commissioner to fulfil their statutory duties.

4. While welcoming the clarity given to the role of the police and crime commissioner in setting the police and crime plan for policing, the Bill only asks the chief constable to have ‘regard to’ [1] such a plan. The Authority notes that a similar duty is placed on chief constables to have ‘regard to’ [2] the Home Secretary’s strategic policing requirement. The Authority would wish to be assured that this drafting is sufficient to ensure that the mandate of those who are democratically elected is reasonably met.

5. Commissioners will not be able to use force staff under the direction of control of the chief constable unless the chief constable thinks it is ‘reasonable’ [3] . This means either commissioners will be at the behest of chief constables, or more likely they will require their own staff which raises costs. There will be cases where chief constables decline to let the commissioner use ‘their’ staff, unreasonably in the view of the commissioner, but reasonably according to the chief officer. This weakens the commissioner and needs reconsidering. The Authority would argue that the ‘co-operation’ provision proposed in paragraph 3 would assist.

6. The Home Secretary appears to have only been provided with powers in respect of the strategic policing requirement and the ability to provide guidance in some areas. No other reserve powers appear to be included. While welcoming a move away from central control the Bill risks no legal framework to address issues between a chief constable, commissioner and a police and crime panel.

7. Unlike current police authorities, a commissioner will not be able to determine the precept or the appointment of a chief constable as in both cases the police and crime panels have, in effect, a veto role. This role appears to be capable of being exercised with no requirement for justification.

8. The Authority believes that the Bill unnecessarily limits the options available to a commissioner in terms of the support they may require. The Bill allows the commissioner to appoint staff, with all such posts being politically restricted. The Authority believes that the Commissioner should be able to appoint deputy or assistant commissioners and that the Bill would benefit from inclusion of such an explicit provision. In addition such appointments should be capable of being made from local authority councillors with the commissioner having the ability to provide an allowance to any such appointments. The Bill as drafted does not allow this. However it does not prevent a local authority paying an allowance to any of its councillors which they appoint to a panel. These provisions appear to lack consistency.

9. The Authority continues to have serious concerns about how a single elected individual can represent or be effective in representing an area the size and complexity of the West Midlands. The Authority believes that West Midlands would be better served through more collective structures. The ability to appoint assistant commissioners being contained in the Bill would assist with this aim.

10. The Bill appears to preclude existing police authority members from standing as commissioners [4] requiring an individual to resign from an authority if nominated. The Authority understands that the Home Office has included this provision in the belief that this will provide greater stability for existing authorities during the period of the election. The Authority believes this is unnecessary. The West Midlands has extensive experience of changes in political hold within its local authorities. There is no evidence that the local authorities do not continue to manage the business in their local authority areas during elections.

11. Commissioners will need to be provided with the powers and resources needed to deliver their governance and accountability role. Currently, all but a tiny proportion of employees of the police authority are delegated to work under the direction and control of the chief officer [5] . We share our treasury management, finance and legal, HR departments, estates and facilities management, communications and IT support, analysts and performance and corporate development staff with the force. The Bill provides for all these staff to be capable of being employed by the chief officer [6] . If all such resources are transferred incoming commissioners could have far fewer resources available to them than the police authorities they have replaced and risk not being able to meet the legitimate expectations of their electorate.

Police and Crime Panels

12. There appears to be no accountability mechanism for police and crime panels, for example, the ability for a member of the public to make a complaint about a panel member or a mechanism to determine the reasonableness of a panel’s action.

13. While the commissioner has a remit in respect of crime and community safety matters, unlike police authorities, the commissioner is not provided with any statutory role in respect of community safety partnerships.

14. The Bill does not appear to provide an overall responsibility on anyone or body to ensure that a panel is established. The Authority would suggest that such responsibility is placed on the top tier local authority for single county force areas and the constituent top tier and unitary authorities in force areas which cover multiple local authority areas.

Legal status of the tripartite

15. The Bill creates both the commissioner and the chief constable as a "corporation sole". There is a lack of clarity on ownership of police estate and other assets, contractual capacity and overall responsibility for proper financial administration. The extent to which these functions are transferred to the commissioner or chief constable will determine the influence the commissioner is able to bring to bear and therefore needs to be unequivocal.

16. The Authority shares the concerns voiced by a number of authorities that for both the chief constable and the commissioner to hold budgets and have borrowing and contract-making powers presents risk and is confusing. Commissioners are potentially left with liabilities for assets over which they cannot exercise appropriate control. The Authority believes that the Bill’s provision should mirror those currently in existence as between police authorities and chief constables. Without this the commissioner will not have the necessary financial and resource levers to fulfil their role. Commissioners must be able to shape objectives and steer resources to achieve those objectives. The Authority believes that the Bill must be drafted to ensure that the commissioner retains all assets, budgets and resources, including police staff.

Chief Constables

17. The appointment process for deputy and assistant chief constables requires less involvement from the commissioner than for a chief constable and the Bill gives no role to the commissioner in ACPO equivalent staff, such as a director of resources. In all other sectors the equivalent of the commissioner would have a highly influential, if not determining role, in such appointments. The involvement of those in a governance role provides a useful safeguard, particularly in a service with a relatively small number of chief officers who are well known to each other. Although the appointment process can be vetoed, no reasons or criteria need be given. The processes for removal of a chief constable from post are also very unusual. There is also an opportunity to provide clarification around temporary and acting appointments which the Bill currently omits.

18. The Authority does not agree with the drafting of the Bill which allows the chief constables to define neighbourhoods for the purpose of engaging with the public without reference to the commissioner. This is because a commissioner will also wish to engage with such neighbourhoods and a unilateral redefinition may lead to unhelpful conflict between commissioner and chief constable.

19. We do not support the proposal in the Bill that the chief constable should appoint all senior officers with the commissioner only having a role in the appointment of the chief constable. We believe that the commissioner should have a role in the appointment of all chief officers and would argue that this should be extended to include all equivalent police staff. We do so from having given consideration to the appointment processes employed in other parts of both the private and public sector. In all sectors a person of commissioner equivalence would be an active, if not determining, part in director-level appointments.

20. The involvement of the governance body provides useful safeguards for the police service. For example in complaint matters, senior police officers may be required to give evidence against a chief constable. A service in which career progression is solely dependent on a small number of individuals risks a natural caution being exercised by those individuals who may be seeking advancement. If not a reality, it is easy to understand why the public might perceive this to be the case. Added to this is the fact that there are a relatively small number of chief constables who are well known to each other and who regularly meet and network. Those seeking progression need to have confidence that there is openness and transparency. The inclusion of those from outside of this small grouping can help provide such assurance.

Complaints

21. In its submission to Policing in the 21st Century, the Authority emphasised the need to give clarity on the treatment of complaints. The Authority believes that the distinction between misconduct complaints and those that are described as direction and control matters are not always readily understood by the public. The Authority continues to believe that the public of the West Midlands will not only wish to be able to make complaints, of either category, to the commissioner but that they will expect the commissioner to take action over and above referring the matter to the chief constable. If the commissioner is put into a position where they simply act as a post box for complaints there is a significant risk of loss of credibility for the commissioner. The Authority would therefore propose that the complaints handling function, currently under the direction and control of the chief constable, becomes one of the functions of the commissioner. This would give additional independence to the handling of complaints through what could be the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. In addition it would also provide an invaluable source of detailed information to the commissioner on the effectiveness and quality of service provision.

Transitional Issues

22. The Authority considers that the seven day transition period in the Bill from the date of election to the commissioner taking up office is inadequate.

January 2011


[1] Clause 8(2)

[2] Clause 79(2)

[3] Clauses 2(3) and 2(5)

[4] Clause 66(4)

[5] s15 of the Police Act 1996

[6] C lause 2(3) and schedule 2 clauses 4 to 6 of the Bill