Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Devon and Cornwall Police Authority (PR 97)

1. I write as Chair and on behalf of Devon and Cornwall Police Authority to explain why we think some of the proposals in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill are unwanted, unnecessarily costly and a step backwards for police accountability.

2. The Police Authority has three key objections to the provisions set out in the Bill – these being the cost of implementing the changes, the ability of a single individual to represent the views of all the people across such a large geographic area such as Devon, Cornwall, Plymouth, Torbay and the Isles of Scilly and the inevitable consequence of such proposals bringing overt party politics into local policing.

Cost of implementing the changes

3. The Police Authority accepts that the Coalition Government’s number one priority is to reduce the budget deficit. Whilst this is resulting in some very challenging funding settlements for publicly funded bodies, the Police Authority fully understands that public services must play their part in shouldering a significant part of this burden. However, we believe that operational policing is so fundamental to issues around social cohesion and public order at times of recession that a special case should have been made for this service to be more ‘protected’ from the most severe cuts. However, we recognise the difficult task this Government faces.

4. To that end, we feel that now, more than ever, particular focus should be placed upon ensuring every pound possible is directed to ‘frontline’ policing. This Police Authority like, I expect, every other in the country needs to shed both police officer and police staff jobs in order to meet the substantial savings required from the October Comprehensive Spending Review. There is no other way. To this Force this means £50m over four years, more than a third of which must be found in the first year, 2011-12. Why then, introduce a new system of police governance and accountability to commence right in the middle of the period when these huge financial reductions will bite the deepest? I will come to the predicted costs of introducing elections in a moment but aside from this, Police Authorities, Chief Constables and their respective staff are spending time, effort and therefore money coping with the implications of the Bill. The proposed changes are so fundamental that they require an enormous amount of dissecting and interpreting locally in order to enable a smooth handover to the PCC in a little over 15 months time. This burden falls upon us locally. At the time of writing, there has been no central guidance about the detailed arrangements. There is no evidence whatsoever that the public are seeking such changes. You will sense my frustration. Members are of the view that every penny of public money that can be available should be put into doing what we are really here to do – ensuring an efficient and effective police service for the people of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly by holding the Chief Constable to account.

5. Aside from the costs that are being incurred here and now and distracting Police Authorities (and Chief Constables) from what should be their real priorities, there is the very real issue of the cost of staging the elections for PCCs. Estimates suggest that this would cost £1.93m in May 2012. This is the equivalent to the cost of employing 50 police constables for a year. This assessment has been validated by work undertaken by the independent Electoral Commission. These are not our figures. Our predictions are in-line with those from other Police Authorities and when extended for the rest of the country reach a staggering £101m. This is one hundred million pounds that could and in the eyes of many should be going into frontline policing not police governance reorganisation. Worse still, the £1.93m only accounts for the election of the PCC. It does not cover the PCC’s salary, which some have suggested could be as high as £120,000., nor the salaries of his/her staff. Whilst Police Authorities currently have a small number of staff, it is likely that the workforce required by a PCC will be greater given that the PCC will be responsible for a similar workload to the 19 people that he/she replaces. Staff salaries are the greatest burden on any police budget and increasing a PCCs secretariat will only deflect money away from operational policing.

6. Added to this is the cost of establishing the Police and Crime Panel (PCP) – the body that acts as a check on the decisions of the PCC, yet has very little power. The indications from Government suggest that the PCP for this area would comprise approximately 14 local councillors plus two co-opted independent members. These 16 individuals will all presumably incur travel expenses and the like. Whilst similar expenses are already incurred by the Police Authority as part of its day-to-day business, the Police and Crime Panel would create this additional expenditure on top of the PCC’s salary and expenses. Therefore, a PCC and associated PCP is unlikely to release any savings in police governance costs from those currently absorbed by the 19 Members of a Police Authority.

The geographic challenge

7. Whilst - like all parts of the country - the South West presents specific issues to policing. It is the vast area that the Devon and Cornwall Force covers, spreading from the Isles of Scilly to the Dorset and Somerset borders that provides our biggest challenge. Devon and Cornwall Police covers the largest area of any Force in England and whilst its resident population is not large compared to some metropolitan forces, it is diverse, widely spread out and in many cases very isolated.

8. It will be the responsibility of the PCC to both collect and represent the views of all those people living within the Force area. How can this possibly be done by one person? How can one person sitting in, for example Exeter, represent the views of a community in West Cornwall? What confidence and trust would such communities have that their concerns would be heard?

9. The Police Authority has real reservations that the task of consulting with the public and hearing the diverse range of views and issues from members of the public across an area the size of Devon, Cornwall and the Islands is simple too big an ask for one person to ever be able to do.

Bringing politics into policing

10. It is generally recognised that over the last decade, politics has been playing an increasingly greater role in operational policing. This has shown itself in the abundance of top-down targets and measures imposed upon the police service by successive Home Secretaries. This has resulted in operational policing interference by forcing Chief Constables to pursue nationally mandated targets that do more for meeting political ambition than reducing crime and disorder. An example of this was the former Government’s mandated target, misleadingly known as the public confidence target, which placed a poorly constructed measurement on all police forces. This diverted an enormous amount of well-intended police effort and resource into chasing a target that, in itself, did nothing to improve policing. It did not drive down crime, improve detection rates nor make people feel safer in their homes. Ask almost any Chief Constable and I am sure they will say that they would have preferred to have used those energies in doing these things instead.

11. This Authority welcomed the current Home Secretary’s early action to remove centrally imposed targets, we believe that the introduction of PCCs will be a step backwards. It is likely that PCCs will stand on a political or single-issue ticket. This is likely to be one that would be seen to appeal to the broadest range of the electorate, for example police visibility and tackling anti-social behaviour. Important as these particular issues are, the PCC may ignore those areas of policing that go largely unseen but form a critical part of crime reduction and investigation, for example forensic analysis, e-crime and managing police informants and even counter terrorism because they have less immediate appeal to potential voters.

12. The advantage of the current police governance model is that police authorities consist of, generally 17 but in Devon and Cornwall’s case 19, Members who bring balance to decision-making. Under the existing arrangements it is very unlikely indeed that an extreme or single-interest driven decision would see the light of day. Police Authorities all comprise a mixture of independently appointed local people and local Councillors (with the latter always having the majority) which enable a balance and moderation to prevail.

13. We also have concerns at voter apathy. From the meetings we hold around the Devon and Cornwall Force area, we have received little if any comment from members of the public with regards to Police and Crime Commissioners. There is apparently no appetite for these changes amongst the communities we speak with. For this reason, we are concerned that there is a real risk of voter apathy at the Police and Crime Commissioner elections proposed for May 2012. If members of the public do not feel motivated by a sense that the introduction of Commissioners will improve the policing services they receive, they will not take up their proposed democratic right to cast their vote.

14. This Bill will not bring about improvements to policing but simply complicate and confuse what works well already. It is more likely to add bureaucracy and will increase the costs of police governance and accountability when money should be directed at operational policing, than to reduce this.

15. And one last thought, the Coalition Government sells this idea on the basis that it replaces bureaucracy with democratic accountability. Police Authority meetings have been open to the public and broadcast live on the web for years. A Police and Crime Commissioner will be making decisions by him/ herself, in private without debate. How overt and transparent is that going to be?

January 2011