Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Cumbria Police Authority (PR 98)

Introduction

1. Cumbria Police Authority is the governance and oversight body for policing in Cumbria. It is composed of 17 Members, 9 County Councillors appointed by Cumbria County Council and 8 independent members appointed through a transparent appointment process following a public advertisement. The Police Authority appoints the Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and Assistant Chief Constables. It sets the priorities for policing in Cumbria and holds the Chief Constable to account for the Constabulary’s performance against those priorities. The Authority also sets the budget for policing in the county and engages with the various communities in Cumbria to ascertain their priorities and to gain their support.

2. The Police Authority welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Summary

3. In this response the Police Authority will focus on the proposed governance arrangements contained within the Bill, ie the abolition of police authorities and the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) and Police and Crime Panels (PCP).

4. In essence the Police Authority does not believe that the case for the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners has been made and the concerns that have been raised since the proposal was first suggested have not been addressed. No explanation has been provided of how one person can adequately represent the views of the 500,000 people living in Cumbria, England’s second largest geographic county and one of the largest policing areas in England and Wales. Nor has any explanation been offered as to how one person might be able to fulfill all the roles that are currently undertaken by 17 Members. The proposals as currently drafted will inevitably lead to conflict between the Police and Crime Commissioner and Chief Constable, Police and Crime Commissioner and Police and Crime Panel, Police and Crime Commissioner and the County Council all of which will be detrimental to policing and to public confidence in the police service. The Authority has real concerns that the proposals may prove to be unworkable in practice.

Detail

5. The Police Authority would wish to make a number of specific points, as set out below -

1. There is a lack of clarity about the date on which the Authority ceases to exist. The Bill proposes that police authorities would cease to exist on the date of the election but that PCCs would not take up office until six days after the election – leaving a gap when neither a police authority nor a PCC is in place. The recent draft Statutory Instrument for the re-appointment of Independent Members suggests that Police Authorities will continue in being until the PCC is in place but this needs to be clarified.

2. It is proposed that the PCC will not take up their appointment until seven days after their election. This is not the case with other elections where the change occurs straight away.

3. The person elected as PCC is not required to make and deliver their declaration of acceptance of office until two months after the day of the election (Paragraph 71 (2)). This is an inordinately long time and could leave an area without a PCC for several months if the declaration was not made and a new election was required. The declarations of acceptance of office are usually made on the day following the election in county and district council elections.

4. PCCs will need to receive an intense and detailed induction once elected to enable them to begin to fulfil their new roll. Thought also is required as to the access afforded to all candidates to Authority and Constabulary information prior to election.

5. Overall, it could be said that the PCC is in a relatively weak position as opposed to the Police and Crime Panel (PCP).The Panel appears to have more powers in respect of the PCC and their staff than the PCC has in respect of the Chief Constable (CC) and their officers and staff. For example, the PCC cannot insist that a member of the Chief Constable’s team appears before them. The PCC also has little power to influence the strategic direction of the force if the Chief Constable does not agree with the proposed Police and Crime Plan. The Panel has the power to veto a proposed precept or an appointment of chief constable. Clarity is needed over the process for setting the precept if the Panel vetoes the initial proposal.

6. In terms of the power to veto the appointment of a Chief Constable, the PCP will not have been involved in the recruitment process so there may have concerns about the Panel’s ability to make judgements about the suitability of candidates. Alternatively it may be consider that this process is a necessary safe guard.

7. There is a real risk that the PCC will be completely tied up in managing business with the Panel, given the Panel’s remit to scrutinise all decisions taken by the PCC. This is likely to impact on the amount of time the Commissioner would have time to carry out their primary functions in respect of the CC and the Force.

8. As the Bill is currently drafted Councils will be required to provide geographical balance on the PCP but not political balance. There is potential for there to be conflict between members of the Panel, who may have one political mandate and the PCC, who may have another. Given the number of authorities to be represented on a PCP – 7 in Cumbria – it could easily become an unwieldy body. The powers of the PCP to veto appointments of a Chief Constable and a proposed precept but no indication within the Bill as to the next steps after a veto is invoked could lead to a stalemate.

9. The process for the appointment of independent members to the Police and Crime Panels is unclear. The Bill lays down that the Panel must have the necessary skills mix but not what that is or how it will be established or enforced. From the Authority’s experience, having Members with a wide range of skills, including an understanding of finances which has been beneficial in scrutinising the budget, has been essential, as is a knowledge of policing. The current proposal is for 2 independent members, alongside 10 councillors but this number does not seem likely to be sufficient to provide the necessary balance and alternative skills the PCP is likely to require.

10. The Bill lacks detail on transitional orders which makes it impossible to either ascertain the likely transition arrangements or time period. It is vitally important for the provision of policing that there is a planned, coherent transition process conducted within a realist period of time. Unfortunately it is not possible to say that this is the case at the present time.

11. The need to make transfers of staffing and functions before the commencement of the new policing body and the risk that this may not fit with the new PCC’s wishes. There are resource implications if this then needs to be changed after the election of the PCC.

12. There are potential resource implications in transition as a Policing Plan would have to be produced by March 2012 for 2012-13 and a new Police and Crime Plan would also have to be produced within 6 months of the PCC being appointed (i.e. by October 2012). In addition in the first year the PCC would be working within a budget set by the Police Authority. Neither of these seems to be either appropriate or desirable.

13. The Police and Crime Plan is to cover the term of office of the PCC (4 years) but does not align with the budget cycle or Comprehensive Spending Review period.

14. Police Authority Members are disqualified from standing to become PCC so they would need to resign first, as the Bill is presently drafted. If Members are required to leave the Authority before nomination to stand as PCC there is a risk of a loss of experienced Members from the Authority, and therefore a loss of momentum at this crucial time. This particular requirement seems to be unnecessary and places Police Authority Members at a distinct disadvantage if they wish to seek nomination to become a PCC.

15. There will be a considerable cost in holding elections for PCCs across the country. This will be a new cost, estimated by the Association of Police Authorities (APA) as £50 million across England and Wales. This cost could be reduced by combining the elections with other elections. In Cumbria in 2012 there will only elections for one third of the members of Carlisle City Council. There will be County Council elections across the whole County in 2013.

16. The timing of the proposed introduction of PCCs could perhaps be re-considered. 2012 will be the year of the London Olympics and 2012 -13 the financial year in which the highest level of budget reductions in the four year Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) period. Both of these have serious implications for policing and this may not be the best time for a fundamental change in governance arrangements.

17. The conditions on which a Commissioner could be suspended are judged to be weaker than at present for police authorities. Where a criminal offence has been committed, this only includes offences in UK and an offence such as a drink driving may not be grounds for suspension. Members feel that this does not send out an appropriate message about upholding the law from a person in a position of oversight of the policing.

18. Provision is made for an Acting Commissioner to be appointed by the Police and Crime Panel from the PCC’s staff where the PCC is incapacitated, suspended or the post becomes otherwise vacant. That person cannot set the precept or issue the Police and Crime Plan, meaning that where the post becomes vacant within 6 months of the next election (due in May) and therefore no by-election would be held, as set out in the Bill, no precept or police and crime plan could be set for policing in that area for the following financial year. Some have interpreted the provision of appointing an Acting Commissioner from the PCC’s staff to mean that the PCC will make political appointments to staff, as it would be difficult for the Chief Executive to take on a political role. It appears that it is not envisaged that the PCC will appoint a deputy (or deputies).

19. There is a lack of clarity about the nature of the roles within the PCC’s staff, since any existing staff who are transferred over to the PCC and have politically restricted posts will continue to be politically restricted but it is unclear whether any new staff will have this requirement. If not, there is a risk that any new administration will not see the existing staff as impartial, resulting in a loss of continuity and expertise if the new PCC chose to change those staff.

20. The Bill does currently give scope for the PCC to delegate functions to police staff but not to a police officer (including the Chief Constable). This may be a useful safeguard for some functions and may not be something which the PCC would want to pursue but in areas where it would be more efficient for the Constabulary to carry out some activities (e.g. as at present conducting consultation which is of mutual benefit), this may not be possible.

21. There is a concern that the ability of the Chief Constable to make contractual arrangements and borrowings could limit the ability of the PCC to set a budget to match their own strategic priorities, in instances where there is a difference of view between the Chief Constable and PCC.

22. There is some concern that the failure to carry over police authorities’ duty to join Community Safety Partnerships to PCCs shifts focus away from the joint working across the public sector that is essential to tackle crime and disorder, although the PCC will still have a duty to co-operate with partners.

23. It is considered that there should be a role for PCCs in the appointment of Deputy Chief Constables & Assistant Chief Constables as is current practice for police authorities.

January 2011