Policing: Police and Crime Commissioners - Home Affairs Committee Contents

5  Police and Crime Panels

Q 4  The current proposals

57. The Government proposes to introduce Police and Crime Panels as a core element of its proposals for "appropriate checks and balances to the power of the new Police and Crime Commissioners".[110] The consultation paper states that Police and Crime Panels will be created in each force area and will be made up of locally elected councillors, and independent and lay members. The Panels are intended as a check and balance on the Police and Crime Commissioner, rather than on the force itself. The consultation paper proposes that they will:

  •   be able to advise the Commissioner on their proposed policing plans and budget and consider progress at the end of each year outlined in a "state of the force" report;

  •   be able to summon the Commissioner to public hearings, take evidence from others on the work of the Commissioner, and see papers sent to the Commissioner as a matter of course except where they are operationally sensitive;

  •   hold confirmation hearings for the post of Chief Constable and be able to hold confirmation hearings for other appointments made by the Commissioner to his staff, but without having the power of veto;

  •   have a power to trigger a referendum on the policing precept recommended by the Commissioner.[111]

The consultation paper states that if the panel objects to the Commissioner's policing plan or budget "they will be free, in the interests of transparency, to make their concerns public, or, in cases of misconduct, to ask the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to investigate the Commissioner".[112]

58. The overwhelming majority of witnesses who commented on Police and Crime Panels, as described in the consultation paper, were of the opinion that they had little real power. Sir Hugh Orde, for example, commented that, judging from the consultation paper, the panels had "no particular power" other than the power relating to the referendum on the precept. He added: "I don't think they have any teeth".[113] The language used in the consultation paper makes it sound as though Police and Crime Panels will have more power than is in fact the case: the Panels will be able to hold "confirmation hearings" for the post of Chief Constable and other appointments made by the Commissioner to his or her staff, but will not have the power of veto, so these are not in fact confirmation hearings; they are merely information sessions.

59. One of the few powers that Police and Crime Panels do have under the current proposals—the power to trigger a referendum on the policing precept set by the Police and Crime Commissioner—also gave rise to concerns. A joint submission by councils in Lancashire stated:

The current proposal could see regular referenda held in respect of the precept, with a potential to re-bill if the commissioner's proposals are challenged. The cost of a referendum in Lancashire is likely to be similar to the cost of elections, approximately £1.4 million across all 12 district and 2 unitary areas. The cost of re-billing has previously been estimated at £1 million.[114]

Suggested modifications

60. Mr Mark Rowley, the Chief Constable of Surrey Police, summed up two different views of the role of Police and Crime Panels—and made it clear which he favoured—when he said: "One question for me is whether they are working together with some sort of shared responsibilities, the panel and the commissioner, or whether there is a very adversarial relationship, which probably wouldn't help".[115]

61. The Welsh Local Government Association, while explicitly seeking a "consensual rather than an adversarial approach", was of the view that the Police and Crime Panel "must be independent of a Police and Crime Commissioner". It referred to the consultation paper's silence on the subject of what sort of support teams Police and Crime Panels would need and expressed some concern about "the question of how the running of a PCP will be funded".[116]

62. Surrey Police Authority, on the other hand, stated that it would be better for the public if the Police and Crime Panel were to "work with the Commissioner—to be able to scrutinise before decisions are made, not afterwards". It commented:

A more influential Panel would also assist with the workload of a Commissioner, ensuring that decisions are made with due care in balancing the interests of local people and policing needs. By having a Panel working with the PCC, this would also avoid the potential for duplication of having to have two sets of supporting staff and potentially calling the police force into account twice for the same issue.[117]

The question of who would be the deputy for the Police and Crime Commissioner was raised by several witnesses, including Sir Hugh Orde.[118] If the Police and Crime Panel were to work with the Police and Crime Commissioner, rather than be set up as a separate scrutiny body, the Police and Crime Commissioner's deputy could be drawn from the panel.

63. Lancashire Police Authority pointed out another difficulty with setting up the Police and Crime Panel as a separate scrutiny body: the lack of logic in having one person to scrutinise the Chief Constable and a whole panel of people to scrutinise the Police and Crime Commissioner. It stated: "We do not believe that a model where there are more people scrutinising the Commissioner than the Chief Constable and the performance of the force can be held up as sensible".[119]

64. The membership of the Police and Crime Panels was also discussed by witnesses. Councillor Kemp, the Vice Chair of the Local Government Association, was clear that Police and Crime Panels should consist of "elected members"—by which he meant elected councillors rather than that the Panel should be directly elected—and said that the Local Government Association had difficulty with the current composition of Police Authorities because "we don't believe that magistrates or independents should be there" except in a "co-opted or advisory" role.[120] Again, there seems a lack of logic in having an elected Police and Crime Commissioner held to account by a Police and Crime Panel consisting of some unelected members. However, Mr Garnham, the Chair of the Association of Police Authorities, and a councillor who chairs Gloucestershire Police Authority, emphasised that the role of independents was "worthwhile" and stated: "We police by consent. Having an independent view sometimes helps us achieve that rather than just play with, shall I say, politics or local politics".[121] The Association of Police Authority Chief Executives stated: "A strong Panel with some independent members and responsibility to work with the Commissioner would mitigate any risks that might accompany greater politicisation".[122]

65. The Government needs to clarify the role of Police and Crime Panels. There is also a need to define more coherently and straightforwardly the extent of their powers. In Chapter 2, we discussed the concerns about the ability of a single Police and Crime Commissioner to undertake the workload previously undertaken by 17 or 19 people, and to represent successfully an entire force area. We see merit in using Police and Crime Panels as a means of providing advice to Police and Crime Commissioners before final decisions are made, as opposed to setting them up as a separate scrutiny body with a separate support staff, examining decisions after they are made, which we do not believe would be a good use of public money. We recommend that Police and Crime Panels be comprised primarily of elected representatives from county, unitary and district councils in the force area—in particular portfolio holders with appropriate responsibilities, and having regard to the political balance—and of a significantly smaller number of independent members. Ultimately, the Police and Crime Commissioner, as the elected representative, must be able to make what decisions he or she sees fit, but decisions made against the advice of Police and Crime Panels must be recorded as such and these records must be available to the public.

110   Home Office, Policing in the 21st Century, p 15 Back

111   Ibid. Back

112   Ibid. Back

113   Q 74 [Sir Hugh Orde] Back

114   Ev w35 Back

115   Q 74 [Mr Rowley] Back

116   Ev w63 Back

117   Ev w34 Back

118   Q 66 Back

119   Ev w40 Back

120   Qq 131-32 Back

121   Q 106 Back

122   Ev w9 Back

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Prepared 1 December 2010