Police and Crime Commissioners: progress to date - Home Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. The introduction of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) marked a major change to the governance of policing in England and Wales. During this Parliament, the Committee has taken an active interest both in the development of the Government's proposals, and aspects of the work of PCCs since their election.[1]This Report examines the work of the commissioners during their first 18 months in office. It considers their effectiveness to date in, for example, engaging the public and developing collaborative ways of working. It also looks at the relationships they have developed with their chief constables, including commissioners' power to hire and fire, which has attracted significant controversy. In addition, we make recommendations to strengthen the role of police and crime panels so that they are better able to scrutinise the work of PCCs.

PCCs and the public

2. One of the main aims of the PCC reforms was to introduce democratic accountability to the determination of local policing priorities—as the Home Office told us: "We have put policing back in the hands of the public".[2] A number of our witnesses emphasised the benefit of vesting in an individual, or "go-to person" as the Chief Constable for Thames Valley put it, the power to set those priorities, and in so doing, providing a clarity of leadership that was not present under the former police authorities.[3] For example, the Lincolnshire PCC told us: "I can promote local policing priorities because, unlike police authorities, I know what they are".[4] Elsewhere, the Sussex PCC said: "ultimately you want somebody who can make a decision. If the public don't like the decisions […] they can make their voice heard at the ballot box".[5]

3. The turn-out for the PCC elections in November 2012 was exceptionally low. It ranged from just 11.6 per cent in Staffordshire, to 19.5 per cent in Northamptonshire, and averaged 15.1 per cent across England and Wales. Several factors contributed to the low turn-out, including the darker evenings and bad weather associated with the time of year, the lack of a freepost mailing for candidates, and the timing outside of the normal electoral cycle.[6] Furthermore, a large proportion of the electorate did not understand what they were voting for. As the Cambridgeshire PCC put it: "I spent all of my time not asking people to vote for me, but telling people what the job was all about".[7] The PCC for Bedfordshire summed up the turn-out for the elections as "little short of calamitous".[8] Not only has it raised a legitimate concern as to whether the commissioners have a sufficient mandate on which to set policing priorities for their areas, it also fails to reflect the extent to which the general public is interested in policing issues.[9]

4. Since the elections, however, public awareness of police and crime commissioners has increased greatly. In their evidence a number of witnesses quoted the results of a poll carried out by ComRes for the BBC, which found that 62 per cent of people were aware that they had a PCC for their area. They contrasted this with previous research showing that only seven per cent of the general public were aware of the old police authorities.[10] Many commissioners attributed the greater level of awareness in part to the work they have undertaken to engage with the public since taking office. We heard a number of examples in this respect. The West Yorkshire PCC told us he had met hundreds of people and a large number of community groups in the course of his work, and ran a monthly public perception survey, which received 15,000 responses in its first year.[11] The Thames Valley PCC said: "I have a huge number of meetings, I go to all the councils, and I have public meetings in every area", while the Staffordshire PCC claimed to have engaged face-to-face with over 12,000 people in the county since January 2013.[12]

5. Some commissioners highlighted the level of correspondence they receivedas an example of the extent to which public awareness of PCCs has increased. For instance, the Kent PCC told us she had received almost 9,000 pieces of correspondence since taking office, compared to a handful a week when she was chair of the Kent Police Authority.[13] The Avon and Somerset PCC told us she received 20 times more correspondence than the defunct authority had in its last year of existence.[14] Greater public awareness of the work of commissioners has been demonstrated in other ways. The Sussex PCC reported regular viewing figures of 500 for the live webcast of her accountability meetings with the chief constable, whilst the West Midlands PCC told us more than 700 people had watched the streaming of a recent road safety forum.[15]

6. Unfortunately, public awareness of commissioners has stemmed not only from conscious engagement work, but also from a number of adverse media stories concerning their activities. These have included the controversial removal of chief constables, the hiring of deputy commissioners, and the resignation of police and crime panel members. We consider each of these issues in this Report. Whatever the cause of the public's awareness of PCCs, this, combined with the timing of the next elections to coincide with the local elections, should ensure a greater turn-out in 2016. Indeed, as Lord Wasserman, the architect of the PCC model, told us: "it could hardly get any smaller".[16]

7. Yet between now and the next elections, there is still more for commissioners to do. Whilst there is greater awareness of their existence, one survey found that only 18 per cent of respondents had a good understanding of the role of PCCs, whilst only 10 per cent believed that commissioners gave them a greater say over how their local area was policed.[17] PCCs have also still to win over the forces for which they set overall strategic direction. Lord Stevens told us just five per cent of police officers and two per cent of police staff considered the appointment of PCCs to be a good idea.[18]

8. A lack of understanding about the role of commissioners is perhaps unsurprising so soon after their election. When we asked the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims whether the concept of PCCs was still on probation, he told us: "No, I just think it is new. With every quarter that passes, people across the country find them both more visible and see the benefits […]".[19] But it is clear that many commissioners themselves view their role as being on probation, particularly following the publication of the report of the Stevens Commission in November 2013, which recommended their abolition.[20] For example, the PCC for Kent told us: "It is a new role, It needs time to bed in. There are 41 of us. We are all trying to do different things in different ways", whilst the PCC for Cambridgeshire said: "we are on probation, and the next election will be the judgement day".[21]

9. One of the main aims of police and crime commissioners was to make the strategic direction of policing in England and Wales subject to democratic accountability. It is disappointing, therefore, that the turn-out for the elections in November 2012 was so low, leading some to question whether PCCs have a sufficient electoral mandate. Since their introduction, however, public awareness of commissioners has increased significantly, albeit not always for the right reasons. This, combined with the move of the next PCC elections to be in line with the May electoral cycle should ensure a greater turn-out and level of public engagement at the next elections in 2016. Until then, and whilst the nascent work of PCCs is still to have its full effect on the public's perception of local policing, it is inevitable that many will consider the concept of police and crime commissioners to be on probation.

Training and transition

10. The role of commissioner is a complex one requiring an understanding of local government finance, legal issues, and crime statistics, among many others. It is also a role that is still being defined by its first incumbents. As the Police Foundation noted, "incoming PCCs had no blueprint to work from as there was no equivalent post elsewhere in the world or in any other public service in the UK".[22] Lord Wasserman contrasted the high level of advice and guidance provided by civil servants for new Ministers upon taking office, to the relatively low level of support available to incoming commissioners whose small secretariats may themselves change at election time.[23] He recommended allowing a gap of up to six weeks between the election of new commissioners and their taking office. This would allow time for a period of intensive training for PCCs. It would also provide for an orderly transition between administrations, giving an opportunity for incoming commissioners to make changes to their teams and for any pre-appointment hearings to take place, although the Minister expressed some reservations about the practicality of a transition period, and argued that incoming commissioners in 2016 would have a better idea of the requirements of the job.[24]

11. This Report and the Committee's previous reports on PCCs have shown that many of the difficulties that commissioners have faced could have been avoided given greater opportunity to find their feet before starting the job. For the next elections, we recommend a transition period for new commissioners of one month between election and taking office. This would allow time for the Association of PCCs, College of Policing, Local Government Association, and others to provide intensive training for newly elected commissioners, and a period of transition for post-holders and their teams.

Register of PCCs' disclosable interests

12. In our first Report of the 2013-14 Session, we recommended HM Inspectorate of Constabulary draw together a national register of PCCs' disclosable interests to promote transparency, andto aid the general public in holding their commissioners to account. As an interim measure, we produced our own version of a register.[25] The Home Office rejected this proposal, stating that whilst it expected high standards of transparency by commissioners, it was not the role of central Government to establish and maintain such a register.[26] It also said HMIC did not have a role in inspecting PCCs. During this inquiry the Association of PCCs told us a national register had not been created, "in part because of the bureaucracy and complexity involved, but also because most PCCs feel this is a matter of local accountability".[27] However, both the Local Government Association, the Centre for Public Scrutiny, and the Committee on Standards in Public Life told us they supported the introduction of a national register.[28]

13. We continue to believe that there should be a national register of commissioners' disclosable interests, and reject the suggestion that such an exercise is complex and bureaucratic. It has been a perfectly straightforward exercise to produce it for this Report. In the continued absence of any such initiative by HMIC, the Home Office or the Association of PCCs, we produce the latest version of the register as an Annex to this Report. For the first time, we also include the disclosable interests of deputy commissioners.

1   Home Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2010-12, Policing: Police and Crime Commissioners, HC 511; First Report of Session 2012-13, Police and Crime Commissioners: Register of Interests, HC 69; and Sixth Report of Session 2012-13, Police and Crime Commissioners: power to remove Chief Constables, HC 487 Back

2  PCC0001 (Home Office), para 1 Back

3   Qq 82 (Sir Hugh Orde, Association of Chief Police Officers), 232 (Chief Constable for Thames Valley), 363 (Policy Exchange), 447 (Local Government Association), and 541 (Chair of the Surrey Police and Crime Panel) Back

4  PCC0031 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire), para 6.1 Back

5   Q 226 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex) Back

6   Qq 46 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire), and 462 (Local Government Association) Back

7  Ibid. Back

8  PCC0040 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire), para 10 Back

9   For example, PCC0002 (Mark Ryan); Qq 376 (Police Foundation) and 622 (Police Federation) Back

10  PCC0001 (Home Office), para 7, PCC0008 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey), para 6.2, PCC0023 (Committee on Standards in Public Life), para 6, and PCC0034 (Association of Police and Crime Commissioners), para 8.1 Back

11  PCC0027 (Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire), para 2.0 Back

12  Q 146 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley); PCC0037 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire), para 8.2 Back

13   Q 634 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent) Back

14  PCC0017 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset), para 1.1 Back

15  PCC0051 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex); Q 429 (Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands) Back

16   Q 397 (Lord Wasserman) Back

17  PCC0033 (Police Foundation), para 17 and 23 Back

18   Q 290 (Lord Stevens) Back

19   Q 690 (Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims) Back

20  Policing for a better Britain, November 2013 Back

21   Qq 31 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire) and 662 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent) Back

22  PCC0033 (Police Foundation), para 25 Back

23   Qq 393 and 403 (Lord Wasserman) Back

24   Q 403 (Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims) Back

25   Home Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2013-14, Police and Crime Commissioners: Register of Interests, HC 69  Back

26  Government Responseto Home Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2013-14, Police and Crime Commissioners: Register of Interests, Cm 8692 Back

27  PCC0034 (Association of Police and Crime Commissioners), para 10.2 Back

28  PCC0023 (Committee on Standards in Public Life); Qq 470 (Local Government Association) and 471 (Centre for Public Scrutiny) Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 5 May 2014