of commissioners by police and crime panels |
79. The Government proposed police and
crime panels at a late stage in the passage of the Police Reform
and Social Responsibility Bill to assuage concern that, once elected,
commissioners would not be subject to sufficient scrutiny for
their actions and decisions. The Government's expectation was
for panels to provide 'light-touch' scrutiny, and funded them
previous chapters we examined the part played by panels in the
appointment of deputy and assistant commissioners, and in respect
of the removal or suspension of chief constables. In this Chapter
we consider how they have approached their scrutiny functions
more generally, and where there may be scope to strengthen their
The developing role of panels
80. The 2011 Act and the Policing Protocol
Order 2011 gave police and crime panels a range of powers, including
all decisions or actions by the commissioner;
the commissioner to provide information and answer questions;
reports and recommendations on the police and crime plan and annual
report, of which the commissioner must take account and respond;
public meetings to discuss the annual report and to question the
commissioner on its contents;
out confirmation hearings when a commissioner proposes to appoint
a deputy, a chief executive, or chief finance officer;
to resolve non-criminal complaints made about the commissioner;
HMIC for a professional view when the commissioner intends to
dismiss a chief constable;
the commissioner if they are charged with an imprisonable offence
which carries a maximum term of two years or more;
an acting commissioner if the elected one cannot carry out their
role, for example, for health reasons or following resignation
the commissioner's first precept proposal, and recommend that
it be increased or decreased (although they cannot veto the revised
the commissioner's proposed candidate for chief constable (although
they cannot veto the reserve candidate).
81. The composition of panels depends
on the number of local authorities within the force area. Where
a force area hasten or fewer local authorities, the panel should
have ten members plus as least two independent co-opted members.
Where a force area hasmore than ten local authorities, the number
of members correspondsto the number of local authorities in the
force area plus as least two independent co-opted members. Panels
may co-opt additional members as long as the total number does
not exceed 20 and the Secretary of State approves the co-options.
Overall, the composition of panels is meant to reflect the political
and geographical balance of councillors within the force area.
Inevitably, this means that often the majority of members on the
panel will have the same party affiliation as the commissioner,
where they are not an independent. Furthermore, CoPaCC told us
that in 26 areas the panel chair had the same party affiliation
as the commissioner, and that this could result in the panel providing
less challenging scrutiny.
82. Although the Local Government Association
has provided some guidance for the nascent work of panels, and
we also note the work of CoPaCC in this regard, the Police Foundation
noted that there are no real national standards as to how panels
should perform their role. As a result, there has been variation
in the way working practices have developed between different
areas. The Centre
for Public Scrutiny recently published a report, which sought
to capture some of the experience of panels to date.
The staff who support panels split their experience into two phasesan
initial steep learning curve, followed by period of more proactive
work by panels.
83. In the first phase, the work of
panels has largely involved their focusing on statutory duties,
such as confirmation hearings, scrutinising police and crime plans,
and agreeing precept proposals. As with commissioners, this has
involved panels developing an understanding of their statutory
duties, which has at times resulted in disagreements between the
two parties. Several PCCs voiced concerns that their respective
panels had struggled to understand their role, and had at times
over-reached their powers.
The Thames Valley PCC told us his panel had at times appeared
to be scrutinising the performance of the police force and the
chief constable, rather than the commissioner.
The Lincolnshire PCC also told us the panel's work had focused
too much on operational policing, rather than on the decisions
he had taken.
In fairness to police and crime panels, the Centre for Public
Scrutiny told us it was not always easy to separate operational
and strategic matters, and that often to have an understanding
of the latter, it required information on the former.
Another concern among PCCs was that in discussions over setting
the precept some local councillors were not able to separate their
constituency concerns from their role in scrutinising the precept
for the whole police force area.
84. The Centre for Public Scrutiny believed
that part of the problem was that many police and crime panels
had members who had previously sat on the former police authorities,
and therefore did not appreciate how their role had changed since
The Centre, the Local Government Association and others called
for the Home Office to provide greater clarity on the respective
role of panels, commissioners, and their offices, including on
the extent of panels' powers and how and when they should be applied.
85. The second phase in the development
of the work of police and crime panels has seen many conducting
more proactive work in a way that is not prescribed in the legislation,
but which has nevertheless helped them to fulfil their statutory
functions. For example, the Dorset and West Yorkshire panels have
developed a 'rapporteur' approach, whereby individual panel members
take responsibility for particular subject policy areas, so gaining
specialist knowledge that better enables them to scrutinise the
In Cleveland and Sussex the panels have established sub-groups
to consider in more detail the precept and budget in order to
better prepare for the annual precept-setting process. Other panels
are using themed meetings to focus in-depth on a particular priority
of the commissioner.
86. Overall, a number of witnesses sought
to characterise the relationship between commissioners and their
panels. The Surrey PCC said he had been subject to "robust
and open scrutiny".
The West Mercia Police and Crime Panel described the relationship
as "positive, with a balance being struck between scrutiny
The Sussex PCC told us: "The greatest benefit that panels
can bring a police and crime commissioner is as a critical friend".
At the conclusion of our inquiry, the Minister told us "they
are developing a rhythm of being quite a good scrutiny mechanism
] and I hope and expect them to continue to do that".
87. Effective scrutiny by police
and crime panels relies on creating a constructive working relationship
with the commissioner in which the panel acts as a 'critical friend'.
However, many panels have to date struggled to understand their
powers and define their role. Indeed, one former member of apolice
and crime panel described it as "a crocodile with rubber
teeth". In short, they need to conduct themselves less in
the style of the former police authorities, and operate more in
the mode of select committees. We recommend that the Home Office
provide fuller guidance to panels on their role and remit, and
how it relates to commissioners. We also recommend that the Local
Government Association consider further ways to develop the sharing
of best practice between panels. The political balance on panels
is also a concern to us, and so we recommend that, where possible
in the future, if the chair of a police and crime panel is from
the same party as the commissioner, then the panel should consider
appointing a deputy chair who is not from that party.
role of panels
88. The police and crime panels that
gave evidence to us suggested other ways in which their scrutiny
powers could be enhanced. First, a number raised concern at the
flow of information from commissioners to panels.
The sharing of information is crucial to effective scrutiny and
maintaining a good relationship between both parties. The Surrey
Police and Crime Panel cited an example where the commissioner
had agreed to share the recommendations of a review of the county's
neighbourhood policing model before a final decision was made.
However, the recommendations of the review were subsequently implemented
without the panel having had sight of them.
In general, the Local Government Association told us there had
been a number of cases where panels had only been provided with
the information after making repeated requests, and even then
it had been incomplete.
89. One aspect of the difficulty some
panels faced in getting information concerned decisions made by
commissioners. PCCs are required to publish all decisions they
make that are of significant public interest. However, panels
are often not kept aware of what decisions the commissioner is
planning to make. Indeed, in some cases announcements were made
in the media before the panel had been informed.
Many felt that a requirement on commissioners to produce a forward
plan of their key decisions would facilitate better scrutiny by
the panel. Furthermore, witnesses felt that the lack of any definition
of what constituted a decision led to a range of interpretations
Indeed, analysis carried out by CoPaCC showed that during their
first 48 weeks in office, one commissioner made just 11 decisions,
which they deemed to be of significant public interest, whereas
another made 141almost three per week.
Whilst variation in the number of decisions will in part be a
consequence of different approaches taken by PCCs, it also suggests
that some commissioners may be using a narrow definition of what
constitutes a decision in order to avoid scrutiny by the police
and crime panel.
90. A second issue raised by panels
was in respect of scrutiny of the commissioner's precept proposals.
This is an important aspect of the annual work cycle for panels,
though the experience to date for many has seen the process truncated
into so short a timeframe as to preclude the possibility of very
meaningful scrutiny by the panel. For example, the Surrey Police
and Crime Panel told us its members had only five working days
to consider the commissioner's proposals, convene a meeting, and
draft a formal response.
However, the Dyfed-Powys PCC noted that the scope to provide more
time for scrutiny was constrained by the timing of Autumn Statement
and the announcement of the Policing Settlement in December.
91. Finally, some panels raised concern
over their role in investigating non-criminal complaints against
the PCC. Dealing
with complaints took up a large amount of panels' time and resources,
and whilst panels are able to carry out investigations, they have
no real powers to take action in response. The Cumbria panel noted
that the current process risked creating false expectations on
the part of complainants.
The North Wales panel told us that a lack of experience in dealing
with complaints had "led to a tentative and some-what proliferated
approach to their categorisation".
However, other than conveying a sense of frustration at the complaints
process, those panels which gave evidence were not able to provide
concrete recommendations on how their role could be improved.
92. The Government's intention was
for commissioners to be held to account by the public with police
and crime panels providing 'light touch' scrutiny. But the low
turn-out for the PCC elections and, the lack of a formal 'Opposition'
between elections, inevitably places a greater emphasis on the
role of panels in scrutinising commissioners.
93. To allow panels to conduct more
proactive scrutiny, we recommend that the Home Office brings forward
proposals to amend the Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified
Information) Order 2011 to require commissioners to publish a
forward plan of key decisions, where these are known in advance,
and to publish background information on each decision when it
is made. The Home Office should also produce accompanying guidance
for commissioners on what constitutes a decision. We further recommend
that the Local Government Association and the Association of PCCs
agree a protocol on the timely provision of information to panels
generally, but with particular reference to the precept-setting
process, to enable more effective scrutiny by panels. In this
area, we also recommend that the Government does not again delay
confirmation of police funding to such a late stage as last year,
with the Autumn Statement not taking place until December. Finally,
we recommend that the Local Government Association undertake in-depth
research on panels' experience to date on complaint handling,
so that it can make recommendations to the Home Office on how
the process should be improved.
94. In 2013-14 the Home Office provided
funding of £53,000 for the secretariat support for each police
and crime panel. It is understood that the figure was calculated
on an expectation that panels would require a single full-time
scrutiny officer, and that they would meet only four times a year.
During the first 18 months commissioners have been in office it
has become apparent that the current funding does not reflect
the workload of panels, most of which have met at least seven
times a year, with one panel meeting monthly.
The Chair of the Surrey panel told us she had attended 23 meetings
in the previous year, taking into account full panel sessions,
sub-groups, briefing meetings, etc.Many
panels have been informally subsidised by the host authority through,
for example, the provision of legal, finance, HR, policy and administrative
support. The Local Government Association told us future funding
from the Home Office had not been confirmed.
95. If police and crime panels are
to play a stronger role in proactively scrutinising commissioners
they need to be resourced accordingly in a way that is sustainable.
We recommend the Home Office and Local Government Association
undertake research to estimate the actual cost of support for
panels to date to determine a more realistic level of funding.
We further recommend that to provide long-term certainty, in the
future, such funding should come from the police precept.
137 PCC0007 (Local Government Association), para 7 Back
Q 372 (CoPaCC) Back
(Police Foundation), para 11 Back
Centre for Public Scrutiny, Police and Crime Panels: the first
year, February 2014 Back
Qq 51 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Warwickshire) and 657
(Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent) Back
(Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley), para 11 Back
(Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire), para 3.1 Back
(Centre for Public Scrutiny), para 24 Back
(Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley),PCC0041(Police
and Crime Commissioner for Dorset) and PCC0045(Police and Crime
Commissioner for Northumbria) Back
(Centre for Public Scrutiny), para 24 Back
(Local Government Association), para 8, PCC0025(North Wales Police
and Crime Panel), para 2.2, PCC0039(James Berry), para 20, and
PCC0043(Centre for Public Scrutiny), para 26 Back
(West Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel), para 1.2.4, and PCC0056(Centre
for Public Scrutiny) Back
(Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey), para 3.2 Back
(West Mercia Police and Crime Panel), para 6 Back
Q 160 (Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex) Back
Q 696 (Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims) Back
(Local Government Association), para 19, PCC0019(Surrey Police
and Crime Panel), para 2.2, PCC0022(Welsh Local Government Association),
para 14, PCC0024(Hampshire Police and Crime Panel), and PCC0043(Centre
for Public Scrutiny), para 21 Back
(Surrey Police and Crime Panel), para 2.2 Back
(Local Government Association), para 20 Back
(Local Government Association), para 21, and PCC0022(Welsh Local
Government Association), para 14 Back
(Centre for Public Scrutiny), para 26; Q 504 (Chair of the Surrey
Police and Crime Panel) Back
CoPaCC, PCC Statutory Transparency, November 2013 Back
Q 19 (Surrey Police and Crime Panel), para 4.1 Back
(Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys) para 3.2 Back
(Cumbria Police and Crime Panel), PCC0024(Hampshire Police and
Crime Panel), para 3.5, PCC0025(North Wales Police and Crime Panel),
para 2.7, and PCC0032(West Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel),
para 2.2.5 Back
162 Ibid. Back
(North Wales Police and Crime Panel), para 2.7 Back
(Local Government Association), para 10, PCC0021(Welsh Local Government
Association), para 11, PCC0025(North Wales Police and Crime Panel),
para 2.4, PCC0043 (Centre for Public Scrutiny), para 28, PCC0047(Frank
A Chapman), para 7; Q 372 (CoPaCC) Back
Q 495 (Chair of the Surrey Police and Crime Panel) Back
(Local Government Association), para 28 Back