This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My answers to my ten (Guardian) questions

Some weeks ago the Guardian posted an article of mine on the “Ten questions for potential police and crime commissioners”. (You can read the article here.) Several PCC contenders, including Tory and Independent ones, have referenced my article and given their answers. I must now, of course, answer my own questions…

1. This year, a number of police authorities have taken a one-off grant from the government in order to reduce their precept and the impact of the cuts. There is no guarantee that this money will continue which means that next year, the new PCCs may have to make even bigger cuts or seek higher precepts. If you had been elected last year, what would you have done and why? Would you have chosen to take the one-off grant or not?

The short answer is yes. The state of police finances are so tight, I could not have justified refusing this money this year. The other option, of course, would have been to raise the precept but I would probably not have risked the battle with the Police Crime Panel over this matter when this money was on offer. I suspect the debate would have gone down to the wire with the consequent instability for the Chief Constable and her team in planning budgets being no good to anyone. I describe myself as being on the pragmatic left which includes knowing which battles are worth fighting and which are not.

And yes, I am very aware that by not increasing the precept this year this could damage future budgets (lower base from which to work) and therefore the independence of Thames Valley Police Service. TVP and the TVPA have in the past focused on the long game of shifting much of their funding to local precept which has given the service a good deal of resilience from being bounced by central government grants. By accepting the grant this year, Thames Valley Police Authority has gone in the other direction and so the worry is: what happens next year? 

But it will be a different matter next year. It will be interesting to see what the candidates put in their manifestos. If I am the candidate, as I hope to be, then please watch this space. (But do know that the long term budget signed off by the Police Authority a few weeks ago does include precept rises for coming years…)

2. The new Act gives PCCs the power to "commission policing services from the chief constable (or other providers)". How do you envisage using this power and what risks do you foresee?

The short answer is very, very carefully! I am not opposed to all outsourcing and commissioning of other agencies – how could I be since I have spent most of my career being one of those agencies. See below*

But… and this is a big ‘but’ – there are huge dangers in commissioning outside agencies for commissioning’s sake. I have been around long enough in the business of strategy and management to spot a fashion when I see one. And I can also spot bad deals as well. For example I have always been very sceptical about the benefits of PFI. And now we are seeing examples such as A4E as well. I could go on. Payment by results sounds like a good idea but will it be?

One of the biggest risks to all this is that the police service will increasingly fragment into a series of contracted parts where coordinated action on crime & community safety will become more and more difficult to achieve. Moreover I fear that if (say) police community support officers are contracted out, street patrol will become the preserve of private companies where members of the public will only see police constables in times of stress. This is hardly a recipe for boosting policing by consent.

So I am resolutely an arch commissioning sceptic as opposed to enthusiast. (Some of my concerns can be found in my Guardian article of a few weeks ago here.)

And I think this will become a bigger issue as time proceeds as the public become more aware of what is happening and the risks & downsides that are emerging. As evidence of this my tweet of a few days ago where I said "Please RT if you feel even just a tad concerned about police privatisation.. RT lots if you're really worried! Ta" was retweeted over a 50 times in the next few days.

*When Thames Valley commissioned me and the firm I used to work for back in 1992 to develop and run a cascaded Leadership development programme (called Leadership in Action) for the force, I grabbed the opportunity with gusto. I spent several weeks in Sulhampstead with some great police officers as I ‘trained the trainers’. (I still have the certificate for winning the Karaoke competition in the bar one night with my rendition of ‘Michelle’!) This was the beginning of my work as a leadership & strategy adviser / facilitator with not just Thames Valley but many other police services and partner justice agencies since then.

3. How do you plan to forge a constructive relationship with the chief constable, and what will you be doing to avoid or handle conflicting views and priorities?

I have the hugest respect for Chief Constable Sarah Thornton. She is doing a very tough job in a very tough climate with great professionalism, élan and good humour. If I am elected, that will be my starting point. I don’t know what Sarah thinks of me (we have met and corresponded several times) but I would expect that she will to engage in building a positive, productive and professional relationship. 

My aim will be to listen and seek to build a solid partnership. I will absolutely avoid even thinking about telling her what to do in her professional practice. That is not my style nor indeed what the legislation allows. I will instead ask lots of questions and seek to represent the views and concerns of the Thames Valley electorate. 

I plan on talking with her about priorities in great detail and examining the various scenarios where one matter is given precedence over another. And I also plan to keep talking about the talking as well. Trust will be key.

4. On the basis that limited police resources need to be deployed in proportion to where and when there is greatest risk of harm to members of the public, as PCC what action will you take to ensure your police force is doing this optimally?

My first action will be take a close look at how resources are deployed around Thames Valley. The force already has a formula for deciding on the level of resource given to Slough vs. Witney (for example) based upon need and incidence of crime etc. Notwithstanding the need to have a resilient spread of resources across all areas of Thames Valley, I will be seeking reassurance that the ‘thin blue line’ in (say) Reading is not being stretched even thinner because it is slightly ‘fatter’ than the risk of harm suggests than it needs to be in (say) Chipping Norton. 

There could be a problem and there could not be a problem at all. I don’t know, but it is a matter I would wish to investigate on the basis that I believe in the fair and proportionate (to the risk of harm) deployment of scarce policing resources. Policing for the many not the few, as it were.

5. Given the focus on the relationship between the police and the news media, what would you hope to achieve in your first 100 days of office in this respect?

Some years ago I read a piece in the Oxford Star which reported on a public meeting where a well-respected and experienced police inspector addressed a public meeting about the (reducing) rates of crime in their area. So far, so good. Except then the journalist went on to spend a half of the article to reporting on a single resident who wanted to say that things were so much worse in his opinion. This was not the general feeling of the meeting, but one person alone giving his view, without any evidence to back it up. I was left feeling angry so I phoned the journalist up and asked him why he gave equal space to this single individual. He muttered something about ‘balanced journalism’ and I said it was imbalanced to give equal status to a single person with a gripe. 

I also recall working with Watford Council and Police on a large strategic planning event (lots of diverse people and agencies working together sharing ideas – it is one of my professional specialities) to assemble ideas on what more could be done in the town to tackle crime and the fear of crime. (I have always loved the title we came up with which was ‘Fearless in Watford’ as it neatly summarised what the whole conference was about.) 

We wanted to invite the local media (newspaper editors especially) to engage in a dialogue but they only wanted to report on the event rather than examine their role in fostering or reducing the fear of crime in the town. They never showed up.

So in my first 100 days, I would plan to have dialogues with all the main media in the Thames Valley and find out what more they are prepared to do to tackle the fear of crime and maybe even crime itself. I hope we can explore some imaginative ways in which their contribution to the health and well-being of the Thames Valley public can be enhanced. This is my aim.

6. How much do you worry that a large proportion of police resources spent on devising partnership protocols, emergency plans and interagency strategies etc, are broadly equivalent to all the effort that went into Year 2000 compatibility?

I don’t worry a lot because I trust that people to use their time wisely. But I do worry a little that a great deal of effort is often expended on producing what I call ‘strutegies’ where most of the time is spent on talking to the printers and making the document look pretty. I am more interested in ‘stractegies’ where the effort is spent on devising actions that will make a difference. 

In my role as PCC, I would want to explore how to create more ‘stractegies’ and fewer ‘strutegies’. 

7. It would seem that the fear of crime continues to rise despite the reductions in actual crime. What electoral promises will you make regarding this worrying trend?

This is a big problem in my view. Fear blights people’s lives. I don’t want that.

Despite the fact that the Labour Government was the only government in history to leave office with less crime than when it came to power in 1997, the level of fear of crime had increased. (Indeed I lobbied hard, but unsuccessfully, to get the fear of crime included in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act). 

Tackling fear of crime is a tricky problem as well. At this stage (and this may change) all that I can promise is that I will make fear a priority for my attention and I will spend time researching where it has been tackled successfully. There may be international and national examples of where good and significant progress has been made. This is not a promise (as I do not think I can honestly give such an undertaking) but I will commit to doing all that I can do so that there is less fear of crime at the end of four years than there will be at the start. 

8. As PCC you will be elected by the people of your area. However the police often work in other force areas (as happened with the riots last year) and maintain resources to tackle national (often organised) crime. What tensions do you foresee there and how will you resolve them?

If elected as PCC for Thames Valley I will be parochial: my focus will be on what needs to happen so that Thames Valley people are and feel safer in their homes, on their streets and in their study & workplaces. I make no apologies for that. 

However, ‘never say for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee’. We are all connected in an intricate web of relationships and consequences. Therefore if there is an organised gang based in Banbury but committing most of their crime in Solihull (say) I would have no problems that TVP resources are dedicated to supporting the West Midlands Police Service in their efforts to bring the gang to justice. If another riot happens in London in the Summer of 2013, then I can foresee supporting the Chief Constable sending some of her resources to assist.

Why? Firstly, because it is the right thing to do. The world is not a spread sheet where we can fraction out one cost centre (aka community) from another. Some things just have to be done because they are right, regardless of the cost. Secondly, there are national agreements and agreements (or memoranda of understanding) between police services that should be honoured. The last thing I want to see happen on my watch is the Balkanisation of a coherent British police service. And thirdly, we may need help too sometimes. I believe in collaboration. 

Indeed, I believe that far more has been achieved in the world through people working together that has been achieved by people competing. I think humans are naturally collaborative. My style as the PCC will be harness such spirit and make not just Thames Valley a safer place to live, work, study and play but also the rest of the UK as well (if not the World…)

9. Is policing a complex business or a complicated one?

It is, of course, both. 

Policing includes a rich and complicated mix of different functions not just the ones that feature on TV programmes. The range is wide. I look forward to appreciating even more just how wide.

And the police have to respond to the messiness and unpredictability of the world. They have to stay one step ahead of criminals who are becoming ever more sophisticated in their attempts to exploit the rest of us. Our lives are becoming more fragmented as regular work is harder to come by, alcohol and drugs are more available, internet transactions are becoming more common and so forth. The world is complex: a butterfly flaps a wing in South America and we have a hosepipe ban in southern England... Rodney King is beaten up in Los Angeles and people protest outside Brixton police station. (That second event happened, by the way.) We need police leaders who manage within complexity.

10. Police authorities have been criticised for being too invisible. How will you visibly connect with all the diverse communities of your area and bring democratic accountability to life?

The short answer is that I do not know yet. I do know that I want to have a debate with fellow Party members and beyond to everyone working in and with communities around Thames Valley as to how to do this. But I will make these three points:

My style is to listen not tell and I plan on doing a great deal of listening over coming months in the run up to the election and then beyond. I promise to listen lots – and lots.

I am a believer in big meetings where people with diverse interests and ideas come together to agree a common way forward. I plan on hosting many of these kinds of meetings around Thames Valley if I am elected. I promise I will make such meetings happen and that there will be more opportunities than ever before for the people of Thames Valley to comment on and influence the kind of policing delivered to them.

And thirdly, I promise not a week will go by in my 3½ years (the subsequent election will be in May 2016) when I am not out somewhere by a school gate, at a council meeting, in a café, in a shopping centre listening to people about not just about their concerns about local policing but their ambitions and dreams too. 

I believe that policing done well, removes the fear of and the consequences of crime & antisocial behaviour, so that people get more of a chance to achieve what they want for themselves, their families and their communities. This will be the belief that will drive me forwards as the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner.


  1. Interesting answers Jon. I hope that these questions will be used by all candidates as literally a starter for ten.

  2. Thanks Darren: I agree natuarlly. Indeed the questions already are being answered by many candidates - including Tory contenders such as yourself. I am very glad to be influencing the debate.