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, May 18, 2013

Scrutiny: it's not about the hat!

One of my regrets about yesterday's stunt (now also reported on you tube by the way) is that whilst it highlighted the story about the expenses, two offices and the new chauffeur, it meant that other matters were not so well reported. I guess that is the nature of news coverage.

But this is why we have blogs...!

So I now get to cover the aspects of yesterday's Police & Crime Panel meeting which I think deserve further discussion. So here is some more news:

Public meeting is attended by members of the public!

I did not count, nor did I ask them who they were, but there were about twenty people sitting and observing the meeting yesterday. As a fraction of the Thames Valley public, this number is very small. But people were there. Certainly this is more than ever attended meetings of the police authority, I reckon. So in this respect the PCC model of governance is working (a little).

Rural crime is up... or is it down? (good scrutiny)

I am afraid that I cannot recall who asked this question of the PCC but he was challenged to say whether he had found a way to measure rural crime yet (one of the PCC's priorities). There is a problem in defining rural crime and then accurately recording it, apparently. How small does a conurbation have to be to defined as rural, for example? I live in a largish village on edge of Buckingham. Is all crime locally rural (as, say, compared to Oxford or Reading)? Or does the PCC really mean crimes such as thefts of tractors, misuse of red diesel or sheep rustling?

The public have a right to know.

It was difficult to hear all the PCC's answer but I think in summary it was 'I am still working on this' (six months after his election where one of his pledges was about tackling rural crime).

This was scrutiny in action. Tick! Perhaps the PCC will now go away and work this out.

Whereas on the other hand...

Breaking news: Thames Valley Police is selling the family copper (not so good scrutiny)

The Deputy Chief Constable gave an extensive presentation about the plans to sell off approximately £22m worth of local police stations which will also reduce revenue costs by approximately £2.1m every year.  As you would expect, the DCC was asked several questions by the panel about what fixed police presence will be left in town centres once all the police stations have been "replaced locally", and just what "replaced locally" might actually mean in practice.

However, remember, the PCP is there to scrutinise the PCC, not the police service. The job of holding the police service to public account is for the PCC to do now... So instead, these are the questions from the panel to the PCC that I would have liked to have heard, but did not:

  • Please tell us Mr Stansfeld, how will you and the OPCC monitor the impact of these changes on local crime levels and more critically local levels of confidence and fear of crime?
  • What have you done so far to investigate and challenge these plans being put forward by the Chief Constable and her team?
  • Since you are the voice of the public in these matters, Mr Stansfeld, please tell us how you will be engaging with the publics in the places about to lose their local police station (hint: they won't be happy!)
  • The presentation given by the DCC was focused mostly on saving money, unsurprisingly. How will you introduce a bit more value and values to the discussions?
  • The broad thrust of these plans will be to take police stations from being in the centres of towns to being on the edges. How happy are you with this, commissioner? 
  • How do you think people might vote in three years time if they judge you to have been complicit in making their towns feel less safe and little less like a traditional English town?
  • What do you think your role as PCC should be in examining these plans.... what questions have you been asking? What plans do you have to hold he CC to account for these proposed changes?
  • Will you commit to a 24/7 police facility in Reading town centre once the main police station is closed? (Oh hang one - the PCC was asked that question by Cllr Page... and for the record the PCC said he would not, by the way).

This was not scrutiny in action! This was the PCP defaulting into being a quasi (and fairly toothless) police authority. In my view, the PCP needs to get more of a grip of their role.

For example when is second transfer going to appear on the agenda of the PCP? I assume the PCC and CC have begun discussions about this? Is the panel going to scrutinise the PCC on this?

New ASB Legislation... huh?

Councillor Tony Page (who was on top form yesterday by the way and is one of the few members of the panel to get its scrutiny role) asked a question about the item on page 27 of the agenda documents entitled Managing the introduction of the new ASB Legislation. He inquired as to the views of the PCC on this legislation and how he might seek to influence it (I think). He highlighted how people are telling him that the new laws will lead to a 'bun fight' in the courts.

Just a reminder again, this was in the agenda papers. Indeed the legislation has been widely trailed in Government announcements and (I think) is in the coalition agreement.

What did the PCC have to say about this? Not a lot. Indeed, I would contend, he gave a very good impression of not having read the agenda papers. How did the panel react? With muted acquiescence. If I had been in the chair, I would have asked the PCC if he had actually read the papers as far as page 27...

Stop press: PCP member asks an unscripted question!

It would seem that the PCP has to submit all their questions in advance which makes for, shall we say, a less than dynamic and gripping dialogue with the PCC. Why?

Yes, occasionally one or another of the PCP goes a bit 'off piste' such as Councillor Kieron Mallon (of Cherwell District Council who is something of the Boris Johnson of the PCP) who seemed to suggest, at one point I think, that quangos were to blame for the "Bullfinch" girls being abused in Oxford...

However, overall, the process felt more like a school debating club than (say) a parliamentary select committee. So my suggestion to the PCP is that the questioning should be more fluid, tenacious and challenging to the PCC!


I will leave things here.

The one main topic yet to cover is the recent "Bullfinch" trial and conviction of Oxford men found guilty of abusing and raping young girls. This was also discussed yesterday and I have some comments to make about the role of the PCP and PCC in this matter. So please watch this space.


  1. Anonymous18/5/13 09:33

    It's possible that some of those 20 'members of the public' are assistants/admin/aides to PCC or chief constable, or academics like myself. Certainly the case at a Panel meeting (in another area) that I've been to.

    1. Yes - that is quite possibly true... I was trying to be positive!