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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Absolute power...

Police & Crime Commissioners represent a unique and bold experiment: never in the field of UK public service governance has so much power been concentrated in the hands of so few with so little opportunity for proportionate scrutiny & check.

Whilst I happen to believe that there is scope for Police & Crime Panels to up their game significantly (as I explored in my Guardian article and which will be debated in some depth at the forthcoming conference being organised by CoPaCC on 16 October), PCCs will still hold most of the cards. And if Policy Exchange gets its way, they will soon hold several more.

But why is this a problem? 

If the democratic system could guarantee that all elected PCCs would be measured, skilled, urbane, reflective & insightful leaders with just enough ego & self confidence to govern responsibly for the balanced benefit of all, there would be far less of a problem. However it is in the diverse nature of humanity and politics that some who get elected are arrogant idiots who have about as much wisdom as a box of grass cuttings. (I am being extreme of course.) But I think we can all agree that when we look at the legions of politicians (councillors, MPs etc) around us, we can see a fair few where we exhale slowly, grateful that their power is limited by the fact that they are working as part of team.

But we do not have that with PCCs. Having been elected, they can govern with almost 100% impunity. 

Now I do not know the facts of the case, but it seems to me that something rather odd is happening in Cumbria right now. I have worked with Temporary CC Stuart Hyde as a co-assessor at Bramshill. I only know him to be a good egg and an excellent professional police officer to work alongside. I have not read any of the reports / investigations that have been compiled concerning his now extensive suspension. It would appear that the PCC has just initiated proceedings (two days ago) to call upon T/CC Hyde to resign/retire even though his jurisdiction over him ends tomorrow when Stuart reverts to be a Deputy Chief Constable again. (You can read all the PCC's statements made here and here). Stuart writes his own blog here. Also see the update below. (Thanks to Paul West for pointing me in these directions.)

Now I am not going to go into the whys and wherefores of this case but when you add it to recent events in Lincolnshire and Gwent a pattern appears to be emerging. There are several other cases of where PCCs have waded in with big political boots without joining up all the dots which I won't list for fear of litigation!

The advantage of having governance being carried out by a group of people is that they hold each other to account and (in most cases) avoid capricious, whimsical or blindly ideological decision making. There is someone else (with equal power) there to say "hang on my friend, this is not a good idea..." The PCC governance structure does not have such checks and balances.

It is my belief that most PCCs elected do have the necessary wit & humility to make good decisions over the next few years that will not do irreparable damage to UK policing. Some might even improve things! However I worry a lot about some of those elected.

And it is no good saying "ah but they are accountable to the electorate!" Well yes, but not for several years yet and much damage can be done in the mean time.

So in my view, we need to do even more talking about how to reform the PCC based governance structure (not by extending its reach to other criminal justice or emergency response services) but by how to make it more institutionally wise, measured and circumspect.

Quite how we do this...? Not sure yet. But please watch this and other spaces!

UPDATE: A useful discussion on Radio Cumbria from yesterday featuring Paul West about events in Cumbria can be listened to here.

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