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.

Monday, November 11, 2013

PCCs: A year is a long time in politics

As we approach the anniversary of the first (and last?) election of Police & Crime Commissioners, many people have felt moved to do some kind of one year on review.

For example (at least two regional versions - maybe more) of the Sunday politics show featured pieces on PCCs. I am featured on the East of England one at about 42 minutes in, talking about the Norfolk PCC and his expenses.

And then of course, we have the excellent work that my colleague Bernard Rix has been doing on auditing transparency across the 41 PCCs & London Mayor. You can access his report (first of several) here.

The irrepressible Bob Jones, the West Midlands PCC has produced his 'school report' and gives the PCC model of governance an overall 4 out of 10. You can read the original report here and BBC story of it here.

And then I must add, the Home Secretary gave her 'warts and all' review a few days ago. Here is the link to her speech.

In about half an hour's time, I am going to be contributing my thoughts to Radio Northampton on the ups and downs of having PCCs over the last year. So here are my glads and sads about the introduction of PCCs a year ago.

I am glad that: the governance of policing is now explicitly political since it always has been and always will be: this vital arm of the state needs to be properly considered in wide public discourse. However (and you may not believe me when I say this...) I am sad that: this has become overly party political and dare I say tribal. I take my share of responsibility in this, but I am not the only one! But was this inevitable?

I am glad that: there are now powerful elected figureheads who can challenge the government and particularly the Home & Justice Secretaries on the impact of some of the Government's policies (e.g. the privatisation of probation services) on crime and community safety. I am sad that: the Government still refuses to listen to these considered opinions and favours its own ideology over evidence & professional advice.

I am glad that: a good number of independent PCCs were elected since they are offering a body of pluralist thought and challenge outside the party structures. I did not expect any to be elected at all though in hindsight I can see why they were. I am sad that: this has resulted in sniping and less supportive partnership/scrutiny from some of the Police & Crime Panels who are dominated by the political party that expected to win in those areas.

I am glad that: PCCs are currently grappling with the challenges of developing their first real independent budget & plan for 2014/15 (since they mostly inherited the one in place at the moment). This will test their ability to translate their manifesto promises into real policies and investments in new kinds of policing. I am sad that: many PCCs will default to 'off the shelf' budgets or worse install budgetary mechanisms that favour their political allies rather than what is needed to tackle the underlying causes of crime and anti-social behaviour.

I am glad that: many PCCs are experimenting with novel approaches to community listening, service innovation and bold public service leadership. I am sad that: some PCCs are still failing to put their heads above the parapet and take some risks.

I am glad that: some PCCs 'get' evidence based practice and are prepared to invest in research to bolster even more effectiveness in policing. I am sad that: some, perhaps even most, PCCs have yet to really grasp what evidence based policing is all about and are relying too much upon rhetoric, 'received wisdom' and 'approved' practices (with some having no solid research base).

I am glad that: many PCCs have made a point of going out to listen to their publics and communities, and are listening (really listening) to them. I am sad that: many PCCs waited far too long to start doing this and some, even now, are hardly out of the blocks when it comes to real community engagement.

I am glad that: most PCCs are conducted their affairs with due probity and good governance. I am sad that: several PCCs have achieved a high profile not for making a difference to policing but for practicing some, shall we say, 'less that wise' approaches to expenses, travel and staff appointments. Indeed I am angry that some PCCs have tarnished the reputation of politicians yet again, following the MP expenses scandals of a few years back. (But then again, some MPs are still doing this too!)

I am glad that: many Police and Crime Panels have begun to recognise the range of powers that they have, both hard (statutory) and soft (just asking some rather fine questions etc) powers. I am sad that: some other PCPs seem to have been caught napping and have done little to hold their PCC to account beyond the bare minimum.

I am glad that: the debate is growing about how to reform this governance model post the next general election. I am sad that: there are some who appear so invested in the model that they cannot see that it requires some significant tweaking.

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