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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

PCC governance: the writing is on the wall in Rotherham and elsewhere

Anyone who watched the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) grilling (this link may or may not work as a recorded session) of PCC Shaun Wright cannot fail to have been impressed on at least two counts: Mr Wright has redefined 'brazen defiance' to a new level & there is no legislative route by which anyone can (currently, without new primary legislation being enacted) remove him from office until 2016.

When PCC governance is reformed, as it surely will be, Mr Wright's case study will be cited on many occasions.

And then this morning, I got engaged in a short twitter debate with the PCC for Staffordshire, Matthew Ellis. It began with me gently nudging him about this story where he is reported to have stated that "Two-thirds of police and crime commissioners are hopeless". I told him I thought the accepted figure was only a third!

But here are the last few posts in our dialogue (mixed threads so a couple of posts missing):
  • ‏@CllrJonSHarvey: @MatthewEllis I thought "accepted" fraction was 1/3, but no worries. I think difference is PCC's who think themselves managers not leaders
  • ‏@MatthewEllis @CllrJonSHarvey Agree! Get balance right aim for added value & instill new anbition & thinking seems to work. Public engagement up up up!
  • ‏‏@MatthewEllis: @CllrJonSHarvey Subjective isn't it. Depends where bar lies. Perhaps between the two! Point is role can work. We've had bad PMs Cllrs MPs?
  • @CllrJonSHarvey: @MatthewEllis And PMs, cllrs & MPs are all herd beasts. PCCs are more or less isolated given their singular power. Different category
  • ‏@MatthewEllis: @CllrJonSHarvey Fair point. I support some form of recall or reserve Home Sec powers to remove exceptionally. Agree greater check n balance
  • ‏@CllrJonSHarvey: @MatthewEllis specifics? What extra check & balance powers would you give to PCP?
  • @MatthewEllis: @CllrJonSHarvey Firstly more resource & much higher public profile. Parl Select committees more powerful since profiles raised & enhanced
So this blog is my response to his last tweet, as simply 140 characters are not enough!

It is my impression that Mr Ellis is one of the better PCCs. I happen to think that he has grasped and understood that his role is primarily one of leadership rather than (micro) management of the Chief Constable (as some PCCs seem to be doing) and/or glad-handing lots of people at shows and festivals.

Nonetheless, as I said to him in another tweet, if it takes a superlative person to make a role work, that is not a good and solid basis for that governance role. And given the vagaries of how candidates are selected and elected (and Mr Wright at least had the grace to admit in his time with the HASC yesterday, that he was elected on the strength of his party ticket, rather than as a particular person), then the PCC role will continue to have a fair number of people who are less than superlative.

And now to turn to his last tweet: despite the HASC's glaring scrutiny of some of the decisions taken around the Rotherham scandal, they are ultimately without executive power. Yes, the HASC has developed a high profile and is well resourced (reference Mr Ellis' tweet) but they have as much authority to remove Mr Wright (or any of the others in Rotherham involved in the horrendous state of affairs) as my cat.

Indeed, PCPs already have the potential to develop the kind of influence of which Mr Ellis speaks. But how many have done so?

In the end, the problem is one of singular power invested in one person who is only up for election every four years. 

Any suggestion that a PCC should be removable by (say) the Home Secretary or even a Police & Crime Panel is in direct conflict with the argument put forward for PCCs in the first place: singular power elected by and accountable to local people through the ballot box.

The writing is on the wall for PCCs (and Mr Wright has added his own scribbled message). Defenders of this governance role may think it can be tweaked and revised to make it work. However,  I honestly believe that PCCs will be a one term experiment that will consigned to the history books within a matter of months...

But if Mr Ellis (or Mr Wright) or anyone else wishes to respond... please do so.

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