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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The harmonics of leadership, ethics and accountability in policing

Yesterday, I was fortunate to be among the few invited to the launch of the new report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, on leadership, ethics and accountability in policing. Called "Tone from the top", this report sets out to call on the Prime Minister and his government for:
greater energy and consistency to be applied to promoting high ethical standards and for a more robust set of checks and balances in the accountability structures of local policing to enable the public to make a fair and balanced assessment of their PCC
And to make a series of...
recommendations [which] are intended to support both current and future arrangements. With the introduction of elected metro mayors taking on the powers of the PCC and increasingly devolved powers and budgets, this is an apposite moment to make our recommendations.
Now: I have not read the whole report. My intention is to do and write a more comprehensive review of it in coming weeks.

Yesterday, the invited guests were treated to a summary of the report and welcoming responses from the College of Policing (Professor Dame Shirley Pearce), the IPCC (James Dipple-Johnstone) and the APCC (PCC Julia Mulligan). (Sadly the main author of the report, David Prince, was absent due to a medical appointment that had to take priority.)

I would like to record my impressions of the work done. It is evident that the group responsible for the report have taken soundings and evidence from a wide range of people (including my colleague Bernard Rix) and visited several locations around the country to explore in depth how local leadership and accountability are working. So, who am I to critique this body of work..?!

But... I must record a certain sense of disappointment that the recommendations (page 10) made have not gone far enough to begin (what must eventually happen) a robust process of tackling some of the substantial accountability deficits in the PCC based governance model. The CSPL had a golden opportunity to challenge and set out the significant difficulties with the model, but appear to have failed to do so... To be fair, I may well revise my opinion once I have read the full document. But the recommendations so far have not exactly 'wowed' me... Maybe, the Committee judged that this was not the moment to call for legislative changes to be made to increase the power of the Police & Crime Panels, for example. But right now, for me, the tone of the report does not harmonise with the practical experience on the ground that I have been picking up from several quarters.

I asked these questions yesterday:
  1. What is the Committee's view on the need for guidelines on purdah in advance of the elections next year? 
  2. What is the Committee's view on the need for primary legislation to enact the necessary changes identified by their research?
  3. What is the Committee's view on the need for extra resources for the Police & Crime Panels?
  4. What is the Committee's view on the why PCCs need their own code of conduct when surely the Code of Ethics published by the College of Policing could well apply to them too?
  5. What is the Committee's view on the need for structural change to further professionalise policing especially with regard to how complaints about the police are handled; and whether now was the time to 'sort' and streamline the complex and confusing (to the general public and many others) architecture of IPCC/CoP/HMIC/HO?
  6. What is the Committee's view on the how well local PCC convened ethics committees are functioning and what impact are they having?
I was more keen to listen closely to the answers than write down the detail of what was said in response. But I felt most honoured when Lord Bew said that with regard to Q1 (which I wrote an article about) that I had "done a service by flagging" this issue. I hope that the Home Office will now run with this and put in place some guidelines that are mindful of the recommendations of CSPL report and which address all the risks involved in the forthcoming PCC elections.

In respect of Q2, I was told there may be opportunities to amend legislation in the pipeline to address some of the matters highlighted. I would hazard a guess that Baroness Harris may well take this forward. She had already mentioned the need for primary legislation.

Regarding Q3, there is the hope (and recommendation) that PCPs will become more strategic but I fear that the very wide variation in the effective practice of PCPs will continue and extra resources will still be wanting.

My notes do not record the comments with regard to Qs 4 & 5 and the answer to Q6 was that they are very variable...

It seems to me that one of the real dilemmas in this whole matter is the opposing pull between the need for national consistency of good governance practice and the localisation of accountability arrangements. Another public service circle to square...

I hope someone was recording the presentations and discussion - because there were some excellent and insightful questions and comments from the likes of Paul West, Baroness Angela Harris (as already mentioned), Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis, Roy Bailey, Professor Francesca Gains and Sir Desmond Rea.

I will write more...

UPDATE: 020715 | 0709

I am delighted to include below the contents of an email sent to me yesterday, from Lord Bew, Chairman, Committee on Standards in Public Life. In it, he answers my six questions in some detail. I am most grateful to him and the rest of his team for providing this follow up.

Dear Jon,

Thank you for coming to our panel discussion event and for repeating your questions in your blog. I acknowledge there was not sufficient time to answer them in detail on the day, but happy to take them one by one.

1. On purdah, the Committee has made recommendations relating to purdah in the past and will be giving the matter active consideration again in the light of issues raised by the future EU referendum. The issue of  purdah guidance around PCC elections was not raised as a specific issue by respondents to the inquiry. The Committee takes the view that it is important that local or central government resources and facilities are not perceived by the public to have been used for election campaigning or political purposes during an election period and that the political impartiality of employees is maintained. The Committee is aware of your blog post on this issue - as Lord Bew acknowledged on the day  - and the Committee agrees it is something that should be considered seriously and quickly, particularly given the complexity of governance arrangements. We will be writing to the Home Office for an update on preparations being made for PCC elections.

2. Regarding primary legislation, the Committee is an advisory body. Many of our recommendations in this report do not require legislation. Based on the level of ethical risk the Committee felt the recommendation for the Home Secretary to conduct a review of powers to take action against a PCC was proportionate at this point. This does not rule out future legislation and the Committee will look for opportunities to maintain pressure. I agree Baroness Harris indicated an ongoing interest in this area.

3. On extra resources for police and crime panels we recognise this is one of the issues, the report discusses it in some detail, but we are under no illusions about the state of public finances. To make a recommendation solely on resources was not appropriate, especially as our inquiry that showed some Panels were able to operate effectively.  Our intention is to drive best practise and encourage Panels and PCCs to look hard at their ways of working, and for Panels to provide greater continuity of representative membership and ensure they become more strategic using forward plans and advance notice of information needs, and for PCCs to adopt a common definition of significant public interest matters and improve the accessibility of the information they provide. The Committee recognised that this issue was common across local government scrutiny and may need revisiting across the sector as a whole.

4. On the need for a PCC Code of Conduct - the Committee’s view is that there should be a mandatory national minimum code of conduct for PCCs in common with all other public office holders . While  this could reflect the principles of the policing code we believe PCCs should have a code reflecting their own unique role within policing accountability. For the Committee the standards issue is that there should be clarity as to the standards of conduct and behaviour expected to provide a common yardstick for the public, as there is for MPs, civil servants, special advisers and Ministers.

5. Concerning police complaints - the evidence to the Committee showed there was confusion amongst the public and participants as to the various roles and responsibilities which was exemplified in both the system for complaints against the police and the system for complaints against PCCs. We made clear that this lack of clarity and transparency needed to be addressed in order for the public to have confidence in both systems. The police complaints system is are already under review and the Committee has made clear that there is a gap in dealing effectively with non- criminal complaints against PCCs. The Committee expresses concern in the report about various aspects of the systems, including the role of the IPCC in complaints against PCCs.

6. Finally, the report discusses Ethics Committees in general and provides some case studies and further information. They are relatively new and their impact has not yet been properly evaluated, although some emerging findings are encouraging. The Committee is clear however that Ethics Committees are an adjunct and not an answer to embedding a standards culture. Whatever form they take they need clear terms of reference, and their effectiveness in supporting an ethical culture should be periodically reviewed.

We agree with you that the real dilemma is the opposing pull between national consistency of good governance practice and the localisation of accountability arrangements, even if we don’t necessarily agree as to the best way to proceed at this point. 

I’m afraid this is too long to post as a comment on your blog but I would be grateful if you would add my reply.

Lord Bew
Chairman, Committee on Standards in Public Life

No comments:

Post a Comment