In an earlier blog I mentioned that I will be giving evidence this week to the Home Affairs Select Committee in the Commons on the subject of Elected Police Commissioners. I am against them and I am representing the Local Government Association so my view and most of the rest of the LGA fortunately coincide!
I find it interesting that the Government is pursuing this line at all. No Home Office Minster, past or present, thinks that this is a good idea. The whole of the of the coalition agreement has been hijacked on this issue for just one reason – its David Cameron’s idea. This is an idea that runs counter to the way we have done things in this country for many years. Radical change by itself is no problem to me but radical change which fails to understand where we are now before deciding on a brave new direction isn’t radical – it’s foolish.
The proponents of the change fail totally to understand that the Police Force as distinct to the Police Authority has a massive accountability to the people that it serves. I have just published a review of governance in a conurbation and used the police as an example. They are fully responsive to the people of Merseyside at five levels where they interact with elected politicians. It was only after my booklet had been published that I realised that I had not mentioned the Merseyside Police Authority once. I was actually on it almost 20 years ago but it is an irrelevance in the way that I and my colleagues in Liverpool work with the Police.
On my speed dial are three numbers that I use whenever necessary – the PCSO and the ward officer for my Ward and the Inspector for the Division. We talk whenever we need to. We all know the area and its neighbourhoods well and its strengths, weakness and opportunities. We trust each other and we work together to find the answers to local problems. We have all been empowered to get on with the job within our respective systems. So when something gets reported to me or the Police which needs joint intervention (and most things at a local level do) we just get on with solving them.
As chair of the South Central District Committee my 17 colleagues and I meet with Inspectors and Superintendents to discuss wider policing and ASB issues. The Leader of the Council deals with the two BSU Commanders for the City on Liverpool matters and with the Chief Constable on wider issues. At all levels there is a relationship between elected representatives and the Police which is tried and trusted and which works. The system is accountable to people because it is responsive to their needs and effective in bringing about solutions. We consult together, listen together and deal with things together.
I agree with the Government that the Police Authorities (except where they are part of a County Council) do not add value. Recent reports suggest that £50 million of the £60 million we spend on them is wasted. Let’s save that money and create a system where the police at a conurbation or similar level work with a committee composed of the community safety portfolio holders of the local councils. That’s worth a lot of police officers and if we then add on the saving of £50 million every four years on elections that really begins to add up.
This proposal runs counter to so much of what the Government wants to do in other areas by accepting place based budgeting and by working to reduce the number of organisations, quangos and levels of bureaucracy. Four years after the first elected police commissioners take up office they will leave office with 95% of the population unable to say who they are or how to contact them. One person (they will mostly be men by the way) cannot represent the views and needs of 1.45 million on Merseyside. We have a system where about 450 of us can and do so. Let’s use those elected representatives, build on the best practice of Merseyside and other forces to ensure that police and the rest of the public sector work seamlessly together. That’s the only way to deal with crime.
So a final plea. Is there somewhere out there a Tory with backbone brave enough to go to Cameron and say, “Sorry Boss you’re wrong?” I suspect not!