From the earliest days of the coalition government’s plans for directly elected individuals to have local oversight of policing and community safety, the potential for greater partnership with the voluntary sector was part of the conversation. One of the key aims of the reforms was given in the original 2010 consultation paper as “making sure everyone plays their full part in cutting crime . . . - wider criminal justice and community safety partners, the voluntary and community sector and individuals themselves”.
Steps taken to facilitate voluntary sector involvement of course include the Safer Future Communities project, run by us at Clinks until early last year, with Home Office funding, to ensure that the sector was well-placed to communicate its frontline work, its value as a strategic partner, and the challenges it faces, to incoming police and crime commissioners (PCCs). However, the new landscape did also bring significant challenges, such as the greater autonomy PCCs have been given in their commissioning activity, not least in relation to the Community Safety Fund, which they received directly for the first time in 2013-2014.
Taking the sector’s pulse
As of the middle of November, PCCs are halfway through their first terms. There is also a General Election in less than six months’ time, and it cannot be denied that PCCs remain a controversial subject in politics and the media, with the Labour Party having already committed to replacing them if they enter government. So we felt that this was an important point at which to take the pulse of the voluntary sector on how it has been able to engage with PCCs to date. Following the survey we ran in September this year, we published our report of the findings on 21st November, almost two years to the day since PCCs started in post.
It is important to bear in mind that this is a report on a change that is really still in motion: although the legislation happened quickly, the new arrangements are still settling even now. For example, PCCs have subsequently been given direct responsibility for commissioning victims’ services, provision that only began this October. Nevertheless, we believe that the findings give a useful picture of where these relationships have so far been positive, and where there is room for improvement.
Particularly encouraging findings from the survey include that 68.8% of organisations who responded said they had met with their PCC; well over half said that the issues on which they work are reflected either well or very well in both Police and Crime Plans and PCCs’ wider priorities; and that 59.5% thought their PCC was willing to work in partnership with the voluntary sector. Taken together, these findings seem to suggest real potential for PCCs to build relationships with local organisations based on their shared interest in safer communities.
However, the level of strategic engagement with the sector was lower, with only 41.0% of respondents saying they had been able to input directly into Police and Crime Plans. Another low figure was the number of respondents who had received funding in their police area, which was just 25.7% in 2013-14 (the first year of PCCs receiving the Community Safety Fund). This was despite the fact that the proportion of respondents who said they were working to address each of the six Home Office community safety priorities ranged from 27.9% (on victims’ needs) to 55.6% (on crime and anti-social behaviour).
One of the most interesting findings, of which we think political decision-makers should take note, is the comparison between PCCs and police authorities. An almost identical number of respondents told us that engagement with both of these had been “good”. This suggests there was in fact little difference at this stage between the two. However, looking at the distribution of the other responses did show a discrepancy: more than 10% fewer said engagement had been “neither good nor bad” with PCCs than said the same about police authorities. This may suggest that PCCs are at least more visible to local voluntary sector organisations than police authorities were. However, it was not the case that this had translated exclusively into more positive engagement, since there were slight increases in the proportion who said PCC engagement had been either very good, poor or very poor.
The report also seeks to look beyond the quantitative data we were able to draw, by exploring some of the additional comments that organisations made in the free response sections of the survey. These include some useful indications of how both strategic engagement and funding opportunities could be improved, and show that further research, perhaps by PCCs themselves, into how the sector could be better engaged could prove fruitful.
Questions for the politicians
However, in addition to the lessons that PCCs may wish to take from the survey, we also think that national-level decision-makers need to stay engaged with this part of the localism agenda in the coming months. For them, we think the questions are as follows:
- What mechanisms, if any, should parties expect their PCCs to put in place for ensuring strategic engagement with the voluntary sector?
- Should they encourage PCCs to build on existing networks such as those created by Safer Future Communities?
- Should there be a stronger steer from national government on funding for voluntary sector services? And would this take the form of ring-fencing, or a softer target?
And, given the split between the main parties over whether PCCs should exist at all (which means that all those with a stake in community safety are operating in a climate of uncertainty, with little ability to plan for the longer term)
- What steps will they take to monitor the vital relationship between PCCs and the voluntary sector in the meantime?
- Will they ensure that they keep talking to the sector as future plans take shape, to ensure good practice and expertise are not lost?
Clinks are keen to hear from you with any more questions you think we should be asking; please email firstname.lastname@example.org