On 4th February 2016 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, spoke to a Policy Exchange platform to outline the government’s plans for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) ahead of the election on Thursday 5th May 2016 – just under 100 days away. Over that period Clinks will publish briefings both for the voluntary sector and contacting PCC candidates to make sure they know the value of our sector and the impact it has on making communities safer. We will also be considering how these announcements will apply differently in Wales, which this speech did not cover in any detail.
What a difference a year makes
A year ago many were speculating about the shelf-life of the PCC, ahead of a general election where all political parties seemed to have a different view as to how, why or if they would remain. That uncertainty has passed, and as Theresa May very clearly put it, PCCs “are here to stay”. The Home Secretary said that the replacement of the Police Authority with the democratically elected PCC had fundamentally changed the landscape.
“They’d be elected, visible, well-known in their communities and accountable to the electorate. They’d provide an impetus to reform, innovate and deliver policing more efficiently. They’d be powerful figures, with responsibility for writing the police plan, setting the police budget and precept, and hiring and firing chief constables. And they would focus relentlessly on the job of cutting crime and keeping communities safe. In short, they would bring – for the first time ever – real local scrutiny of how chief constables and their forces perform and real energy to the important task of policing - keeping families, neighbourhoods and businesses safe and secure”. - Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Opinions on whether PCCs have made a real difference to local communities, or delivered ground breaking reform, or involved the voluntary sector in the way we would want, probably depends on where you are in the country and what individual candidates have managed to achieve. Needless to say, linking the upcoming elections to local elections is very likely to increase the low voter turnout recorded at the last election in 2012.
More change on the horizon
So there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of desire to debate a reversal of the PCC reforms, and it’s looking more like their responsibilities are going to grow rather than shrink. This could change how things are done at a local level and no matter how effective local PCCs are, they’re likely to become more, rather than less, important to engage with. On top of this Home Secretary says that the police force budgets are to be protected, meaning funding levels should remain roughly similar.
The speech made yesterday raised more questions than it did supply answers but here are some of the big changes that are being discussed:
- Devolution deals
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act passed on 1st February 2016, it is now the legislation that governs the ‘devolution deals’ that have preoccupied a lot government thinking since the May election; not least the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. It includes the power to provide an elected mayor for combined authorities (although it needn’t be a condition for devolution). Their term will be four years and there is an exclusion for any candidate that “has in the five years before being elected, or at any time since being elected, been convicted in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man of an offence and been sentenced to a period of imprisonment of three months or more without the option of a fine”.
You might ask why elected mayors matter, but it does affect PCCs, because the legislation also allows the following: “The Secretary of State may by order provide for the mayor for the area of a combined authority to exercise functions of a police and crime commissioner in relation to that area”. This has already happened in Greater Manchester, with Tony Lloyd acting as interim mayor and as PCC. This in effect means that area will not be required to have a PCC (from a specified date), and that the PCC role will be delivered by “a deputy mayor in respect of PCC functions (deputy PCC mayor)” which is in line with the approach London have taken through their Mayors Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC).
- Integration with the fire service
The Minister for Policing has a new job title, Mike Penning MP now holds the rather unwieldy title of Minister for Policing, Fire, and Criminal Justice and Victims. The Home Secretary was clear that fire services could, where successfully negotiated, become combined with the PCCs office. She states that “…in the Policing and Crime Bill, we will introduce measures to enable PCCs, where a local case is made, to take on responsibilities for fire and rescue services locally. Further, we will enable them to take an additional step to create a single employer for the two services and bring together back office functions.” This clearly sees the broadening of Mike Penning’s role, but could also see a widening of the PCCs role, remit, and budget.
- Expanding the role of PCCs in the wider Criminal Justice System
One area that has been mentioned much less is the possibility of extending the PCCs remit to other areas of the Criminal Justice System. In her speech, Theresa May said the following, “Together with the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, I have been exploring what role PCCs could play in the wider criminal justice system. This is something that I have long believed in and which a number of PCCs have shown interest in. As they say, there is a reason that we included the words ‘and crime’ in PCCs’ titles”. Much thought has gone into how a localism or devolution approach would fit into the justice arena and clearly some thought has gone into what role the PCC could or should undertake. The Home Secretary made mention of a few areas for expansion in her speech, “…a number of PCCs have argued, youth justice, probation and court services can have a significant impact on crime in their areas and there are real efficiencies to be had from better integration and information sharing.”
Although this is by no means a final announcement with a clear path ahead, it should be of great interest to Clinks members and the wider voluntary sector. Given the ongoing review of youth justice, conducted by Charlie Taylor, we can assume that some of this may be raised through the forthcoming report. But how this will relate to independent courts, and a probation service that is part public sector and part contracted out, is much more difficult to imagine.
- Police reform linked with school reform
The final announcement in the speech about linking school reform and police reform was much more unexpected. Theresa May said, “I believe the next set of PCCs should bring together the two great reforms of the last Parliament – police reform and school reform – to work with and possibly set up alternative provision free schools to support troubled children and prevent them falling into a life of crime.” Perhaps we should have anticipated something in this vein. The secretary of state for Justice, Michael Gove, has brought a lot of his experience in the education setting into a justice realm. His first announced review was of education in the adult prison estate, undertaken by Dame Sally Coates whose background is in inner-city schools. Furthermore, the lead for the review of youth justice, Charlie Taylor, was previously the Chief Executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership. But how the Home Office will bring education into this role is currently unclear.
Well, Clinks will be paying close attention to the changes that are happening and report them back to the sector. We will rightly be focussing on the May election and learning lessons from our successful Safer Future Communities project which Clinks ran during the first PCC election in 2012. The resources we created as part of that project may still be of use ahead of the election this year, such as the ‘Influencing you PCC’ guide, ‘Hustings guidance’, information on ‘Setting up a local network’, or the ‘Local media toolkit’ – download all of the resources for free here.
Because this is a new election with new candidates, a different government, with some different issues, Clinks will be developing new briefings and information for the sector. Make sure you sign up to our weekly bulletin Light Lunch to keep up to date. If you want more in-depth analysis, become a member and get our exclusive monthly policy bulletin.