What next for successful Police & Crime Commissioners?

Whatever people think of the policy, PCCs are going to be individuals with significant power and influence

Police and Crime Commissioners - what next?
James Hargrave
On 15 November 2012 17:54

Whatever the weather, or turnout for that matter, Police and Crime Commissioners are going to have some big decisions to make when they take office (which they have to have done by the 23rd November).

One thing is for certain – they will have a precarious in-tray. An incoming PCC will have 10 weeks to sign off on the police force’s crime plan and budget – which will have already been set by the outgoing Police Authority.

Thus the first test of any Commissioner’s’s mettle (or possibly sanity) will be whether they decide to throw the plan/budget out the window and make their own, or agree what has already been set for the year and settle for some continuity going in to 2013.

It will be a brave (or foolhardy) Commissioner who chooses to rip up the budgets with so little time to come up with an alternative. Many of the candidates who will be frantically trying to turn out the vote today have Police Authority/Policing backgrounds; but many do not. Policing is a complicated business and those candidates (should they succeed) that do not have policing knowledge, beyond the short period of this campaign, will surely be daunted by the challenge that lies ahead.

According to sources in the police and the Home Office it is widely recognised that the next Comprehensive Spending Review will bring further spending reductions to central government budgets, largely forecast as a further 10 percent cut to the central government grant for policing.

Many forces have already gone some way in meeting the challenges of the previous CSR’s 20 percent cut. This leaves little room for manoeuvre when taking on further reductions. This is potentially one area where PCCs can help Chief Constables by providing political top-cover for the inevitably difficult decisions that lie ahead. This is of course assuming that their relationship is constructive.

If it is constructive PCCs have the opportunity to bring real change. They will be unique in their autonomy to make commissioning decisions, and the fact that they will be the single point of contact for providers and the public will go a significant way towards de-cluttering what has often been a murky decision making picture.

The less mentioned Crime part of Police and Crime Commissioner is where they have the most scope to affect change. Perhaps where Police Authorities could not (as a larger appointed body) a PCC may have the mandate to get out into the community and ‘bang heads together’ with charities, campaign groups, health services, probation, prisons, and especially local government. This way the silos of the criminal justice system may start to break down and (that hateful phrase) joined up working can actually start to happen.

But of course the reverse of all this is also true. If an obstructive, tub-thumping, PCC is elected whose narrative doesn’t move beyond “more bobbies on the beat” and “no privatisation on my watch”, they will generate nothing but conflict and friction – and may only exacerbate existing problems in their communities.

PCCs will have to police their whole jurisdiction, not just those who voted for them. PCCs will have to understand that perpetrators of crime are often victims of crime themselves; working intensively with difficult communities both sensibly and compassionately is not necessarily a vote winner.

What we are likely to see over the next few years is 41 experiments in the 41 Police Forces of England and Wales. Beware PCCs who put too many lines in the sand; if they are to be successful they are going to have to work on opening doors in the criminal justice world, not closing them.

As a London resident I won’t be voting today (I’ve already got Stephen Greenhalgh) but I hope, regardless of the comments of people like Lord Blair, that people do get out there and vote. For whatever people think of the policy, PCCs are going to be individuals with significant power and influence. The larger their mandate the better it will be for policing in England and Wales.

Assuming you haven’t barricaded yourself in your house following the images of hooliganism and violence in the recent TV adverts for the elections I wish you happy voting.

James Hargrave has formerly worked in Her Majesty's Prison Service and then as a Police communications professional. He is now a political consultant for JBP Associates Ltd. He writes here in a personal capacity. He tweets @Sir_Grumble

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