Wednesday, 25 September 2013

What would a Labour Government do about Police and Crime Commissioners?

I learned at least two interesting things on a twelve hour tour of crime and justice events at the Labour Party fringe yesterday.  First, it was Brighton itself that was the scene of a corruption scandal in the early 1960s that led to the system of police accountability which was in place until November last year. Improper relations between the local police and organised crime in the town (and specifically the racecourse) exposed the weakness of the existing Watch Committees.  Police Authorities were created in the 1964 Police Act and stayed in place for almost fifty years.  

The second fact is that Labour has as yet no idea what to do with the Police and Crime Commissioners should they form a government in May 2015.  Those of the thirteen Labour PCC’s who went to the seaside, might have been a bit miffed that their electoral success was barely mentioned, let alone celebrated by a parade around the Conference Hall. Perhaps that’s not surprising if they are going to be headed for the knackers’ yard.    In her speech  (as drafted anyway) Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper mentioned PCC’s only by including the poor turnout and cost of the PCC polls in a list of Coalition flops.  

The PCC’s future appears to hang on Lord Stevens Commission which reports next month. Without being drawn on what it might say, Shadow Policing Minister David Hansen helpfully laid out the options at a Policy Exchange Fringe meeting. Option A is the status quo- to keep PCC’s with perhaps a few tweaks. Option B is to amend the PCC function by for example strengthening the role of the Policing Panels which keep them in check and strengthening the relationship with local authorities.  Option C is ....I expected David Hansen to say to scrap them - but no- Option C is to expand them into the kind of local criminal justice Tsar role proposed by Reform and Policy exchange in recent reports. (It turned out that Option B may actually be to amend them out of existence but given he was sharing the platform with two PCC’s , Hansen was  being diplomatic.)

The two PCC’s , from Greater Manchester  and Bedfordshire were understandably enthusiastic about their role although Tony Lloyd when an MP had voted against their creation. Each seemed to be doing interesting work with partners – whether in Tony’s case  talking to the fire service about checking  home security as well as smoke alarms or encouraging better prison education ; or in the case of Olly Martins developing a Board to reduce demand on the criminal justice system , and looking to use electronic tagging much more innovatively.  They were critical of the old Police Authority system and their PCC colleague in the West Midlands who six months in wanted his post scrapped in favour of more local systems of accountability .

They were critical too of the way the Transforming Rehabilitation changes might lay waste to important local partnership work with persistent offenders. 

At a later Reform meeting Shadow Justice Minister Jenny Chapman said she thought that PCC’s should be much more heavily involved in the TR arrangements. She made it clear that if contracts have not been signed before the election, Labour would keep Probation Trusts but certainly not leave them be.   Perhaps combining trusts and PCC’s could a viable model of one nation policing and justice?

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