The Minister replied: I made it clear that there is a transparency and accountability issue. I am grateful to my friend Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner. She tells me that PCCs are more visible and approachable than the police authorities that they replaced. Many hold monthly accountability meetings with their chief constable, often online, which the public can attend and contribute to. Read the whole debate here
Jenny spoke in another debate later the same day also on PCCs:
In November 2011, the then Home Secretary Theresa May made the Policing Protocol Order, which stated: “The establishment of PCCs has allowed the Home Office to withdraw from day-to-day policing matters, giving the police greater freedom to fight crime as they see fit, and allowing local communities to hold the police to account.”
The idea was that the public should have a direct say over policing in their area. I do not think that has happened. Although the old police authorities may not have been the ideal system, they were certainly more accessible by the average person. I was a councillor for four very long years and in my experience, people found it very easy to speak to me directly. They would stop me in the street, in the shops or in my front garden, and they were able to give me straight feedback on anything they were concerned about. When one has one person in a role of this kind, it is much harder to speak to them and to communicate. Police authorities probably worked much better and were probably more accountable.
I was on a police authority here in London for 12 years, from its start to its finish and it worked extremely well. We respected the successive police commissioners, but we also challenged them; we made them answer to us for their decisions. I think it worked extremely well.
At the moment PCCs can hire and fire police chief constables, who continue to manage things day to day. They also set the police budget and the police precept. They write the area’s policing plan and commission a range of crime-related services such as victim support. That is a very big job, and the PCCs I have spoken to need quite a lot of office help to make those things happen. Clearly, there have been many hiccups. One big problem that I have seen several times is that the chief constable resents the police and crime commissioner, and any breakdown in that relationship makes it incredibly difficult for the PCC to do their job properly.
In March this year the Home Office produced a report on a consultation it had done on giving PCCs greater powers of competence. The consultation had a staggering 84 responses—I am sure that all the groups that responded were very important—and the majority felt that PCCs should have more power. More scrutiny and accountability was also discussed. The police and crime commissioner review has considered options to strengthen the accountability and transparency of PCCs to ensure that the public can effectively hold them to account for the exercise of their functions. Given that the public find it difficult to hold them to account now, I guess that will be welcome.
The end of the report states:“We require primary legislation to provide PCCs with these wider powers. We will seek to implement the measures through the next appropriate legislative vehicle.”
So, we will get the chance to debate this and suggest improvements. I rather think, given the nature of the debate today, that there might be a lot of amendments in the making.
Read this debate here