How likely are further policing governance reforms?

This article was first published in Police Professional, 15th October 2014

Just over a month ago, I wrote in Police Professional about “Seven summer lessons for policing governance reforms”. These original ‘seven lessons’ covered: the legislative timetable for PCC by-elections; the mechanisms for removing a PCC between elections; the wider powers available to Police and Crime Panels; the motivation of Panels to scrutinise the work of their PCC; financial provision for PCCs on departure; the reputational risk for HMIC of accepting PCCs’ commissions; and the threat to Independent PCCs (and their mantra of ‘keep politics out of policing’) associated with both Conservative and Labour led reforms to policing governance.

Six weeks turns out to be a long time in policing governance. The seven lessons I drew have (so far at least) stood the test of time. Yet the events of the very early Autumn suggest that a number of predictions can usefully to be added to this ‘policing governance’ list. Here are my forecasts, along with an indication of how likely they are to occur…

A ‘racing certainty’: policing governance will change.

Following the party conference season, Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are all committed to reform. The differences relate to the scale of reform – in essence, whether to replace PCCs with Policing Boards, or to revise the statutory framework within which PCCs operate. PCCs are themselves currently considering what changes they should recommend to the Home Office – though, by preparing the proposals themselves, they may also need to prepare to deal with the so-called Mandy Rice-Davies challenge of ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they’. Their proposals are likely to include the introduction of a mechanism for local electorates to ‘recall’ their PCC.

An ‘odds on favourite’ now coming under pressure: the South Yorkshire PCC by-election on October 30th.

South Yorkshire was a very safe ‘seat’ for Labour at the original PCC elections in November 2012: the Labour candidate obtained a substantial first-round majority, albeit (in common with all the original PCC elections) with a very low voter turnout. Will the South Yorkshire electorate feel that the circumstances leading to the by-election – the horrors of child sexual abuse – merit their turning out to vote for their preferred PCC candidate? In the absence of any Independent candidates, will their choice of PCC be more influenced by party colours or the the candidates’ background (the four candidates include a vicar and a retired police officer) – maybe it will be “person not party” that really matters here? And will the political parties (or indeed the national media) even bother to pay any great attention to this PCC by-election, falling as it does a week before a third Parliamentary by-election with perceived great significance for next year’s General Election?

Shortening odds: wider policing governance changes to impact other key policing bodies including HMIC, the IPCC and the NCA. The Home Secretary has postponed (rather than abandoned) changes to the allocation of counter terrorism responsibilities between the Metropolitan Police and the NCA. The publication of HMIC’s so-called “postcode lottery” thematic has drawn attention to the nature of its own governance structure, whilst questions have also been asked about whether its own future investigations might be more joined-up. Meanwhile, the IPCC has found itself again criticised for the extended time it takes over some of its investigations, and also has been asked to take on several more investigations into PCCs and Deputy PCCs.

A ‘rank outsider’ now attracting growing support: police force mergers.

This was one of the proposals within the Lord Stevens Review of Policing, subsequently discussed at September’s Police Superintendents’ Association for England and Wales (PSAEW conference), and now seeming to attract growing support.  As with many of the other potential policing governance changes, the details have yet to be fleshed out. Development of the detail may create one or more fences at which this particular initiative may come a cropper – the fate of a similar initiative in 2005.

An as-yet undeclared runner that may yet make the starting gate: a force-wide referendum on the police precept. There are many PCC initiatives that – though recorded and analysed each month in the CoPaCC Report – have yet to attract much public interest. Several of these could in due course have a significant impact on policing governance. One such example is in Surrey, where the PCC and his team have been sounding out public views on a significant increase to the police precept. A precept increase of over 2% is almost certain to require a local referendum. So as to minimise the costs of such a referendum, might any such referendum be held in May 2015 – at the same time as the General Election?

And finally, a new race for the runners and riders to negotiate: the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life investigation into the ‘public accountability structures of the police’. The Committee has, in their words, “decided that the time is right to undertake a review of how ethical standards are being addressed in the police accountability landscape”. They’ll have a very great deal to consider – and this maybe should extend a little beyond their declared core focus of “ethical standards in the conduct and operation of Police and Crime Panels, Police and Crime Commissioners, and Chief Constables”.

Given all these potential developments, it seems there’s now little chance of no further change to policing governance so as to allow the substantial changes of the last two years to bed in. It’s all the more likely there’ll soon be even more to add to the ‘lessons for policing governance’ list.

Perhaps the most significant question that now arises: will the growing list of ‘lessons for policing governance’ lead in due course to piecemeal changes or a significant overarching redesign?

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Will the ‘forgotten election’ turn out to be memorable?

Last night, Ukip got their first elected MP in Clacton, and ran the eventual Labour victor sufficiently close in Heywood and Middleton to merit a (partial) recount. Amongst the headlines this morning, the New Statesman’s observes “Ukip’s assault on Labour continues”. The commentators, almost without exception, are now looking forward (perhaps in more than one sense) to the Rochester and Strood Parliamentary by-election on 6th November 2014.

But there is an earlier, more substantial test of the so-called “Ukip assault on Labour” one week earlier, on Thursday 30th November – the South Yorkshire PCC by-election. Labour won the original, November 2012 election in South Yorkshire easily with over 50% of the vote – but might Ukip be about to provide a more significant challenge this time round?

The four candidates have now provided their election addresses on the Home Office run “Choose My PCC” website but – even to an ardent PCC-follower like myself – the local campaign itself appears pretty low-key. Although there was an initial flurry of national media interest in the by-election after the previous incumbent resigned, this South Yorkshire campaign now appears to have been completely forgotten by Fleet Street – and maybe even by the political parties themselves.

After some pretty poor turnouts in PCC elections and by-elections, will South Yorkshire electors even bother to vote? And will their verdict turn out to be memorable? We’ll know in three weeks time…

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An invitation to CoPaCC from the Committee on Standards in Public Life

I was very pleased last night to receive an email and attached letter from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The Committee this week announced a detailed inquiry into policing governance. Here are two extracts from the Committee’s letter to CoPaCC…

CSPL letter 1

CSPL letter 2

The letter – and, in particular, the last paragraph – is, I will freely admit, the source of some considerable personal and professional satisfaction. It is, I feel, a very significant acknowledgement and recognition of CoPaCC’s work and positive contribution to policing governance over the last eighteen months or so. That such a significant public body as the Committee on Standards in Public Life can expressly seek out CoPaCC’s insights feels like a commendation of the very considerable work we have undertaken to date.

My thanks and congratulations to all in the extended CoPaCC team who have worked so hard, with me, to get CoPaCC up-and-running. My thanks also to the Committee for this invitation.

CoPaCC will, of course, provide an independent, objective and evidence-based submission in response.

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A first response to the “Committee on Standards in Public Life” Inquiry into policing governance

The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life (“CSPL”) has today published details of its Inquiry into the accountability structures of the police. The Committee has, as part of its Inquiry, published a paper that sets out a series of issues and questions that relate to the central governance question of:

“…how ethical standards are being addressed in the police accountability landscape”
(page 2 of the ‘issues and questions’ paper)

The Committee has set out an open invitation to respond to these (and related) questions by midday on Sunday 30th November. It’s worth noting that the Committee’s Seven Principles of Public Life (so-called “Nolan Principles”) – which would be expected to feature heavily in this examination – are:

  • Selflessness
  • Integrity
  • Objectivity
  • Accountability
  • Openness
  • Honesty, and
  • Leadership

CoPaCC – the organisation for which I am Chief Executive – welcomes this Inquiry by the Committee, and plans to submit detailed evidence during the coming two months. We are particularly pleased to see that several of the questions raised by the Committee have already been examined by CoPaCC:

  • in CoPaCC’s Thematic reports – particularly those relating to “PCCs and Public Engagement”, and “PCCs’ Transparency”;
  • in our monthly, subscriber-only CoPaCC Report – a sample copy is available on the CoPaCC website.

The changes to the policing governance landscape are not universally well understood, even by some of those who form a part of that very landscape (see, for example, my Police Oracle article on HMIC’s so-called ‘postcode lottery’ inspection). The list of interested parties is long (going well beyond HMIC, IPCC, PCCs and their Offices, police forces, Police and Crime Panels, the College of Policing and – let’s not forget – the public). And – going beyond the bodies themselves – there are many further elements to consider, including:

This CSPL Inquiry should in due course help to provide a much clearer understanding of how the various pieces of the jigsaw fit together (or – maybe – do not). It should also provide more information on how policing governance meets the seven “Nolan Principles”. CoPaCC and I will do what we can to support and inform that work. 

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Policing and politics…

How will the twelve Independent PCCs (typical campaign slogan: ‘keep politics out of policing’) respond to:

this (Birmingham Mail, published today)…

Birmingham Post re Labour PCC plans

and this

Birmingham Post re Labour PCC plans 2

alongside this (my blog, published two weeks ago)…

Bernard blog - seven summer lessons

 

We’ll know later this week, once the Shadow Home Secretary has addressed the Labour Party Conference on Wednesday…

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Some more questions about the newly-appointed South Yorkshire Acting PCC

Yesterday, I blogged some initial questions about the newly-appointed South Yorkshire Acting PCC. Today, this blog with a few more questions.

But first, an acknowledgement: in the greater scheme of things, it matters much more that, on Thursday October 30th, the South Yorkshire electorate are able to elect a new PCC that can bring worried communities together. This PCC will need to help give the people of South Yorkshire confidence that the police and (to the extent also within their remit) other agencies are appropriately discharging their responsibilities – not least on the investigation and prevention of child sexual exploitation.

Some of these new questions are somewhat technical, and others are more fundamental. Whilst they remain unanswered, they cast doubt on the ability of the Office of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) to undertake its duties in accordance with statute. My latest questions:

  • Was there a Confirmation Hearing for the Chief Finance Officer on appointment? Where are the minutes publicly available?
  • Did the PCC take a formal decision to appoint his Chief Finance Officer? Where is the decision publicly published?
  • What advice did the Police and Crime Panel receive on the appointment of the Chief Finance Officer as Acting PCC? How much did this advice cost? Who was it from? What did it say?
  • What consideration did the Panel give of any potential for conflict of interest in the Acting PCC continuing to hold the position of Chief Finance Officer? Did the recognition of the Chief Executive that she was conflicted from taking the Acting PCC role play any part in this consideration?
  • Will the Acting PCC draw salaries and/or benefits from both his new Acting PCC role as well as his existing Chief Finance Role?
  • What further advice (if any) did the Police and Crime Panel seek and receive before offering the Acting PCC role to the Chief Finance Officer?

UPDATE [Saturday 20th September, 10.10am]:

The South Yorkshire OPCC have answered some (but far from all) of these and earlier questions in a statement on their website.

Two more questions (many thanks to @markdpryan for the suggestions):

  • Does the Acting PCC meet all the requirements not to be disqualified as outlined in Section 64-69 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act?
  • Has the Acting PCC taken the PCC’s “Oath of Impartiality”?

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Some questions about the newly-appointed South Yorkshire Acting PCC

The South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel has this morning chosen Steve Pick as its Acting PCC. The Police Reform and Social Responsiblity Act 2011 specifies that:

“The police and crime panel may appoint a person as acting commissioner only if the person is a member of the police and crime commissioner’s staff at the time of the appointment”.

But is Steve Pick a current “member of the police and crime commissioner’s staff”?

The PCC website shows the following organogram (note the post in blue to the right – “Chief Finance and Commissioning Officer” – vacant”):

SYPCC Chief Finance Officer - vacant

 

The papers for the Panel meeting state:

Steve Pick, Section 151 Officer / Treasurer (Chief Finance Officer under the 2011 Act) on a temporary contract, awaiting the imminent appointment of a permanent Chief Finance and Commissioning Officer. Mr Pick has been the Section 151 Officer to the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, since November 2012 (through the South Yorkshire Joint Secretariat arrangements prior to his current temporary contract).

Note that Steve Pick has been on a “temporary contract” since November 2012. I can find no reference within the PCC’s declared decisions of this temporary contract, nor any payments recorded within the OPCC finance declarations.

It may be that Steve Pick IS an employee of the OPCC (albeit on a lengthy “temporary contract”) – but then why does the organogram show the post as “vacant”, rather than “temporary appointment” or similar?

Odd.

UPDATE [Thursday 18th September, 2.10pm]: My thanks to @TheRealSYP for drawing my attention to this information. According to an earlier Freedom of Information request reply from South Yorkshire OPCC, Steve Pick is:

employed by South Yorkshire Joint Secretariat (SYJS), which is a department of Barnsley Council.

I’m increasingly concerned that Steve Pick may prove not to be eligible for selection as Acting PCC. Indeed, as the FoI response states that many (all?) of the staff in the OPCC are employed by SYJS, could it be that there is NOBODY eligible to be selected as Acting PCC?

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