On November 15th we will be voting for the election of Derbyshire’s first Police and Crime Commissioner. This is an important decision and yet the publicity has not been widespread. It may be that the lack of publicity reflects public apathy. There is a question mark over the need for the PCC role but the decision has been made.
The police force is involved in the financial crisis as much as any other body. There is pressure on budgets but the expectation of residents of Derbyshire remains unchanged. While the Derbyshire Police Force needs to find savings of £21m by 2015, and officer numbers are already falling due to not replacing leavers we expect the police to be there when we need them and to maintain an environment which is safe. There are roughly 150 fewer officers and 250 fewer police staff since October 2010.
The decision has already been made to change the structure of governance for the police forces. The role of Police and Crime Commissioner has been created and all 41 Constabularies will have a PCC to take over the role previously carried out by the Police Authority. The Derbyshire Police Authority consists of 7 County Councillors, 2 Derby City Councillors and 8 Independent members. They are then formed into specialist committees to provide guidance to the Chief Constable. This structure will be replaced by a single fixed-term elected individual supported by the same administrative functions.
According to the Police force the Derbyshire role is:
- hold the Chief Constable to account on behalf of the people of Derbyshire;
- secure the effectiveness and efficiency of Derbyshire Constabulary;
- decide the budget, allocate assets and funds to the Chief Constable; and set the police council tax precept for the force area;
- set the strategic direction and objectives of the force through the Police and Crime Plan, which must have regard to the Strategic Policing Requirement set by the Home Secretary;
- prepare and issue an annual report on the PCC‘s delivery against the objectives set within the Plan;
- publish information to enable people to assess the performance of the PCC and Chief Constable;
- monitor all complaints made against officers and staff, whilst having responsibility for complaints against the Chief Constable; and
- appoint the Chief Constable.
These are the same functions which the DPA carried out. In addition they will have new roles which the DPA did not have:
- a specific responsibility for the delivery of community safety and crime reduction;
- the ability to bring together Community Safety Partnerships at the force level;
- the ability to make crime and disorder reduction grants within their force area;
- a duty to ensure that all collaboration agreements with other Local Policing Bodies and forces deliver better value for money or enhance the effectiveness of policing capabilities and resilience;
- a wider responsibility for the enhancement of the delivery of criminal justice in their area.
There will be an unsettling and difficult transition. Derbyshire’s 1900 police officers will continue reporting to the Chief Constable while the 1500 support staff who used to report to the DPA will be transferred initially to the PCC before some of them being transferred across to the Chief Constable. This will undoubtedly set up some grounds for demarcation issues between the two roles.
In my mind I am thinking that this is a similar role to the ones carried out in the US. New York City has a Police Commissioner appointed by the Mayor (not elected) acting alongside the Chief of Police. They are a recognisable and known figure rather than a faceless committee. Until the accountabilities are fully resolved we have some interesting times ahead. As Jon Collins from the Police Foundation pointed out in the Guardian “The issue of accountability is at the heart of this. Who will be held accountable if crime rises? Will PCCs take responsibility for ensuring that local partners deliver? What if mistakes are made or there is a major incident. Will the Home Office step in or leave it to PCCs to resolve? Will chief constables end up taking the flak for decisions foisted on them by incoming PCCs with the power to sack them? And given the current trend towards the privatisation of policing services, how easy will it be to hold the new corporate players to account?”
A further benefit ought to be a reduction in costs. Through attendance allowances, responsibility allowances, and expenses the DPA cost £241,000 in 2011/12. The new Derbyshire PCC will be paid an annual salary of £75,000. Even with reasonable expenses we should still expect a national saving from the new structure of over £5.5m. The main argument here is surely not about cost however.
The single figurehead should also potentially introduce some pace into the decision-making process. Having a committee approach can encourage over-lengthy debate and over-conservatism rather than clear execution of a policy.
The real test of the new structure will be how Derbyshire and, in our case, Ashbourne are served by the person we elect. If we don’t like them we can get rid of them after their 4-year fixed term. We are fortunate to live in a county where crime has fallen by over 40% in the last 10 years. We recorded 60.8 crimes per 1000 population in the last 12 months compared to a national average of 70.6. Nationally Derbyshire is below average in terms of the numbers of crimes committed per 1000 population. Our police service costs us around £183.65 for the year to the end of March 2012 compared with £418.58 for the Metropolitan Police. Importantly we also like what the Derbyshire Police gives us when we really need it. The victim satisfaction ratings are in the top 10 of all constabularies.
Of course, one of the challenges for the new PCC will be that Derbyshire has two sides. The crime we do have is centred on the city of Derby while the Derbyshire Dales area is rural by nature with a very different crime profile. There are 765,000 people in Derbyshire and Derby City has a population of 247,000 with a further 101,000 in Chesterfield. In August 2012 there were 49 crimes reported within a 1 mile radius of the Ashbourne town centre. 31 of these were anti-social behavior or violent crime and the most “criminal” street in Ashbourne is Dig Street. There was only 1 burglary in August which just indicates the scale of the current crime wave. It may well be that for most of the time the role of policing our town is mainly about community policing and crime prevention. However, we need to know that we can call on the additional support when it is needed. We want to be assured that whoever is in the role looks after our interests in Ashbourne as well as the demands of Derby. This is a difficult act to pull off. If the goal is to focus on statistics then a focus of resources in Derby would reap the greatest reward. However we are currently experiencing in Ashbourne a worrying number of domestic burglaries which affect the way we feel about where we live but is insignificant compared to the day-to-day experience in a city. The DPA had a range of representatives of all political persuasions as well as a range of independent members with real expertise.
The other element which really comes into play is the role of political parties. Of the previous DPA there were 9 political members and 8 independents. The political appointees, by virtue of being County or City councillors, represented the three main political parties proportionally. This meant that any one political party was in a real minority. It would be very difficult for political dogma to be applied. This is the weakness of the new approach. By having a single person there is always the danger of either a politically-led or single agenda focused candidate which is great as long as you and your community happen to fit within their focus. The Chief Constable will be judged and guided in how well they execute their role as judged by the PCCs leanings. Their telephone could one day ring with a caller from Central Office asking for some short term populist policy to be implemented.
Candidates have until 19th October to put themselves forward along with 100 signatures of support and a £5000 deposit. Full candidate information will be available after 26th October when we will get to know a little more about them. So far there have been prospective candidates put forward to represent the Conservatives, Labour, and UKIP as well as one independent who have put themselves forward. Two candidates expressed interest but withdrew.
This is an important vote which will affect the way Ashbourne is policed. Apathy could further erode the support our local police officers enjoy. We need to vote for someone who understands Ashbourne’s needs and is willing to represent against political and economic pressure.