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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2 responses to “How likely are further policing governance reforms?

  1. John Kenny

    Why is it taking so long to investigate the case of Norfolk PCC who is alleged to have wrongly claimed expenses and who blamed it on bad advice?Presumably a scrupulous investigation would have demanded the naming of the person who offered the bad advice?

  2. Ian Wiggett

    Much of this depends on a) the general election and b) events (‘events, dear boy, events’, to refer back to the days of Mandy Rice-Davies).

    A couple of observations. First, much of the pace of change is now being driven by austerity and the urgency of changing priorities and criticisms. This is so much more complex than simple mergers. The recent undercover inspection and other reviews/inquiries of undercover policing are pushing forces to a regional structure operating within a national framework. This process seems to be placing more of the governance within the profession, with stronger oversight from bodies such as OSC. NPAS has a lead force service provider with a national board of comprised of CC and PCC representatives, but each member force has to make individual agreements with NPAS. Budget pressures are driving more and more agreements between forces and groups of forces to provide services through different models, both operational and support/back office. The landscape is becoming more complex, with a range of models including professional self-governance, lead force, supplier-customer, confederated, federated, merged, and even national.

    The other observation is about the role of the Home Office and central government. In a previous post I commented how the tri-partite model has now become a bi-partite model. Budget decisions rest with each individual PCC, and as South Yorkshire has shown, the levers of control available to the Home Office are now greatly reduced. We have seen the recent use of ‘innovation funds’ to help steer activity locally, as well as powers of legislation and regulation to compel forces and PCCs to act in certain ways. The interesting question is how active the Home Office wishes to be. Events may force them to step in with more regulation and financial levers. Some of the pressures of austerity may not be surmountable without some degree of central compuslion for forces to adopt models which may be cheaper for the whole, but perhaps more expensive for some.

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