Police and Crime Commissioners: A Muddled Policy Shambolically Implemented.

I appeared briefly on BBC TV nationally and in the NW after the PCC election farce and made some remarks I thought it might be worth just expanding on a little.

There were two issues about these elections: were they a good idea in the first place? And were they badly implemented?

Let’s deal with implementation first: the elections were a complete, utter shambles. You could have been forgiven for thinking that the Home Office actually set out to undermine the reform before it even started.

When I say the elections, I of course don’t mean the administration of the electoral process by our excellent local government Democratic Services Officers (I’d better say that, I’m speaking at their Association Conference on Thursday and don’t want to get lynched). No – it was all down to the Home Office and the Government – wrong date, no publicity, etc etc – you have heard all that already. And it’s not even as if they weren’t warned, by the Electoral Commission amongst others.

This shambles speaks to a much deeper malaise of British government in general and the current government in particular – the deep-seated belief that once “Ministers Decide” in Whitehall somehow it will magically happen “out there”. Implementation is a trivial issue best left to those that can’t do the sophisticated stuff like Policy. This is a disease of both Ministers and Mandarins that has bedevilled British government for decades.

But the implementation shambles shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the rather more important point that the policy was a rubbish idea in the first place.

Like directly elected Mayors, directly elected PCCs were widely seen as an American import. Actually it wasn’t – or at least not directly – Police Commissioners like the famous Bill Bratton* are more usually appointed by the Mayor than directly elected.

The idea that PCCs could “do a Bratton” is farcical. Anyone in the least familiar with Bratton’s interventions in LA, New York and Boston would know two simple things: first, Bratton usually demanded and got extra Police, at least in the short-term – not much chance of that for our PPCs; second, Bratton pioneered the use of data-based performance management techniques (the famous CompStat) which New Labour’s performance “targetry” look anaemic by comparison – again, not much chance of that happening here.

The idea of electing a single person to executive office is an import from ‘Presidential’ political cultures like the USA. Brits are used to a more ‘Parliamentary’ approach – electing a group of MPs or local councillors to run things. Directly elected mayors – an idea pushed by the last Labour government and the Coalition – have largely failed to gain the support of the public. Why on earth anyone thought directly elected PCCs would smacks of wishful thinking at best.

From both anecdotal evidence and some polling it seems the public weren’t apathetic about PCCs – they were downright antagonistic. They weren’t consulted about whether they wanted them and by and large they didn’t.

The net result of all this is we are now left with a potentially catastrophic “arrangement” for governance of our Police. We have a four-way between a centralising Home Office, weakly-mandated PCCs, even weaker local Police and Crime Panels, and the Chief Constables. All of that in the context of Home Office imposed changes to Police terms and conditions and drastic budget cuts. If anyone expects a strong sense of strategy is going emerge from all that – good luck with that one.

And as for the PCCs – they have been given 10 weeks to agree new budgets with their Police forces. As I understand it they have inherited some of the old Police Authority staff, but even that is unclear, and they will have had no time to appoint their own or organise things the way they want to. Good luck to them – they’ll need it.

* William Joseph “Bill” Bratton CBE is an American law enforcement officer who served as the chief of police of the Los Angeles Police Department, New York City Police Commissioner, and Boston Police Commissioner (from Wikipedia).

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