Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Elected Police Commissioners - Coalition chaos over the proposals

Reconnecting police and the people: Potential cost implications for Lancashire. The Constituency sizes are unparalleled in any UK election. In Lancashire this will involve over 1.5 million voters and covers an area represented by 14 Parliamentary constituencies.

For Lancashire the costs will add considerably to the policing budget at a time where police numbers are facing dramatic cuts. The cost of the election is between £1.2 and £1.4million – every four years.
It's not just the cost of the elections, or any elections that fall due to unrforseen circumstances, it's candidates royal mail delivery of election literature (and will the Police Authority have to pay for this), the whole extra cost of elections and new quango-crime panels on top of all the existing legislation, the new commissioners hefty salary and the new commissioners entourage of personal/political staff to assist him.
A staggering waste for what? The coalition is not cutting the deficit to save money, its a ideological and its an ideological choice.
The proposal that the policing and crime panel can call a referendum on precept decisions by the commissioner could add the referendum costs – these are likely to be similar to the cost of elections.
If, following a referendum, there is a decision to alter the precepting decision, Council Tax payers in the County would need to be re-billed. The approximate cost of re-billing is calculated to be approximately £1million.

Until these costs are further considered, the electorate, parliament and government will not know whether this provides value for money in what are difficult financial circumstances. To implement any scheme that does not provide value for money would leave the government wide open to extensive criticism.

Police and Crime Panels are described in such terms that their purpose is to hold the Commissioner rather than the Chief Constable to account. The description in the paper gives them only the power to trigger a referendum on the policing precept. Such a referendum is likely to cost far more than the savings to be gained to the public by having a lower precept, both in terms of the administration of the referendum and in the costs of re-billing or delaying the billing of tax payers. In this guise they will provide no check or balance on commissioners.

• What is the purpose of being able to confirm but not veto Chief Constable and support staff appointments?

• How could a panel hold a commissioner to account with no power over them except a once-a-year power to call a referendum?

• Why have a body holding an individual to account for holding an individual to account? The stated aim was to reduce bureaucratic accountability; this creates another layer of bureaucracy.

• Why have a body responsible for holding an individual to account for the way they engage with the public, when that individual is liable for recall and deselection at the ballot box?

• Why would anyone want to be part of such a panel?

They would also create a cluttered landscape with the scrutiny functions of the District and County Councils still continuing.

One feature of the current system of police authorities is their political equilibrium. The constitution of police authorities makes it very difficult for any particular individual or organisation to dominate decision-making and activity. Any concentration of power within a smaller or less diverse number of individuals naturally increases the risk of undue influence.

If it is to work, the key office holders will need professional advice, guidance and support; so too will the transitional arrangements. When it comes to installing new accountability structures created in fast time under difficult conditions and in a highly regulated and scrutinised environment, the availability of an independent, appropriately resourced and well-motivated executive support function will make the difference between success and failure.

Parliamentary Questions by Graham Jones
I have tabled numerous parliamentary questions on this matter which highlight the confusion
(i) confirm that the election for Police Commissioner in Lancashire will be held separately to any other election or referendum

The problem being the variability of elections. Not all wards or areas are up doubling police elections on the same day will create two tier elections. Eg. no leaflets being delivered in areas where there are no local elections. It also makes policing a greater political issue
(ii) confirm that each candidate will have one free piece of literature delivered by the royal mail and if so confirm that this will replicate the criteria for parliamentary elections

The costs could spiral, or alternatively will it be a shoestring election favouring the wealthy? Who will pay for it all?
(iii) confirm that Election Returning Officers' will administer the elections

Who are already under strain/under resourced, struggling to reach out and register 3.5million electors not on the electoral register. A recipe for disaster or a caser of more funding to make sure the elections are properly resourced.
(iv) confirm that in Lancashire the costs for (i) administration of the election (ii) legislated election communiqué(s) such as any literature delivered free of charge by Royal Mail, will be paid for by (i) The Treasury or (ii) Lancashire Police Authority

Whose paying for it and of it is from the Police Authority budget then this extra charge will go directly on Council Tax on properties and residents and not businesses and will also top slice the budget meaning less police on the beat?
(v) confirm that police commissioners can be members of political parties

The police have always prided themselves on being outside of politics, policing priorities being set by reality and not political rhetoric.
(vi) confirm that parliamentary timetable’s will be used for the elections

This is a six week timetable and laid out in statute as a series of democratic hoops candidates must abide by.
(vii) confirm that they will be fixed term appointments
(viii) confirm the date at which that fixed term appointment will begin

The coalition are faced with a confusion of issues that they have failed to take into account. Police Authorities set budgets alongside Councils in January and Council Tax bills for your local Police Authority land the first week of March. The whole process extending back to around October/November.

Should elections be in in May, the incumbent will set a budget the winner will inherit, unable to carry out his own mandate for over 12 months. The budget process will interfere with the elections, ie incumbents will be able to use the budget/the authority to soft canvass, and also a trigger referendum on the rate of increase will occur after May affecting the successful candidate at the elections. October would be a better time for the elections.
(ix) confirm the total costs of (i) administration of the election (ii) legislated election communiqué(s) such as any literature delivered free of charge by Royal Mail, in (i) Lancashire, (ii) The UK

The escalating cost.
(x) confirm that Police precepts will be set by the Elected Police Commissioner.

And not in any way the government.
(xi) confirm that the precept set by the Elected Police Commissioner will be (i) constrained by LA Council Tax rules to be implemented in the Localism Bill (ii) will be subject to the right of a referendum should it exceed that limit
The Localism Bill proposes that residents can force a referendum if they are not happy with a Council rise above a certain level (inflation)?
(xii) confirm that any costs incurred in a referendum in Lancashire on the Police precept should it exceed that limit will be borne by (i) The Treasury or (ii) Lancashire Police Authority

Who pays?
(xiii) confirm that the electorate has the same right to recall of a Police Commissioner as is being proposed for MP’s
(xiv) confirm the fixed period of office being (i) 2 years (ii) 3 years (iii) 4 years (iv) 5 years (v) more than 5 years

(xv) confirm whether Home Office funding for projects will (i) all, or (ii) partially – be delegated to Police Authorities
(xvi) confirm the requirement under the Crime and Disorder (Overview and Scrutiny) Regulations 2009, for the designated scrutiny committees (i) The LA, (ii) Fire Rescue Authority, (iii) GP Consortia (in place of PCT); shall meet with "responsible authorities" in "connection with the discharge of their crime and disorder functions" at least once a year will still go ahead.

Currently there are statutory responsibilities to make the police even more accountable with local councils (such as Hyndburn Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee). This bill will either scrap these meaning local people have had accountability removed for a quango known as the Crime Panel which will sit in Preston. The opposite of what the coalition are saying.
Or they will keep them creating a monstrous bureaucratic nonsense that will just tie up police time and resources.

Both ways it is chaos. The following three questions deal with statutory legislation coming in to force this year (and therefore subject to bedding as well) similar to above.
(xvii) Confirm the Scrutiny Panels of (i) The LA, (ii) Fire Rescue Authority, (iii) GP Consortia will statutory duty under Section 19 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 meet annually with representatives of 'responsible authorities' to discuss initiatives and activity.
(xviii) Confirm that the rights of local people and local communities under Crime and Disorder (Overview and Scrutiny) Regulations 2009 above and Section 19 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 will (i) not be abolished, (ii) strengthened.
(xix) confirm the process by which GP Consortia under the statuary duties now carried out by PCT’s under the Crime and Disorder (Overview and Scrutiny) Regulations 2009 above and Section 19 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 will carry out this function (i) democratically, (ii) will ensure that this function does not move nearer to Whitehall but remains with (i) individual communities, (ii) localities and (iii) neighbourhoods

These further points shave been raised elsewhere.

• The Coalition is refusing to say how much replacing each Police Authority with a single elected commissioner will cost.
• The LGA have estimated up to £50million and the Coalition is yet to come clean on the actual figure.

• The key issue is maintaining the operational independence of the Chief Constables and the Coalition has not explained how this will be guaranteed.
• ACPO and APA are against any move to compromise the independence of Chief Constables.

• The police are already accountable to the public through Police Authorities, which comprise both elected councillors and individuals appointed based on skills and experience.
• Policing must not be influenced, nor appear to be so, by political bias. To allow it to be influenced in such a manner undermines the fundamental principles of British policing.

• In London, the elected Mayor has relinquished his position as Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. His unelected Deputy, Kit Malthouse, said that Chief Constables were “mini-governors” who control a “standing army”. He says that the new commissioners will “wield the rod” over Chief Constables.
• Replacing Police Authorities with a single individual will be a barrier to local accountability, not an improvement. By losing the Police Authorities we will lose breadth of experience, speciality of knowledge, representatives spread across a wide geographical area, and diversity of background.
• This is an unnecessary expense and upheaval. The internal turmoil will divert the police from their primary objective of cutting crime.