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Police Commissioners like a ‘dead parrot’, bereft of life, says PCC Bob Jones

Police Commissioners like a ‘dead parrot’, bereft of life, says PCC Bob Jones

🕔04.Sep 2013

It is safe to assume that West Midlands Police Commissioner Bob Jones, a Labour politician, is no fan of the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange.

However, the organisation’s latest set of proposals setting out an argument for strengthening the powers of police commissioners seems to have had Jones reaching for the smelling salts.

Regular Chamberlain File readers will recall that Bob really, really, doesn’t want to be commissioner.

He believes it would be far better for all concerned if the West Midlands Police Authority, of which he was a member for many years, still existed.

But someone had to do the job and Jones was duly elected.

He’s issued a spirited rebuttal of the Policy Exchange paper ‘Power Down – A plan for a cheaper more effective justice system’, accusing the authors in a statement on the WMPCC website of attempting to breathe new life into a discredited policy.

Jones takes the view that since only 15 per cent of people in the West Midlands could be bothered to vote in the November 2012 police commissioner election, the system must be deeply unpopular with the public and has failed to deliver promised change to make the police more accountable.

Jones, a member of Camra, the real ale society, is clearly of a certain age for he has invoked the spirit of Monty Python by accusing the Policy Exchange of attempting to “breathe life into what increasingly looks like a dead parrot”.

But far from joining the infamous Norwegian Blue – legs up in the air at the bottom of the cage, bereft of life, ceasing to exist – police commissioners are very much alive even if some of them aren’t kicking very much.

Policy Exchange’s key point is to argue that the election of PCCs presents an opportunity to localise a deeply centralised criminal justice system.

There is, according to the report, a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the balance of power in a system currently almost bereft of local control, financial responsibility or democratic accountability – and in doing so, reduce the costs of doing justice and deliver a better service too”.

The Policy Exchange paper continues: “We are not calling for wholesale change overnight. Instead, we set out a steady process that would mean that, as PCCs become more experienced, they would

become:

– More influential and dynamic in national policy-making.
– Afforded greater discretion to shape national initiatives.
– Offered the opportunity to opt-out of national contracts.
– More able to define and lead key local criminal justice pilots and initiatives.
– Empowered to define stronger local, strategic relationships and drive effective partnership working.
– Given the power to set local criminal justice strategy and performance-manage CJS agencies.
– Able to directly commission some key services to cut crime.
– Offered the flexibility to invest in new services by raising local revenue.

Policy Exchange sets out a scenario where PCCs would effectively become “ministers for the local criminal justice system”. In the long term, commissioners would take on a wider ranging role and within a decade could evolve into Public Safety Commissioners or even local mayors, helping to drive forward the localism agenda.

In a tilt at the likes of Jones, the paper concludes: “When it comes to PCCs, policymakers can either choose to reverse, stand still or go forward.

“Going backwards and recreating the old police authorities (or anything that looks or feels like them) would be a retrograde step. Standing still – and leaving the PCC simply ‘man-marking’ the chief constable and police force – would prevent PCCs from fulfilling their promise or realise the potential of the ‘and crime’ part of their role.

“The further development of PCCs is the right option and now is the right time for government to begin shaping an ambitious and well-designed strategy for the deliberate decentralisation of the criminal justice system – with the PCC as the focal point.”

Jones insists that police commissioners have little to do with localism.

He says: “Genuine localism is about local community representatives identifying and responding to local priorities, not one person trying to set the priorities for three million people.

“No one calls themselves a West Midlander, our services should be based on the local needs of our proud towns, boroughs and cities.”

The Policy Exchange proposals would lead to “massive upheaval” and “the creation of big, remote bureaucracies and reorganising for the sake of it”, according to Jones.

He adds: “I am further concerned by the proposal for Super PCCs.  This looks to me like regionalisation by the back door, which was decisively rejected by the electorate just a few years ago.

“The proposal that PCCs could evolve into elected mayors – notwithstanding again that elected mayors were rejected by the electorate – seems to fundamentally misunderstand what the role of a PCC is.

“One of the arguments for elected mayors was that they could do deals and make quick decisions.  In policing the operational decision maker is the Chief Constable who is already empowered to make rapid operational decisions as required.

“The decisions the PCC makes are more strategic: setting the Police and Crime Plan, setting the precept and appointing Chief Constables.  These are decisions that should not be rushed, as they are more about engagement, consultation and ensuring the whole of community is appropriately involved.”

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