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Policing comes full circle: Labour review calls for PCCs to be abolished

Policing comes full circle: Labour review calls for PCCs to be abolished

🕔25.Nov 2013

Ed Miliband has given the clearest hint yet that he would move quickly to abolish Police and Crime Commissioners if Labour wins the next General Election.

Mr Miliband backed recommendations contained in the Stevens’ Report, a wide-ranging review into the future of the police led by former Metropolitan Police Commander Lord Stevens.

The review says elected commissioners, introduced in 2012, should be scrapped in 2016 and replaced by boards of local council leaders.

The switch would mean reverting to a system similar to former police authorities, although it is unclear whether the new boards would contain any independent members as well as councillors.

Lord Stevens’ review was set up in 2011 in the last days of the Labour government. The coalition government has said it will consider the review but is not committed to introducing any of the recommendations.

Mr Miliband told the BBC: “This report will not gather dust on a shelf. It is a real plan for the next Labour government.”

In what Lord Stevens described as 37 “radical recommendations” there is a call for a new emphasis on neighbourhood policing which he said should “be the building block of fair and effective policing”.

His study is the most comprehensive examination of police in England and Wales since a Royal Commission last looked at the issue in 1962.

It also suggests merging some police forces and warns that the current structure of 43 forces is “untenable”. The merger idea was floated by the last Labour government, but dropped following a backlash from police and public.

The review recommends replacing the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Independent Police Complaints Commission with a more powerful body that would ensure failings were addressed “without delay”. The IPCC has recently found itself at the centre of complaints over the way in which it oversaw an investigation into the Andrew Mitchell ‘Plebgate’ affair.

Of the 37 recommendations the most predictable, and arguably the most controversial, will be Lord Stevens’ conclusion that the PCC system isn’t working well and should be replaced.

The review’s survey of officers had found that the government’s “failure to engage the service in the programme of reform” had led to a “damaging stand-off” and “plummeting morale”, Lord Stevens said.

Less controversially, Lord Stevens supports the view of most chief constables and police commissioners that neighbourhood policing should not fall victim to budget cuts.

He said: “Faced with budgetary constraints and the government’s insistence that police are crime fighters, there is a danger of the police being forced to retreat to a discredited model of reactive policing.”

Other recommendations include:

– Nationally recognised qualifications for officers
– A code of ethics for police officers and staff introduced
– New media guidelines
– Mobile access to intelligence, including the Police National Computer
– Cybercrime experts to be recruited directly into police forces
– Restrictions on the use of private companies such as G4S and Serco for policing functions
– The introduction of a national procurement strategy for IT and equipment

The review’s findings were backed by West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones, who took a sideswipe at policy changes that he said were driven by academics with little or no experience of policing.

Mr Jones, who has consistently questioned the purpose and necessity of PCCs, said: “It is a very authoritative contribution to the debate about the future of policing.

“Its contributors compare well with the drivers of recent policy changes, which have been instigated by think tanks with little experience, understanding of, or sympathy with policing.

“I very much welcome its central message of the importance of neighbourhood policing and partnership working to prevent crime, rather than chasing reactively after crime. This echoes the concerns I have raised on many occasions.

“I share the concerns about the PCC model and welcome the debate about better ways of holding the police to account.  I would urge that every attempt is made to forge a consensus so that policing is not regularly disrupted by expensive reorganisation of its governance structures.”

Steve White, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “Many of the findings of the report are to be broadly welcomed and reinforce much of what the Police Federation has been highlighting for several years.

“The scale of police reform has clearly been too much, too soon and the public and government should be greatly concerned about the detrimental impact this has had on neighbourhood policing.

“It is encouraging that the commission rightly acknowledges that the public still has confidence in its police service and it is imperative that this confidence is not eroded by unsustainable cuts to officer numbers and resources.

“We are now faced with the stark reality that demands on the service have never been greater and the reforms that have been imposed on the service to date is setting us up to fail.”

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