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Theresa May backs ‘visible and accountable’ PCCs over inefficient police authorities

Theresa May backs ‘visible and accountable’ PCCs over inefficient police authorities

🕔16.Dec 2014

The Home Secretary has issued a robust defence of Police and Crime Commissioners, insisting that the elected officials are increasingly recognised by the public as a force for good, reports Paul Dale.

Theresa May was replying to criticism from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee which voiced concern about very low turnout at PCC elections and warned that the jury was still out on whether commissioners were a success.

Ms May insisted that PCCs were far more visible to the public and accountable for their decisions than the police authorities consisting of local councillors and independent representatives they replaced in November 2012.

In a written reply to the Home Affairs Committee, Mrs May said: “PCCs have provided greater clarity of leadership for policing within their areas and are increasingly recognised by the public as accountable for the strategic direction of their police forces.

“The National Audit Office recognised that as directly elected individuals, PCCs are able to make decisions faster than a committee and can be more transparent about the reasons for those decisions. The NAO found that PCCs have observed a significant increase in engagement with the public compared to police authorities. They are more visible.”

MPs from all political parties expressed concern at the very low turnout at the first PCC elections.

In 2012 only 12 per cent of eligible electors voted in the West Midlands at the election won by Labour’s Bob Jones, who died earlier this year. Average turnout across England and Wales was 15 per cent.

Public participation at the by-election to choose a successor to Mr Jones was even worse, with just 10.4 per cent taking part in a contest that saw Labour’s David Jamieson elected as PCC.

The Labour party has said it will abolish PCCs if it wins power next year and use the £50 million savings to boost front line policing. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said a Labour Government would give local residents a legal guarantee that they could help decide policing priorities in their area including deciding the number of officers on the beat.

Mrs May told MPs she believed the PCC system was still evolving and commissioners were preferable to the less visible and less accountable police authorities.

She added: “From the start, the vision and purpose of PCCs was clear. They would be elected, visible, and accountable to their local electorate. They would provide an impetus to reform, innovate and deliver policing more effectively.

“They would bring – for the first time – real local accountability for how their forces perform.

“In judging the success of this radical reform to the governance of policing in England and Wales, it is important to remember its historical back-drop. Within its October 2010 thematic report into the effectiveness of police governance – ‘Police Governance in Austerity’, HMIC found that, critically, only four of the 22 police authorities inspected were judged to have performed well in two of their primary functions; setting strategic direction and ensuring value for money.

“We have replaced these committees with democratically accountable PCCs, who have the power to ensure that their local communities have a stronger voice in policing.”

She said the Government would consider carefully whether PCCs should be subject to recall by electors of they were seen to have behaved improperly.

She added: “Ultimately, however, under our model, if they fall short the public will for the first time have a means by which to do something about it – at the ballot box.

“Since the first elections in November 2012, public awareness of police and crime commissioners has increased greatly and that their visibility, in public polling and research terms, is in stark contrast to that of the police authorities they replaced with 62 per cent PCC public awareness against that of only seven per cent for police authorities.

“Their increasingly significant role in driving collaboration, innovation, partnership working and Commissioner-led campaigns, provides further evidence of their establishment as significant and influential publicly elected figures.

“As time progresses, it becomes ever clearer that some PCCs are playing an important and visible role in providing an impetus to reform, innovating and delivering policing more efficiently. Not only have they brought real local accountability to how chief constables and their forces perform, they are working hard to ensure that their local communities have a stronger voice in policing.”

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