The new police and crime commissioners didn’t get off to a good start. Record low turnouts to vote indicate that the public were not interested in who got the job nor were they excited about the creation of this new post. The idea was to have one person responsible for setting the budget, hiring and firing the local police chief. If local people didn’t think the police in their area we doing a good job then the Police Commissioner would be voted out next time. The aim was to make local police forces more accountable to local people and so lead to greater confidence and trust in the police. It would appear the electorate are not convinced.
The Government got the idea from the US. In the USA top public sector jobs are more often filled by direct elections resulting in a large number of black directly elected mayors and chiefs of Police. In many cities within the USA the black vote is the decisive factor. Would the same happen here as the ethnic balance in cities in this country changes? Will this be an opportunity to redress the imbalance and get more black people in senior public sector posts? Would this be an effective way of increasing the black communities recently shattered confidence in the metropolitan police force?
Whilst the Police Commissioner does not run the local police force unlike the USA model it clearly is a move in that direction. Will what works in the USA work here? Do we need more black people in senior public posts as a way of regaining the confidence of black communities in some of our major cites? Or is this the wrong aim, another example of uncritically following the American way?
Our aim should be that the public sector workforce at every level represents the population profile of the community it serves. This involves addressing the over representation of black staff in lowest paid public sector jobs as well as ensuring black staff occupy middle and senior management posts in the numbers proportionate to their representation in the local population.
This is a more fundamental rather than a cosmetic change. It requires addressing the cultural of an organisation not just its recruitment strategy or management development programme. It's not about fast tracking a few promising black managers it's about how we view non white, non male, non heterosexual people, it's about developing equality of opportunity for all within the organisation. And that doesn’t change just by changing the colour, ethnicity or gender of the person at the top.
The experience of the USA has shown that direct elections for public office will result in more black Mayors and police chiefs but it will not in its self change the culture within the Housing department, the school system or the local police force. And without real change local communities will again lose confidence in public officials.
Blair McPherson is author of An Elephant in the Room-all about delivering equality and diversity published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk