Review: PCC Day at the LGA Conference

Yesterday saw PCC Day at the LGA Annual Conference, where close to 50 PCC candidates joined around 1,200 delegates in Birmingham for the final day in local government’s yearly jamboree. Below is our report of the day - it's fairly lengthy, but I think that indicates the quality and depth of the discussions which took place.

 

The morning opened with Ed Balls MP, Shadow Chancellor, addressing the main chamber. Balls pointed out that local government was facing its biggest ever challenge with the financial crisis, and that cuts in other areas would impact on councils, who would be left to pick up the pieces; he noted that mental health services were being cut, which would impact on crime levels; but 16,000 police officers were also being cut. “It is the council officer who always has to pick up the pieces when the going gets tough”, noted the MP for Castleford.

 

Following Balls onto the main stage was Channel 4 and Guardian hack Michael Crick, who entertainingly introduced the panel of PCC candidates – Simon Weston (Ind, South Wales), Lisa Brett (LD, Avon & Somerset), Tony Lloyd (Lab, Manchester), and Steven Greenhalgh, the Deputy Mayor for Crime & Policing in the London Mayor’s Office.

 

A lively discussion ensued, with all candidates keen to demonstrate their willingness to represent the interests of communities. Simon Weston announced that he was standing because he felt politics has no place in policing – to applause from the thousand or so delegates present. Weston noted that many young people “totally distrust” the police, and sought to change that.

 

Steven Greenhalgh noted the difficult duality of the PCC role; to simultaneously hold the Chief Constable to account whilst creating effective, meaningful strategies to reduce crime; and all this whilst battling a Whitehall struggling to let go of central control. Greenhalgh is, of course, essentially a PCC for London, and spoke of his first achievement: changing the abbreviation of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime from MOPC to MOPAC so it sounded “less like a Beatrix Potter rabbit”. He noted that savings were there to be made – that just three London boroughs spend £40m on youth diversion. Finally Greenhalgh said that he had three key locks to ensure policing in London was not politicised:

 

  1. The Policing Protocol
  2. His “utter ignorance” of operational policing and
  3. his post being politically restricted

 

 

Lisa Brett talked about giving communities a direct say in setting policing priorities, including communities using participatory budgeting. Her opinion is that building stronger communities will result in safer communities, and this is best done in partnership. Lisa reiterated a common theme emergent through the day – that decisions should be evidence-based using crime science to prove “what works”.

 

Tony Lloyd argued against Simon Weston’s politicisation point; suggesting that if the pressure on police is dictated by the cuts, ergo policing is political. Lloyd suggested that PCCs will debate forcefully with government for resources (perhaps alluding to the need for a strong national body?), and noted that a PCC will need to make the most of the existing elected members across the force area to be truly successful; “good politics works when people from different backgrounds work together”, explained the current MP for Manchester Central. Tony pointed out that local authorities are enormously important as partners (backing up the 89% of polled PCC candidates who saw councils as their key partner in an LGA poll), and made it clear that a PCC election does not create a dictatorship, but provides a mandate.

 

After the session many of the PCC candidates present gathered on the stage for a “team photo”:

 

 

Following this session delegates moved quickly down to the PCC luncheon. Nick Herbert was waiting downstairs, munching on the spicy onion bhajis, and the many delegates filled the room, nibbling away as the Minister was introduced by Sir Merrick Cockell, Chair of the LGA, who noted the key role of councils in helping PCCs deliver their priorities, and made clear the need to join up local services to best achieve outcomes, quoting Troubled Families as an example of this. The Chairman explained that joint commissioning opens great opportunities, and Community Safety Partnerships are a resource waiting to be tapped into. Sir Merrick pointed out the support the LGA have given councils over establishing Police and Crime Panels, and outlined his desire to achieve a joint venture with the APA around developing a national representative body for PCCs. If discussions are successful, this would support all PCCs to work collaboratively and to negotiate together.

 

The Policing Minister took the podium next and spoke forcefully about his desire to see a range of candidates, including strong independents, stand for the office of PCC. He reiterated the role of the Police and Crime Panel in supporting as well as scrutinising the PCC, and made clear that there was no legal obligation for the Chief Constable to attend PCP meetings (no doubt aimed at Stephen Greenhalgh, who seemed to find that very amusing given earlier events!). Again Mr Herbert noted the importance of councils and effective Community Safety Partnerships, which he made clear must continue; they will have local freedom to decide how to do that, but PCCs will have a key role in partnership and should invest upstream to prevent issues before they occur.

 

The Minister made clear that no further funding would be made available for election materials, and strongly criticised those who complained about the cost of elections then demanded the government spend a further £35m-£47m publicising candidates. He reminded delegates that this is a local election, decided by local people, and responsibility for mobilising voters lay with the candidates themselves. Herbert noted that the availability and spread of  new media meant that independent candidates would have just as much chance now as those using traditional means.

 

The Minister’s speech was followed by an entertaining and informative panel session involving Sir Hugh Orde, President of ACPO; Sue Howl, Chief Exec of Devon and Cornwall Police Authority; Zoe Billingham, HMIC and Lisa Klein from the Electoral Commission.

 

Sir Hugh noted that the Strategic Policing Requirement in its current form was “totally inadequate and subject to ongoing dialogue”; Sue Howl explained how the transition from Police Authorities to PCC staff would work, and how PCCs should utilise existing commissioning resources from partners; Zoe Billingham explained the new role of HMIC (not inspecting PCCs, despite what was claimed in Select Committee earlier in the week) and how they would be making briefing sessions available to all candidates if requested – and advised candidates to get very good very quickly at analysing performance!; and Lisa Klein gave a short and entertaining speech about their fears for the election (they suggested to the Home Office that they should provide freepost leaflets) and how they could help candidates.

 

There followed a lively Q&A discussion, where questions were asked about PCC’s ability to block the national deployment of officers (for example, in riots); Sir Hugh noted that policing is a national service, and the SPR should allow officers to be deployed nationally if it is written properly. In response to a question about candidates meeting Chief Constables, Sir Hugh said that all Chiefs had had advice from government on how to engage with candidates, and named Thames Valley Police as an area of good practice in this field. He reminded delegates that the Official Secrets Act prevented anything particularly sensitive from being shared with non-vetted candidates (or PCCs, for that matter). Zoe Billingham suggested that candidates should have briefings with Chiefs before the election to set the police and crime plan.

 

After the session candidates moved into political group meetings before reconvening with the other 1200 delegates in the main hall to see Eric Pickles give an amusing if no-holds barred speech outlining the challenges facing the whole public sector – and making it clear that success lies best in agencies pooling resources and working together.

 

ultimately, that was the clear message coming from today’s event; that PCCs are not just an invention to give democratic accountability to the police, but are an opportunity to create new, more efficient means of delivering community safety outcomes in partnership. A strong working relationship between councils and PCCs will be at the heart of this.

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