Adam Simmonds is the the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire
Police and Crime Commissioners were created for a reason, as localism and vibrant local democracy matters. The principle of delegating power away from a Whitehall elite towards empowered, directly accountable, democratically elected local leaders, was once a fundamental and cherished ideal in Liberal thinking. Police and Crime Commissioners perfectly encapsulate this democratic tradition.
Clearly residents in Northamptonshire have very different priorities for policing their local towns and communities than those in the big metropolitan areas such as London or the West Midlands.
History has shown us that the policing and other criminal justice professionals were fundamentally constrained by Westminster who implemented a top-down one size fits all national targets regime, along with a weak local committee structures which were utterly ineffective at meaningfully intervening to give voice to local people.
Policing and courts had become as local people were not sufficiently involved. In addition to this, the police and other agencies weren’t sufficiently transparent and directly accountable and victims and witnesses did not have a voice within the system.
This situation was compounded by the fact that the criminal justice professions, including the police, have been insufficiently innovative. The agencies have tended to work too much in silos with a lack of strategic thinking about the outcomes for local people that involve them all delivering together.
Change was clearly needed and inevitably a new reform on the scale of PCCs has had some teething problems. Not every one of the first crop of Police and Crime Commissioners that were elected in 2012 has had the scale of impact that had been hoped for. However the sweeping judgement that this somehow marks out the reform as a policy mistake that needs to be reversed is utterly without foundation. Behind the noisy negative headlines, there is actually much about the work of the majority of Commissioners which is quietly exciting and effective.
What both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have seemingly failed to grasp is that the role of a Police and Crime Commissioner was not simply brought about to replace Police Authorities. The role was created with the intention of having a much greater strategic influence and be a catalyst for significant and lasting change across the criminal justice system as a whole rather than just for the police. It was created to ensure that there was a strong, independent, decisive, fresh, capable and directly accountable leadership.
PCCs are helping to achieve real change and introduce fresh thinking. They can also balance the dominant internal thinking of professionals within the police and other agencies with the voices and priorities of victims and local people.
In Northamptonshire, I have introduced ambitious agenda for change:
- An integrated Police and Fire Service.
- A new integrated victim and witness service.
- Major new projects to manage demand and prevent crime.
- Challenging agencies beyond the police to shake out of a 9-5, Monday to Friday working culture.
- A massive drive to recruit volunteer Special Constables, police service volunteers, and young people as Cadets.
- A ‘Rural Action’ programme to tackle rural crime.
- It is hard to imagine a committee of councillors developing a similarly radical programme of change, or carrying the level of personal direct accountability and visibility for seeing those changes through.
The proposals from the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats risk taking us backwards to a model very similar to the tired, removed and remote Police Authorities that went before. They were often viewed as paper tigers that lacked the teeth, imagination, detail and grip to take on and effectively change for the better the police and criminal justice system.
To needlessly dismantle a reform which is very much still in its infancy would be a serious mistake.
Innovative proposals are being brought forward by Commissioners, with real progress being achieved, and public awareness of the new model is growing. There is undoubtedly a case for further improvement across the model and all PCCs need to ensure they can really deliver for the local people they serve. It is clear that to really succeed in bringing together the criminal justice system, PCCs need to be given some additional powers to truly be able to influence and impact across the system as a whole.
This will help to provide a more accountable and democratic voice, but importantly champion and drive the radical change agenda that is required.