Christopher Salmon is Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys.
Police and Crime Commissioners have powerful voices and big budgets at the heart of Conservative political territory. They must be part of plans for 2015.
One year on from the mists of last year’s soggy autumn and the political landscape looks very different. That autumn saw the Party peering nervously towards the General Election. This website began a two year consultation on strong, compassionate conservatism. Somewhere in the fog lay the foothills of Majority Mountain.
Out of those mists also appeared a new class of politician. Police and Crime Commissioners emerged blinking, if not into the sunlight then certainly the media limelight.
They are a product of radical Conservative localism, a survivor of the Coalition Agreement and the holders of enormous budgets at the heart of Conservative territory – crime and justice.
Establishing an entirely new office deep within the often hostile territory of local politics was never going to be plain sailing. It hasn’t been. But, Police and Crime Commissioners – Conservative ones, at least – are already able to demonstrate real progress.
They are already applying across the country that grip which allowed Boris to drive crime and cost from policing in London. They are local politicians with national impact.
So, what part can they play in a Conservative victory? And what does a Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner policy look like?
I am one of sixteen Conservative PCCs, not including the Mayor of London. Much of our first six months involved establishing our presence. Now, as we settle in, the outlines of policy are emerging from our experience at the coalface. These are my suggestions as we approach our year in office.
Like all good Conservative policy our approach should be practical and forward-looking. It should take the side of good people who do the right thing. It should challenge the habits of the vested interests and creaking institutions which frustrate them.
We should focus on three things: protecting people; protecting taxpayers; strong and compassionate justice.
To protect people you have to first listen to their needs. By giving local people a direct voice, PCCs are bringing greater public focus to policing and crime prevention. We are free to set the right priorities for our areas, without central targets to get in the way.
In mid-Wales are producing a rural policing strategy to meet the needs of the most remote communities in the country. Thanks to work done to implement my manifesto commitments, our police stations now operate on the principle that, as my Chief Constable puts it, “when we’re in, we’re open”. No more “sorry guv’nor, come back another day.”
I have removed all targets from my police force. The police know their job is to cut crime. We have spent millions training them to do it. Why then tie them to their desks filling in paperwork?
Our reforms have one aim: to put public interests first. We are making the police more accessible and giving officers their professional freedom.
When I arrived at Dyfed Powys, I inherited an organisation creaking with inflated senior salaries. Contracts had apparently been written by staff themselves and signed off by the Police Authority. There were 7.5 per cent bonuses for staying in your job for a year. Police stations had closed while the number of accountants remained untouched.
Working with my new Chief Constable, we have cut the cost of the three top salaries from £420,000 to £330,000. I have cut 15 per cent from the cost of governing the police. We are pushing through further reforms to ensure money is spent where it’s most needed – on policing our towns and villages.
Like many Commissioners, I have cut away bureaucracy associated with clumsy committees. We now have a single Policing Board able to make better decisions, more quickly. That means the public get their police where they need them, when they need them.
Strong and Compassionate
The great innovation of PCCs is the power we have to commission wider crime-fighting services. That’s what will allow us to move beyond the tired old ‘lock-em-up’ criminal justice debate, as the Prime Minister has called for in the past.
We are now able to develop policies that allow the police to be more robust and the system to be more sensitive: strong, compassionate and Conservative policies. How so?
Conservatives have profound insights that can help. We understand that clear boundaries give people confidence. We know that respect is important and responsibility does not constrain people, it empowers them.
We understand the importance of incentives in changing human behaviour. We trust people to make decisions. That is why we believe in markets.
Police and Crime Commissioners can take these insights into law and order. We can use our powers to set boundaries.
On the one hand we can target the police against criminals. Clear leadership frees the police to concentrate on policing. Chief Constables no longer need to look over their shoulder for fear of offending some lobby group. That is the PCC’s problem.
On the other hand we can offer support to people in danger of straying. We are already commissioning services from charities, private providers and others to fight crime. These will help with reoffending, domestic violence, drugs, hate crime and marginal groups.
Rules, rewards, respect and responsibility are vital for people struggling with chaotic lives. They provide something solid to hold on to. These are compassionate insights. They are also Conservative.
What applies to policing applies to justice more widely. PCCs are able to look from crime to cell and back to community to see where the system is failing.
Public confidence is critical. Justice must be seen to be done. It shocks the liberal consensus – I have been part of it – but we must take account of public perception. Too often our system doesn’t seem to care.
Police and Crime Commissioners are a start in putting the public back at the heart of justice. We are bringing police and communities closer together. Our role within the criminal justice system is likely to increase.
With the right powers we can deliver more rehabilitation, community sentences that people believe in and help for victims in an intimidating system. These are opportunities that we must take for the sake of our country and its greatest treasure – its ancient traditions of liberty and justice.
In Police and Crime Commissioners communities have powerful new champions. And we in politics have important local voices able to deliver strong, compassionate and Conservative policies. We must use them on the climb to 2015.