Adam Simmonds is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire
This month the people of Britain went to the polls in an election billed as “the closest in a generation” and overwhelmingly returned a Conservative Government.
This result clearly demonstrated that the electorate did not wish to see the nation go backwards in many areas of Government policy as had been proposed by the Labour Party and others. In short, the public’s vote of confidence in the Conservative Party was because they believed and trusted the Conservatives as the party that continues to drive public policy forward into the 21st Century rather than looking through the rear view mirror at what has gone before us in the past.
Take for example the differences between the two main parties on crime and justice policy. I wrote recently about how the Labour opposition frontbench was the “worst in a generation” and labelled their proposals for the abolition of Police and Crime Commissioners and a return to Police Authorities as a return to the dark ages.
They wanted to ditch public accountability over policing and last week the public resoundingly said they were wrong.
In stark contrast to the Labour Party, the Conservatives want to build on what we have started and finish the job of police reform. Our manifesto proposes to develop the role of directly elected and accountable Police and Crime Commissioners. The manifesto gives a clear direction of travel about what role we might play in the future in terms of ensuring more public involvement and accountability in our public services and a greater say in the Governance arrangements of our emergency services locally.
In this week’s Queens Speech I want to see the Government bring forward legislation that does exactly that- puts better public services, crime prevention, community protection and victims at its very heart. I believe that there are three things that the Government could potentially do which would enable this to happen.
Firstly, I envisage a future where Police and Crime Commissioners have more responsibility for how their emergency services operate. I want the Queens Speech to include announcements which explore changes in governance arrangements that would enable me to become the appropriate authority for Fire and Rescue Services. This is something that I have been at the forefront of in Northamptonshire, where we have been merging teams between the Police Force and Fire and Rescue Service and exploring other areas where they can work much more closely together.
The co-terminus boundaries between the two services combined with the shared vision and values shared between the two services of keeping our communities safe and protecting people from harm has meant that there are natural synergies between the two organisations which could be developed further by the Government allowing me to bring the two services together to provide a better standard of service to the public.
We have for the past two years been looking to co-locate and share buildings across the Police Force and Fire and Rescue Service. We have opened a shared station in Thrapston with two more in Northampton and Rushden due to open shortly. We have merged the prevention teams between the two organisations, led by a senior fire manager which has enabled us to move an Inspector rank to elsewhere within the policing structure. We have a joint operations team, which also includes the ambulance service and have been exploring opportunities of where the two organisations could co-respond to incidents together in rural locations, increasing the emergency services visibility in our rural communities.
This has not only resulted in a better standard of public service, but also significant financial savings both cashable and non-cashable. By sharing estates, estimates show we can save over £2 million pounds and with better use of demand management, it is estimated that this will enable a 25% saving in terms of productivity equivalent to 305 Police Officers or £16.5 million pounds.
By enabling changes in legislation, we will be able to properly pool the budgets between the two organisations and create a police/fire precept paid for by local taxpayers. A further benefit will be that the Fire and Rescue Service is more directly accountable to the public if the Government make the decision to make Police and Crime Commissioners the Appropriate Authority.
Secondly, I want the Government to be much more proactive in preventing crime from occurring in the first place. Bringing together the Police Force and Fire and Rescue Service is just one example of this. The Police Force can learn lessons from the Fire and Rescue Services record of reducing fires by over 40% over the past five years, but there is still much more that the Government can do to assist us in our fight against preventing crime from occurring in the first place.
I believe that for prevention of crime to be successful, we need to intervene early in people’s lives to prevent them from commencing an offending lifestyle. We know that most children and young people are already well embarked on a life time of offending at the age of twelve and we must bring forward measures which allow greater flexibility in the sharing of information across services and Government Departments in order for us to better identify those who are at most at risk of offending and put in place programmes which divert them at times when they are most at risk of taking the wrong path in life.
Linked to this prevention and early intervention agenda- I believe that when people do offend, we need to encourage them to change their behaviour. In Northamptonshire we have been piloting the use of sobriety bracelets with a view to joining the Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirement (AAMR) scheme. This utilises the conditional caution system, which give the police the opportunity of imposing a period of sobriety on someone who is not alcohol dependent, but where alcohol has been a causal factor in the reason for them committing an offence, for a maximum period of 120 days instead of being formerly charged with an offence.
The offender then wears a tag which monitors every thirty minutes their skin perspiration to detect whether any alcohol is in their system and feeds back that information to the force. If alcohol is detected, they are rearrested for breach of caution and dealt with in the normal way through the criminal justice process.
The important point in all of this however, is that it gives the offender the opportunity of changing their ways. I know that the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in London have also been piloting the AAMR scheme by having the process available to the judiciary to use at sentencing as part of a wider range of tools. At present changes in legislation would be needed to enable this to take place nationwide.
So my second ask of the current Government in the forthcoming Queens Speech would be to make Sobriety Orders available throughout all courts in England and Wales as suggested in the manifesto.
Finally, I would like to see the Government go much further than simply putting the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime on the statute books. I want to see a much heavier investment in restorative practice which is focussed on the needs of the victims. Evidence suggests that for every £1 spent on restorative interventions £10 pounds can be saved in the Criminal Justice System. It is proven to drive up victim satisfaction and also leads offenders into changing their ways.
I want the Government over the course of the next parliament to devolve the witness care function to Police and Crime Commissioners, to enable them to formerly join that function with localised victim function.
I also want the Government to formerly recognise the rights of victims of serious injury and their families in the case of fatalities of Road Traffic Collissions. For too long their needs have gone unnoticed because it is simply too difficult to define what is meant by “serious injury” but in Northamptonshire we have proven that this can be done, by our innovative relationship with the road support charity, Road Peace, which provides both telephone and face to face emotional support.
So my final plea to the Government in the next Queens Speech is to go much further in its proposal to support victims and witnesses on their journey throughout the Criminal Justice System.
In conclusion, the next five years offers tremendous opportunity for us to completely reimagine our Emergency Services, our Criminal Justice System and the deal that victims and witnesses get from these services. Whatever actions we take over the next five years we must continue to deliver better public services in a much more efficient and cohesive manner than we have done in the past, we must focus on managing down demand, increasing community resilience and continue to put those who we as public servants are there to work for right at the heart of everything we do.
I shall be watching closely the Queens Speech next week with huge interest about what the Government chooses as it priorities over the next year.