Tim Passmore is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk.
This November I will have had the privilege of being Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for seven years. As you probably know, this important public service role replaced the former Police Authority, with a single person democratically elected to act in the public interest, and to try and ensure the delivery of an effective and efficient police force in their area. The Chief Constable has operational independence, whilst at the same time the PCC sets and agrees the budget. With that comes the responsibility of setting the level of Council Tax in the force area.
Personally, I find one of the biggest challenges in this role is drawing the line between operational independence and upholding the public interest and accountability, bearing in mind the PCC is overall responsible for the budget– I’m still trying to optimise the balance but I am getting there…
The 43 PCCs in England and Wales are also responsible for commissioning victim services, which is largely funded with a grant direct from the Ministry of Justice. This is a credit to the coalition government who recognised the need to place the victims of crime at the focal point of the whole criminal justice system. An excellent start has been made, but there is still some way to go.
To make your tenure a success, it is crucial to have meaningful and regular engagement with the public and with all sectors of the economy. In Suffolk I am particularly fortunate to have an excellent team that works with me (as opposed to for me) including our head of public affairs and engagement. Her commitment to the role has made an enormous contribution to raising the profile of what policing and victims work we undertake and its relevance to the local taxpayer. The cornerstone of this success is a detailed series of public engagement events and discussions blended with a mix of media columns and interviews, websites, social media, and online surveys. The essential nature of sound internal communication programmes must not be overlooked either.
In my view, any aspiring PCC must have the best public engagement colleague possible and one you can trust completely and rely on for their advice – even if it seems at times to be difficult to accept.
Amongst other notable achievements I was particularly proud to veto a proposal to close our control room and hive the service off to Norfolk. I could not see how this would have improved policing in Suffolk and there was little evidence to support this proposition. That said, you can sometimes be placed in an uncomfortable position when you are in a minority of one.
By supporting the collaborative moves with policing colleagues in Norfolk the two forces have yielded annual savings on a recurring basis of over £37 million, sufficient to employ around 750 police officers. This has enabled us to meet the huge reductions in funding from the Home Office with some confidence and has enabled further investment in better response: a state of the art cyber-crime unit and increased capacity in crucial areas such as roads policing and detective work.
Significant improvements has been made to help victims of domestic abuse (mostly women), sexual abuse (predominantly children), and coercive control. In Suffolk, there is now a properly funded IDVA service (Independent Domestic Violence Adviser) which did not exist when I was first elected. Our commissioning work with crime disorder reduction grants has assisted many disadvantaged people in the county – this included a large fund (£100k) to support the voluntary sector in keeping young children safe online. Over 10,000 school children benefited from this work. I was delighted to announce that a £50,000 fund of public money I had made available to help young people specifically has been very generously matched with a further one hundred thousand pounds from philanthropic donations.
For the future, there is still a great deal to achieve. We must continue to develop the Suffolk “One Public Sector Estate” programme as this provides far better value for money for the taxpayer. In many cases the co-location of the workforce has significant operational benefits for all organisations. This includes local government, fire and rescue, local authorities, and the health sectors – what I have termed a “Suffolk plc” process.
The upholding of the law and support for good policing should be in our Conservative DNA and there have been times when this has been questionable during the last few years. I do not agree with ring-fencing foreign aid when policing has been under enormous pressure due to increased demand and a rapidly changing pattern of crime. Who would have thought that slavery still exists and the appalling rise in violence, much of which is driven by the gang culture and drugs would now be of concern to us all?
We need to remind the government that policing is an important indirect economic driver since there is a very clear link between low levels of inward investment and poor economic growth with high levels of crime, anti-social behaviour, and corruption. Therefore policing must be properly resourced and managed – and this includes having the political will to reform the current police funding formula, which discriminates against the largely rural areas in favour of the urban forces.
More work is urgently required to reduce re-offending rates. This is not about adopting some wet liberal set of proposals but making sure there is a sensible approach to prison reform to provide homes and employment coupled with proper training before prisoners are released back into civilian life. I visited the military correction centre in Colchester last year and was particularly impressed with their successful reform for individuals. We need more of this ‘Carrot and Stick’ approach – Churchill once famously stated there is a jewel in the heart of every man if only you can find it. That’s what the criminal justice system must focus on.
Public sector procurement should do a great deal more to support local business by assessing more clearly the social and economic impact of what is purchased with taxpayers’ money. I for one will be delighted when the EU shackles on procurement are completely ditched – in Suffolk we spend £1.8 billion of yours and my money on goods and services across the public sector and barely 50 per cent is spent with local businesses. An eleven per cent increase could boost the local economy by 200 million – so let us get on with it.
Overall, after a troubled gestation period, PCCs are making a positive contribution to society but there is some way to go. I hope I will be fortunate enough to be re-elected next May to help carry our Conservative values forward.