Matthew Scott is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent.
Police performance has been in the spotlight consistently in recent months. Death on the streets of London, an increase in the number of incidents reported to police, and fewer justice outcomes have all contributed to increased concerns.
Yet there’s currently an officer inexplicably being disciplined for using the phrase “whiter than white”. And with one police force seeking sympathy for travellers during an illegal incursion, others nail painting and wearing high heels and ridiculous adverts asking people to report “non-crime hate”, one could be forgiven for thinking that political correctness is the order of the day.
The police are already dealing with too much “non-crime” demand. Around 20 per cent of police time is spent dealing with crime, the rest is everything else – mental health, missing persons, safeguarding and other issues.
So with all this focus, it was perhaps inevitable that unattributable comments, critical of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), found their way to the media. They were actually in a report that was about Chief Constable recruitment, where there is a developing crisis of fewer applicants and shorter stints. Only the part about PCCs, written in 2015, is getting any attention. It’s an out of date judgement of the first term of PCCs, which included the infamous documentary featuring my predecessor.
It includes inaccuracies such as there being “no checks and balances” on PCCs, completely forgetting the role played by Police and Crime Panels to scrutinise the decisions we make, as well as the requirement to be reselected by our Party, prior to there being an election, every four years.
It complains about interference. We actually set strategic priorities. It is up to the Chief Constable to determine, based on their years of operational experience, how they meet the end goal. And we are responsible for hiring and firing Chief Constables. In practice, the former is easier than the latter. They also work to fixed-term contracts, but we decide whether their performance is worthy of an extension, much like the electorate do to us.
For all the criticisms levied, even one naysayer had to admit there many good PCCs. The PCC role, done well, can be powerful, transformative and create greater transparency, and having worked across Westminster and in local Government, I believe being a PCC is one of the best roles in elected politics. I would recommend it to anyone. It gives you an ability to make real change on a daily basis that impacts on the lives of residents. In my first two and a half years, I have set about making those changes.
I meet Kent’s Chief Constable on a weekly basis to discuss operations and performance, which has mostly recently focussed on the performance of 101. Waiting times are down massively during the last three months thanks to my extra investment. In addition, I hold meetings with him every quarter in public, with papers that the public can access, to challenge the delivery of my priorities and question him on performance.
Priorities have changed, too. Ensuring that crime is given the attention it deserves in rural villages as well as urban towns is key in my Police and Crime Plan. My priorities ensure that victims’ needs, not criminals’, are put first and foremost, and that both crime and antisocial behaviour are pursued with vigour. Road policing gets more attention.
Finance is one another of the big responsibilities that I have; direct control of a budget this year worth over £330 million, and the ability to set the council tax precept. In Kent, I am putting this power to better effect. By March 2019, I will have made over £20 million of savings, cracking down on waste and making better use of taxpayers’ money. And thanks to council taxpayers, there will be 270 more police officers in Kent than when I was elected. I’ve also protected all 300 hundred PCSOs.
The role of the PCC has been expanded to include commissioning victims’ services, making us the voice for victims within the criminal justice system. So I’m ensuring that victims of burglary, robbery and other crimes still get access to support, as well as people subject to exploitation and both domestic and sexual violence. I’m also enabling more victims to hold offenders to account through restorative justice, by doubling the funding available, and speeding up justice by challenging poor performance in Kent’s criminal justice agencies.
The publication of these outdated comments on first-term PCCs is therefore a distraction from the real issues PCCs and Chief Constables are trying to solve. The police are doing the work of other agencies and trying to keep up with an increase in demand, all with fewer officers and tighter budgets. Those working on the frontline are stretched and stressed, and having to explain why they can no longer do as much as they used to. They’re also not getting the proper pay rises they deserve – their pay, not PCCs’, should be increasing at this stage.
PCCs are cheaper, and more accountable, transparent and accessible than what we replaced. Together, we can solve the actual issues of Chief Constable recruitment. But we should give no more time to those hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, opposed to any form of accountability and speaking up for vested interests that were abolished years ago.