I want to start this speech by talking a little about democracy.
I don’t think I’m alone in my admiration for a system which allows the people to choose how their lives are run. We see all over the world people are prepared to lay down their lives for the right to vote in a democratic system.
So I was very surprised when some opposed our plan to elect Police and Crime Commissioners. Their argument, it would seem, was that too much democracy was a bad thing; that the people could not be trusted to make sensible decisions; that those already running policing were the only ones who could manage it.
The weasel words they used were that we must ‘keep politics out of policing’. Well, here’s a small history lesson - every Home Secretary since Robert Peel has been involved in policing, they were, and are politicians. What lay behind the weasel words was not some anti-political feeling but ‘keep the people out of policing’ – don’t trust the people. Well I do trust the people.
The Home Secretary showed what she thought of the anti-democracy argument last week when she reinforced the power of the people in choosing PCCs. The expansion of the already hugely popular police.uk site and Tom Winsor’s work to improve the accessibility of HMIC data will enable people to make increasingly informed decisions when they go to the ballot box.
I am conscious that people thought PCCs were a passing fad. But on the eve of the anniversary of the first elections they should now be able to see that PCCs are here to stay. And far from shying away from our landmark reform it is our intention to reinforce, strengthen and expand this new democratic institution.
Democracy is a warts and all system. Winston Churchill famously described it as the worst form of government – except all the others that have ever been tried.
And for all its imperfections – concerns over expenses, clashes between PCCs and chiefs, the occasional questionable appointment – the democratic system we have installed is infinitely better than that which preceded it. Hardly anybody knew who sat on police authorities in the first place. Police authorities were invisible and unaccountable – the very opposite of the system we have introduced.
And for those who say we cannot afford democracy in policing, according to HASC’s own data analysis it costs no more to pay PCCs and run their offices than it did to run police authorities, OPCC budgets overall represent the same proportion of total spend on policing – 0.6% - as police authority budgets the previous year. If there is any elected PCC who thinks his or her role is unnecessary could always, as a matter of principle, stop taking their salary.
The Home Secretary last week reeled off a list of impressive achievements so far from individual commissioners – from all political persuasions. And I want to add to that today.
In Bedfordshire an outreach programme has brought 140 student volunteers into the force and increased BME volunteering by a third; in Sussex and Avon and Somerset meetings are streamed live over the web to engage communities; in my own force of Kent new police mobile contact points are rolling out and will conduct 360 community visits to 180 locations each month; in Essex and Wiltshire there have been new initiatives to improve integrity and ethics, a key area. In Gwent the PCC has introduced a mobile app that lets users follow progress on specific initiatives and, in a similar vein, in Humberside Matthew Grove has pledged to introduce a free smartphone application that will enable people to report a crime, including the ability to send in pictures and videos.
And the crucial thing about these developments – and the others listed by the Home Secretary last week – is that they are outward facing. Policing, by its very nature, tends towards insularity. PCCs are beginning to take that away by being more aware of, and responsive to, the communities they serve.
And that, in essence, is my key message today. That PCCs must always remember they are acting on behalf of the public who elected them. That is the duty of democracy.
That accountability would be crucial at any time, but the year of bad headlines endured by the police make it even more important at the present time. Public confidence in the police requires appropriate action to be taken against officers when wrongdoing is identified. And they must be sure that investigations against the police are pursued without fear or favour for those involved. We have already taken action to reinforce that public confidence at one end of the scale by announcing that a newly beefed-up IPCC will deal with all serious and sensitive investigations involving the police.
But, important as that step is, it does not tally with most people’s day-to-day contact with policing. The vast majority of that is conducted with the utmost efficacy and professionalism. But when it is not, complaints of something as simple as basic rudeness can damage an individual’s confidence in policing.
I know PCCs are also concerned about complaints and some of you would like a bigger role in dealing with them. The idea of involving PCCs more in this process has some obvious attractions. It would serve to increase accountability and transparency in the complaints system and, therefore, increase public confidence. That is why the Home Secretary has asked you to work together with Home Office officials to look at this issue. There is obviously much work to do to establish the right model, but giving PCCs a stronger say in the complaints procedure could reinforce the role they must play in sticking up for the people they and their police forces serve.
That role, so inherent in the democratic model we have created, is, of course, at its most important when someone has been a victim of crime. I want to see PCCs become victims’ champions at a local level in every force area. And to do that, I have asked the Victims’ Commissioner to consider how her national role might best be used to share good practice and make sure that any cross-system issues affecting victims that you identify locally are represented to government. This will ensure that the voice of every victim will be heard at the very highest level. I also want to see PCCs copying this collaborative approach at the local level – working with the CPS and all criminal justice representatives in the regions to put victims’ needs right at the heart of the criminal justice system.
These are not just empty words. There is money and statute to back them. As well as budgets for commissioning support services, we are also handing PCCs the bulk of funding for restorative justice provision and relaxing constraints on Police Main Grant to give PCCs a freer hand in providing services for victims.
These developments will help strengthen the identity of PCCs, just as the announcements made by the Home Secretary will strengthen the edifice in which they exist. And this democratic revolution in the provision of local services will only grow as people see its impact. Already we can see developments at a local level moving towards the unification of blue light services. These are exciting moves and we wholeheartedly support them.
Police Innovation Fund
I know that many of you have been asking for more details on the Police Innovation Fund. At the Spending Round we announced that the Fund would be established from 2014/15 and would be worth up to £50 million per year.
This Fund will incentivise collaboration, support improved digital working and enable PCCs to invest in a range of other innovative delivery approaches that have the potential to improve policing and deliver further efficiency.
But innovation shouldn’t have to wait, and we know PCCs are keen to access this funding now in order to press ahead with transformation in their forces.
In any case, as a guest at a birthday party it is right to bring a present. So today I am pleased to announce that, ahead of the first full year of the Fund, we will be making £20 million available to PCCs as a precursor Innovation Fund in this financial year. We will be writing out with further details on the bidding process and criteria shortly, and I don’t think I will need to encourage you to consider putting forward bids.
This government’s approach to policing has been radical and forward thinking. But, more importantly, it has been successful. Recorded crime has fallen by more than 10 per cent since we came to power and we have put in place long-term reforms to help the police continue that downward trend. We have stripped away targets and red tape to free police from deskbound jobs; we have installed a powerful new National Crime Agency to take on organised crime; we have installed a College of Policing to professionalise policing and to create a new emphasis on building an evidence base as to what works best in cutting crime; we have modernised outmoded and counter-productive pay and conditions; and we have introduced a newly reinforced ethical framework to ensure police conduct is on an equal footing to cutting crime.
PCCs have a role to play in all these radical reforms, by linking top to bottom and putting the needs of the people at the heart of decision making at all levels. And this will show why our critics were so wrong – there can never be too much democracy. PCCs will go on from strength to strength.