Lord Bew speech to the Police Superintendents' Association (PSAEW) 2015

Lord Bew made a speech to the PSAEW conference about local policing accountability.

I am delighted to be here today at your annual conference as Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to talk about the importance of ethical standards in policing and our most recent report Tone from the top – leadership, ethics and accountability in policing.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life is an independent committee that provides advice to the Prime Minister. Its role is to promote high standards across the public sphere. Its remit has since been expanded to cover all those delivering public services whatever the sector.

The Committee’s first report recommended the Seven Principles of Public Life, popularly known as the Nolan principles, to guide the behaviour of those who serve the public in any way, they are – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

The first report set out the 3 common threads to ensure that the Seven Principles of Public Life were properly understood and would become integral to the conduct of individuals and the culture of organisations. These threads are:

  1. codes of conduct
  2. independent scrutiny
  3. guidance and education.

In Nolan’s words:

It requires those in senior positions to set a good example: and it requires organisations to monitor the awareness of those standards and take remedial action where necessary.

Since its inception the Committee has reported on issues such as political party finance, local government standards, public appointments and MPs expenses. There is not one area of public life not affected by scandal and I should know as a Member of the Lords. Some would argue, in fact, that after 20 years the Nolan principles haven’t worked.

However the public are quite clear on what the ethical standards should be and are consistent in their expectation that all those in public life should abide by them. Year on year, the public have affirmed that the definition of standards set out in the Seven Principles of Public Life are still relevant. They are a common barometer and should continue to apply to all those delivering public services.

This is particularly the case in the context of changing models of delivery of public services, increased devolution and complex structures where lines of accountability can be blurred. Which brings me to local policing accountability.

Our Inquiry

Local policing accountability has changed substantially as a result of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Police and Crime Commissioners were intended to be the ‘voice of the public’ replacing ‘bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability’. PCCs control over £12 billionn of funding and Local Police and Crime Panels were intended to scrutinise and support PCCs.

As the new arrangements had been in place for over 2 years the Committee thought it was timely to review and test the model’s operation, and learn any lessons. In addition there had been criticisms of model itself, and the elements of it mostly on standards issues. It is important to remember however that our Inquiry was not just about PCCs – it’s about leadership, ethics and accountability.

The inquiry was launched October last year. It had 4 aims:

  • to identify the structures in place for ensuring high standards of behaviour
  • to examine the effectiveness of those structures
  • to identify what works well and what could be improved, and
  • to consider the role of leaders in promoting and sustaining high standards

The methodology adopted included a public consultation and an independent survey of public desk research, several roundtable discussions with key stakeholders and academics, meetings with key local and national organisations and visits to local police areas to meet with PCCs, Chief Constables and Police and Crime Panels. We were grateful to to everyone who contributed to our inquiry and some may be here today.

Despite some high profile lapses, our public perceptions survey found that Trust in police is high. 59% of respondents would trust senior police officers to tell the truth. 55% agree that the police are held to account for their 54% agree that police were dealing with the crime and anti-social behaviour issues that matter. So, most respondents have a positive impression of the conduct and accountability of police.

But their actual knowledge and level of interest in local policing accountability was varied. We found that of respondents 68% have heard of PCCs, 44% knew PCCs were elected by the public. Only 10% knew the name of their local PCC. Only 15% were aware of Police and Crime Panels and 60% were not interested in finding out about policing in their local area.

The key test of how well the new model of police accountability is working adequately is whether the public knows about it, understands it and engages with it. The results of this survey suggest the new model is not yet working adequately and despite the introduction of PCCs, only 1 in 4 survey respondents thought that local people had much say in policing matters. Those who had heard of PCCs, were likely to think that local people did not have a say in policing issues. This is a continuing challenge for all those involved.

Ethical standards

I turn now to our findings on ethical standards. We found increased professionalism and interest in ethically based policing and individual chief officers championing ethical leadership and high standards of behaviour.

PCCs were more visible to communities than the former Police. We saw many positive examples of engagement yet, as the survey showed, awareness and interest remains low, and has remained low in terms of electoral turnout for PCCs.

We saw many different mechanisms being used to embed and support high standards of behaviour – with varying effectiveness. Experience is evolving, but there will inevitably a turnover of PCCs in 2016 so it was the Committee’s view that best practice needs to be captured and promulgated and reflected in induction of PCCs.

We also found widespread recognition of the importance of the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics and the core policing values. We saw diverse good practice within police forces in implementing and embedding the Code, including ethical awareness training, ethics committees and regular reinforcement of ethical behaviour. If you have further examples of good practice and what works I would be very grateful if you can get in touch.

Ethical risks

Our findings also highlighted significant ethical risks and I summarise some of the key risks here. By definition, much power vested in one individual carries risks. We think stronger checks and balances are needed to safeguard the ‘monocratic’ the PCC role. There’s still much confusion amongst the public about the roles and responsibilities of PCCs and Chief Constable. Who is the police chief, crime czar or top cop? That confusion feeds through into the complaints system and process for complaints against police and PCCs alike. There is no clear process to take action against a PCC whose conduct falls below the standards expected of a holder of public office. In our view this represents a significant gap in accountability.

We are also concerned about the appointment process for Chief Police Officers – is it robust enough, is there confidence in it and will it provide a continuing supply of strong leaders? The same applies to senior staff in PCC offices and joint appointments by PCCs and chief constables have inherent risks. We considered there were insufficient safeguards for the PCCs monitoring officer role.

Finally we concluded there was currently insufficient constructive challenge and active support by Police and Crime Panels, in PCC’s decision-making.


With all that in mind we have made 20 evidence based and proportionate recommendations designed to assist all the various players to develop and strengthen the ways ethical standards in policing are upheld and sustained. We’ve built them bottom up from good practice that we’ve seen and we hope the rest can learn from the best. I’ve only time to focus now on our key recommendations by organisation or association. Our key recommendations are:

For the Home Office to review whether sufficient powers are available to take action against a PCC whose conduct falls below the standard expected.

For PCCs, a recommendation for a mandatory national minimum code of conduct. Also holding the Chief Constable to account should explicitly include the promotion of ethical behaviour and embedding the Code of Ethics. Appointment procedures for chief constables and top PCC support staff should comply with open and transparent processes that include the involvement of a named individual with appropriate expertise.

For the Police and Crime Panel we recommend a more strategic approach – including a forward plan of work drawn from the Police and Crime Plan and specifying information required from PCCs, who should make it accessible to assist scrutiny and gain the support and leverage of elected councillors. There is a real synergy already being reaped in some areas that we would like to see everywhere.

For the Associations we recommend Collaboration on a model memorandum of understanding, between the PCCs, chief constables and chief executives so that respective roles and safeguards are hard wired and in place ahead of difficulties and controversies and the provision of national guidance on the meaning of a decision of ‘significant public interest’ to assist the work of PCPs.

The Committee has also proposed an ‘ethical checklist’ for PCCs. Current and future PCCs need to make a visible commitment to adopt the best practice at the heart of our recommendations. That way PCCs can reassure the public at the 2016 elections about their approach to ethical standards. In doing so PCCs will need to continue their focus at a local community level, but balance this with their regional and national roles too, embed governance structures that promote ethical behaviour, provide ethical accountability and sustain public confidence and trust.


As 20 years of Nolan principles has taught us, you can’t just publish a code and think you have done ethics. Likewise sound mechanisms such as Ethics Committees can support ethical decision-making but they are complementary to, not a substitute for, embedding a culture of high ethical standards

Our call in this report is for greater energy and consistency to be applied to promoting high ethical standards. This will be all the more critical as the nature of crime, along with how policing is delivered, is set to change. With new and increasingly complex crime, reductions in police budgets, greater regional collaboration and further devolutionary changes such as metro mayors. The role of leaders, including you here today, will be increasingly crucial in upholding high ethical standards in policing. The tone and culture of policing is set by those at the top. The public are entitled to know that those they elect will promote, support and sustain high ethical standards in spirit and letter and above all by example.

Published 7 September 2015