Speech

Police and Crime Commissioners, one year on: warts and all

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by Home Secretary Theresa May to Policy Exchange about Police and Crime Commissioners. This speech was delivered on 7 November 2013.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

Thank you, Max. It’s a pleasure to be here at Policy Exchange – the think tank that originally proposed elections to improve the accountability of the police – and to mark the first anniversary of the police and crime commissioner elections. And it’s also good to be here with police and crime commissioners from across the political spectrum: Vera Baird, Chris Salmon and Adam Simmonds.

Police reform is working and crime is falling

Three and a half years ago, the government embarked on the most comprehensive programme of police reform in memory. When we did so, the response from many people in policing – from the Police Federation to the Association of Chief Police Officers – was that there was no need at all for police reform. And I remember my opposite number in Parliament bemoaning the “perfect storm” that a combination of spending cuts and our police reforms would deliver.

But three and a half years on, who now doubts the need for police reform? There are now even independent reviews into the roles of the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers. And I read recently that even Yvette Cooper now thinks police reform “is badly needed” – which I suppose is a case of better late than never.

In the time it has taken Labour to realise the need for police reform, we have given chief constables genuine operational independence, by scrapping all national targets. We have increased police productivity, by getting rid of reams of paperwork imposed by the Home Office. We have rewarded skills and not just time served, by delivering radical police pay reforms that previous governments could not deliver.

We have empowered local communities, by publishing detailed street-level crime maps and mandating beat meetings. We want to shine a light on police performance, so we have made the Inspectorate of Constabulary more independent. We want the highest standards of police integrity, so we are beefing up the IPCC and taking a range of other measures.

We want to improve policing skills and the evidence base for what works, so we have set up a College of Policing. We have taken a new approach to serious and organised crime, so we have created the National Crime Agency.

And we have done all these things at the same time as reducing national police budgets by twenty per cent over four years. Far from creating the perfect storm, our police reforms are working and recorded crime has fallen by more than ten per cent under this Government. The police are proving – more than any other public service – that through reform you can deliver more with less.

The welcome end of police authorities

The observant amongst you may have noticed that in my list of reforms I didn’t mention police and crime commissioners. And that is because I want to talk about the first generation of commissioners in some detail today – warts and all.

But before I do so, let’s cast our minds back to how the police were held to account before the 15th November 2012. Invisible, ineffective committees of unknown, appointed councillors were supposed to hold each police force in England and Wales to account on behalf of local people.

But only seven per cent of people knew that police authorities even existed. How they were supposed to convey the concerns of the local public, how they were supposed to provide a link between police leaders and the people, how they were supposed to have legitimacy in making important decisions and holding their forces to account – when they had no contact with the public, when they did their business effectively in secret, and when they were installed rather than elected – its beyond me.

Whatever anybody thinks about the turnout in the elections last year or the performance of individual police and crime commissioners – and I will come on to those matters shortly – surely nobody could propose a return to the dark days of those invisible police authorities.

The performance of police and crime commissioners

So the purpose of directly-elected police and crime commissioners was clear. They’d be elected, visible, well-known in their communities and accountable to the electorate. They’d provide an impetus to reform, innovate and deliver policing more efficiently. They’d be powerful figures, with responsibility for writing the police plan, setting the police budget and precept, and hiring and firing chief constables. In short, they would bring – probably for the first time ever – real local scrutiny of how chief constables and their forces perform.

I want to assess the performance of police and crime commissioners against those three tests. How visible and accountable are they? What reforms and innovations are they driving? And to what extent are they making full use of their powers to hold their forces to account?

The first test of the commissioners’ visibility and accountability was of course the elections last November. And let’s be honest, at fifteen per cent, the turnout was disappointing. It still meant that more than five million people voted for police and crime commissioners – more than five million votes more than any police authority ever received – but we should clearly want turnout to be higher than that in future.

And I think we have every reason to believe turnout will be higher. First of all, the elections will be held in May, not November, and they’ll be held at the same time as local elections across the country. The debate will not be an abstract conversation about what police and crime commissioners are, but a robust exchange between an incumbent defending their record and other candidates challenging it. And next time round, the role of police and crime commissioners will be better understood by the public. I have already mentioned that only seven per cent of people even knew that police authorities existed, but today around 70 per cent of people know about their police and crime commissioner.

And even though police and crime commissioners have been in place for just one year, they are already receiving ten, twenty, sometimes even fifty times the volume of correspondence received by police authorities.

More can be done

I believe there is more that can be done to improve the public’s awareness and understanding of the performance of their local police force and their police and crime commissioner, and I shall come on to that later, but I believe those signs do suggest that we will see a better turnout next time round.

Many individual police and crime commissioners have played a visible role in incidents relevant to the communities they represent, like Matthew Ellis who responded to the revelations about Stafford Hospital and Mark Burns-Williamson who responded to allegations about the conduct of his chief constable, Norman Bettison, earlier in his career.

The second test I set for police and crime commissioners is to what extent are they driving reform, innovation and the delivery of more efficient policing? And here I think we’re seeing some very encouraging signs.

Although Bob Jones, the police and crime commissioner in the West Midlands, took the early decision not to proceed with the Business Partnering for Police scheme – which would have used the private sector to deliver more efficient policing support services – he has since revealed plans to design and implement a business and ICT improvement plan, working with the private sector.

In West Mercia and Warwickshire, Bill Longmore and Ron Ball oversee a strategic alliance. The alliance means that all posts below deputy chief constable are shared between the forces, but both forces retain their own chief constables who remain accountable to the two commissioners for the delivery of policing. As a result, the two forces are making significant savings while retaining their distinct identities, and local policing priorities continue to be set according to local needs.

Efficiency

According to the Inspectorate of Constabulary, the alliance will allow West Mercia and Warwickshire to achieve 75 per cent and 94 per cent of their respective Spending Review savings by 2014/15. That’s surely a better model than the traditional ACPO solution of continually merging forces and taking accountability further and further away from local communities.

Many police and crime commissioners are looking not just to reform and make savings by collaborating with other forces but with other emergency services. In Northamptonshire, Adam Simmonds has been bold enough to question why we have three separate emergency services. He is considering ways of integrating the police and fire service, and I know – with the support of his local county council – he’s looking at setting up a combined headquarters, possibly inside a new county council centre. This is exactly the sort of innovation I want the Government not just to applaud – but take firm action across the whole country to help deliver.

In Merseyside, Jane Kennedy has signed a contract giving the go-ahead for a new joint Police and Fire Command and Control Centre, and building work is already underway. And in Surrey, Kevin Hurley is driving collaboration between the three emergency services, as part of the Public Services Transformation Network. This will see Surrey Police, Surrey Fire and Rescue and the South East Coast Ambulance Service come together to deliver streamline operations, share more premises and deliver joint safety campaigns.

In Thames Valley, Hampshire and Surrey, Anthony Stansfeld, Simon Hayes and Kevin Hurley have signed a landmark contract with BT. The South East Police Shared Network Services Agreement is valued at £37.4 million and is designed to transform the telecoms technology used by the three forces, enabling them to save money, share information better across the three forces and deliver a better service for the public.

Holding forces to account

The third test I set for police and crime commissioners is to what extent are they making full use of their powers to hold their forces to account? And here, I think, the picture is a little mixed.

I know that many police and crime commissioners were horrified when they saw their counterparts rush to the defence of their local forces after the Independent Police Complaints Commission cast doubt on the internal disciplinary investigations into the treatment of Andrew Mitchell in Sutton Coldfield last year.

I’ve made my views clear on what the IPCC said about that case, and while I’m not going to stand here and condemn those commissioners, it will be down to them to explain to their local communities whether, in rushing to defend their local forces and condemn the IPCC, they showed good judgement.

Because the role of a police and crime commissioner is not just to parrot lines to take but to use the powers we gave them to hold their forces to account. They set the police budget and precept, they write the local policing plan, and ultimately they can hire and fire chief constables.

On police budgets and precepts, I have already talked about the many innovations being driven by police and crime commissioners to make their forces more efficient. That commissioners like Sir Clive Loader in Leicestershire and Katy Bourne in Sussex – along with many others – have frozen the precept shows that they are thinking of hard-working people in their local communities and challenging the police to do more with less, rather than going for the easy option and demanding more money from local taxpayers. That, I think, is a very good sign.

Policing plans

Police and crime commissioners are also using their power to write their policing plans to make sure their forces are prioritising the issues of most importance to their communities. Unlike the days when the Home Office decided the priorities of local police forces, those local plans reflect local need. And that is a very good thing indeed. In some forces, though, I know the police and crime commissioner has imposed performance targets. I am not overjoyed with that – there is a very good reason I have abolished all national police targets – but it is the prerogative of police and crime commissioners to introduce local targets if they want to do so.

Some police and crime commissioners are using other powers available to them to hold their force to account. Ann Barnes, the police and crime commissioner for Kent, called in the Inspectorate of Constabulary to look at the force’s recording of crime and as a result uncovered practices that were frankly inappropriate. Action was quickly taken to put things right and as result the residents of Kent can have confidence in how the police record crime.

The ability of police and crime commissioners to hire and fire chief constables was perhaps the most controversial power we granted – especially to chief constables. And while I am not going to get into the rights and wrongs of every decision by a commissioner to hire or fire a chief constable, the truth is that this power is fundamental to the reform.

Chief constables have to know where accountability lies. It stops with the democratically-elected representative, the police and crime commissioner, and – again I emphasise, without approving or criticising any individual decisions that have been made – it is a positive sign that the commissioners have been prepared to use this power.

Accountability

So there’s a fair amount of good news in terms of the performance of police and crime commissioners up and down the country. I’ve mentioned one or two examples of how things could and perhaps should have gone better, and of course there are some examples of behaviour where things ought to have been better.

The IPCC has investigated four police and crime commissioners. For two of those investigations, relating to Winston Roddick in North Wales and Simon Hayes in Hampshire – no further action was taken. Another, Ron Hogg in Durham, is still under investigation by the IPCC for actions when he was Deputy Chief Constable of Cleveland. And the remaining case – in Lancashire – is with the Crown Prosecution Service. Obviously, there is little I can say about these live cases, but any case of wrongdoing – particularly in anything related to policing – is deplorable and should be investigated and punished accordingly.

Positive

So the truth is – both in terms of the performance of individual police and crime commissioners and the system as a whole – there has been good and bad. And this was always likely to be the case – localism is always messy and uneven, and reform is always difficult and uncertain. But I think, one year on, there is enough that is positive for us to be pleased with the introduction of police and crime commissioners.

So I want to turn now to the measures I want to introduce to help our changes to bed down and for police and crime commissioners to perform better.

Helping the public to understand the performance of their local police force

I said earlier that we can do more to improve the public’s awareness and understanding of the performance of their local police force. If we succeed, this will improve their understanding of police and crime commissioners, increase popular participation in policing, and drive up turnout in future police and crime commissioner elections.

And I think there are three main ways we can improve things. First, through building on the success of crime maps. Second, by making police forces much more transparent. And third, through the Inspectorate of Constabulary making clear to the people, in simpler terms, how forces are performing.

Crime maps

Detailed, street-level crime maps are one of the IT successes of this government. Police.uk crashed on the day it went live – well it was a government website – but it didn’t crash because the usual glitches. It crashed because of the enormous demand. Since its launch nearly three years ago, it has attracted 634 million hits from 58 million visits. And that demand has continued – the latest figures show an average of more than 8.8 million hits from 471,000 visits per month.

Crime maps let people see what crime takes place where they live, how much of it is detected, what happens when the perpetrator is identified – and they let people compare how crime is dealt with locally compared to nearby communities. But we want to keep on making them even better and making policing even more transparent. So I’m pleased to say we are today re-launching police.uk, with a new look and new functions that will give the public even more access to information about crime and how it is dealt with in their community.

Transparent

I also want police forces to become more transparent about what they spend and what they do. I’m realistic that not everybody in the country is going to want to pore over spreadsheets of police data, but the experience of publishing this data in other parts of the public sector is that it is used by the media and others to improve accountability, and it encourages prudence, efficiency and better decision-making. So the Home Office will soon come forward with proposals to require police forces to publish not just spending data in raw form but more performance data too.

But it’s not just raw data that is going to help the public to understand the performance of their local police forces. And this is where the Inspectorate of Constabulary comes in. The government’s reforms have already made HMIC more independent of the police and of government, and in Tom Winsor it is led by the first ever Chief Inspector who has not served as a police officer. I know he shares my determination to make HMIC’s work more relevant and more understandable to members of the public.

HMIC’s thematic inspections examine specific issues. They do not necessarily assess every force, but they do examine in detail a particular aspect of police performance. For example, in the past I have commissioned HMIC to look at the use of police stop and search powers and at the police response to domestic violence. These inspections are of huge importance, because they allow us to shine a light on performance and they inform the work of the College of Policing to make sure performance is as good as it can be.

Some of HMIC’s thematic inspections are repeated each year. Their ‘Valuing the Police’ programme reports each year on how forces are performing and coping with reduced budgets. This means it is possible to understand, and compare, police performance across the country.

HMIC is already doing great work in making these inspections more transparent – and I recommend anybody with an interest in crime and policing in their community to visit their website. But the information is still detailed and complex and can be difficult to understand.

Tom Winsor and HMIC are therefore developing proposals that will allow members of the public to see – from a small number of easy-to-understand categories – whether their local force is performing well or badly when it comes to cutting crime and providing value for money. These assessments should be made in just the same way as happens with the ‘Valuing the Police’ work – through a combination of qualitative and quantitative research – but the conclusions need to become clearer. And if the new approach is successful, HMIC will consider whether it might be possible to extend it to cover other issues of public interest.

Police reform is working and crime is falling

I hope that has been a pretty honest ‘warts and all’ analysis of where we are, one year on, since the first ever police and crime commissioner elections. Overall, police and crime commissioners are driving significant changes in policing – they are better known and more easily approached than the police authorities they replaced, they are delivering innovative reforms, and many are making use of their powers to hold their forces to account.

To be frank, this is not the case across the board, and in some cases, police and crime commissioners have been responsible for mistakes and errors of judgement – some possibly serious. But apart from where there are allegations of criminality – and those allegations are a matter for the IPCC – police and crime commissioners will be accountable to their communities through the ballot box.

And where the overall system needs to work better – for example through improved information for the public about the performance of their local police – the government will do what it can to make things better.

But I want to leave you with this thought. Despite significant budget cuts, police reform is working and crime is falling. Recorded crime has dropped by more than ten per cent under this government. The crime survey shows that crime stands at less than half its level at its peak in the 1990s, and is at its lowest level since the survey began in 1981.

Our opponents said you couldn’t cut police spending without crime going up. They were proved wrong. They said police officer numbers couldn’t go down without crime going up. They were proved wrong again. They said there was no need for police reform. And they were proved wrong yet again.

Police reform is working and – thanks in part to elected police and crime commissioners – crime is falling.

Thank you.

Published 7 November 2013