Nearly Took My Eye Off The Ball There

PCCs are nearly upon us. 15th November is the date, got your Polling Cards yet? Know where your Polling Station is? Know who you’re going to vote for? I know the answers to the 1st two, haven’t a clue about the third, although I strongly suspect it will be the Independent Candidate, I might get struck down by a thunderbolt if I vote Blue or Red.

But let us not forget that Police and Crime Commissioners are the invention of a Think Tank. Almost inevitably they were thought up by Policy Exchange and suggested to the government, that bunch of imbeciles who live near Westminster Bridge opposite the Tube Station, who immediately adopted them as government policy, and here we are, less than a month away from having them.

And then yesterday another Think Tank, Reform this time, got in on the act and added their 6 penn’orth into the mix in a report by Andrew Haldenby[1], Tara Majumdar and Will Tanner from the think tank Reform. The new report Doing it Justice is available at www.reform.co.uk

Reform claim that they are “An independent, charitable, non-party think tank whose mission is to set out a better way to deliver public services and economic prosperity.”

There’s those two buzz words that I hate so much again; charitable and non-party. Do they really think that I will fall for that?

Getting back to the report, Police and Crime Commissioners will be elected with responsibility and budgetary control over just policing, only one of many agencies involved in the local fight against crime, and yet be accountable for crime outcomes as a whole. A separate Press article by Tara Majumdar says that Police and Crime Commissioners will be responsible for £13bn of funds annually and have democratic control over areas that are in some cases, three or four times bigger than the constituencies of local MPs. They will decide how much council tax will be spent on policing, how big the police budget should be, hire and fire chief constables and determine local strategies for reducing crime.

This is where my problems begin to creep in under the door. Chief Constables MUST NOT become the Football Managers of Justice. This is where politicisation has the potential to creep in. Chief Constables become nothing more than the puppet-master’s toy. Football club owners have a Board and Shareholders to keep happy, they need to show a profit. Policing is a Not For profit business. You can’t go round firing Chief Constables just because they didn’t make the finals or put enough silverware in a cabinet.

Then we come across the other bit that Reform are not-so-quietly whispering in the collective ear of the ConDem government. Police and Crime Commissioners cannot just react to crime when it happens. They need the power to prevent crime from happening and stop people from reoffending once they have served their sentences. To do this effectively commissioners need to be given responsibility for the whole justice system – including prisons, probation, courts and fire and ambulance services.

My immediate response is that the clue is in the title – Police and Crime Commissioners – Police and Crime, get it? Does it say Police, Crime, Prison, Probation, Fire and Ambulance Commissioner? No it does not. Nor should it. The only thing they’ve left out is the CPS, or is that next week’s bright idea?

Can you imagine it, one person with all that power and responsibility? Privatisation is on the agenda, what fool thinks that it’s a good idea to combine all of these functions under one roof? Communication and Partnership are the keys. Not partnership as in privatisation, but partnership as in organisations working together, but there must be limits. Is is a good idea for Police and Probation to work together? Is it a good idea for Police and Prison Services to work together? I’m old-fashioned and don’t subscribe to a lot of this modern ideology, but I don’t think so, such a liaison would be vulnerable to all sorts of suggestions and malpractices surely? Can you imagine, one person who thinks that privatisation is the way to go, all those services at one shop, brilliant.

Reform point out that in Gloucestershire Police and Fire share a common Control Centre. I don’t think I see a problem with that, it might even make sense, but that does not mean that the two services have to be under the sole command of one person, one service with the Right to Strike, and the other without. How would that work?

Integrating criminal justice budgets would provide Police and Crime Commissioners with a single, meaningful budget to bring down levels of crime. In London, the Mayor’s Office would have a budget of £4bn on a per capita basis if it was able to assume responsibility for the full range of services. It would also encourage a sharper focus on achieving value for money. Justice and police services have had their budgets reduced by nearly a quarter in this Spending Review and should expect further cuts in the next Parliament. With greater powers, Commissioners would be able to pass on savings directly to local communities through reductions in council tax. This would encourage local service leaders to consider how budgets are managed and how productively they are operating. Local autonomy would encourage smarter spending on preventative activity and drive down demand for expensive criminal justice services, such as the courts and prison. Is this all not jargon paving the way for more insidious privatisation? Is it too extreme to envisage a bout of megalomania at the helm?

[1] Andrew Haldenby is co-founder of REFORM together with Nick Herbert MP. Need I say more?

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