This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Police & Crime Panels: fan clubs or proper scrutiny?

Imagine this: a local police Chief Constable has been doing her shrewd and level best to balance the books and endeavour to keep as many PCSOs and police officers working on the front line as possible. It has been difficult: large budgetary cuts have been made but community safety has been largely maintained. This process has been underway for several years and began well before the PCC was elected into post. Indeed careful precept management has been going on for many years, the foundations for which were put in place more than a decade ago under the previous Chief Constable and Police Authority.

The PCC gets elected on the ticket of maintaining front line delivery yada yada. And then a couple of years later, this begins to happen: Confusion reigns over likely impact of police funding axe followed a few weeks later by (after joint ducks have been lined up): Job cuts will not impact on safety, insists police chief

Now, I am not going to talk about the cuts stuff - that can be for another blog. But what I am going to talk about is the Police & Crime Panel (PCP). Remember the PCP is there to hold the PCC to account for his/her actions & decisions to deliver an efficient and effective police service. The PCC is the budget holder.

Now the first "confusion reigns" story above appeared in the newspapers on 24 September. The last meeting of the PCP was on the 19 September, 5 days previous. Therefore the next meeting of the PCP on 21 November will the first occasion that members of the panel will have to quiz the PCC about his handling of all these budgetary matters. I think that is rather important and deserves some proper public debate, don't you? After all, up until these stories broke, the PCC and the CC were seamlessly united in public (at least that is the impression I have).

So wind forward to the agenda set for the PCP meeting a week today. You can read it here. You will see that just 15 minutes is set aside to discuss Frontline Policing Numbers in the Thames Valley. On the other hand, a whole 60 minutes is scheduled for a discussion of rural crime. That is a third of the meeting. This is one of seven meetings of the PCP this year.

Remember rural crime has been defined broadly as agricultural crime (it isn't about crime in rural areas, by the way). In other words it is about crimes happening on farms, to farm machinery etc. (You can read the definition here.) And rural crime is so important that if I search for details of its incidence, I can find nothing on the Thames Valley Police Service site. What I do find are details of burglaries, homicides, assaults etc here (which, I might add, are broadly all going in the right direction except sexual offences which are going up - although that too might be a positive indicator than more incidents are being reported).

I will discuss rural crime in another post soon (FoI currently in and I am waiting for a response).

So I am left with wondering who really set the agenda for the PCP next Friday? It feels to me awfully like the PCC had a fairly big hand in shaping it towards what he wants to talk about whilst leaving minimal room for the issue that (I would argue) is of far greater public concern - and which he may not want to talk about...

Is this good governance in action? Is the PCP being just a tad too friendly and not enough challenging to the PCC? I know they have to be both, but the agenda for next week feels like fan club meeting.

What do you think?


  1. I have attended two of my local PCP. Once was when the elected PCC's decision to appoint a deputy was reviewed; there was no effective questioning and the deputy glided onwards to a well paid post.

    Awhile later I attended a meeting and was bemused that the major agenda item was how the PCC could increase local purchasing - which seemed more like an aspiration. There was no questioning, instead a series of speakers from "interested bodies". In my opinion this was NOT the role of a PCP.

    Much was made at the time of the PCP's appearance that it included two 'independent' members. One of whom was clearly a political party member. At neither meeting did these "wise men" say anything.

    It is easy to dismiss this local PCP as having ANY scrutiny role. Due to personality differences between the PCP chair and the PCC it did not appear to be a 'fan club'.

    1. Thanks David. So if not a fan club - just a place for a cosy chat maybe?