On Tuesday (16 March 2020), the Home Secretary outlined the recommendations of part one of a two-part review to strengthen the accountability of police and crime commissioners (PCC) and to expand their role (a manifesto commitment).
If the recommendations are implemented, PCCs will be required to explain their record on crime to the public, and strengthen their relationship with the Chief Constable and force.
This, the government said, will ensure the public has transparent, democratically-elected, local leaders who are equipped to drive down crime and deliver the safer communities the public deserve.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said:
“Police and Crime Commissioners play a crucial role as the elected voice of the people for crime and policing, which is why I am committed to ensuring they are accountable to the communities they serve and are strong, visible leaders in the fight against crime.
“These recommendations, once implemented, will strengthen and potentially extend the role of PCCs and help them deliver the safer streets that the British public deserve.”
The initial recommendations will enhance the role of the PCC by:
- Changing the PCC voting system to first-past-the-post, so the public can vote out those who are failing to deliver – this will create stronger and clearer local accountability, and reflect that transferable voting systems were rejected by the British people in the 2011 nationwide referendum
- Making sure PCCs provide the public with clear information on their force’s performance
- Mandating the appointment of deputy PCCs to ensure continuity in unforeseen circumstances
- Making changes to ensure more effective and consistent relationships between PCCs and chief constables
The government statement added that the recommendations will help all parties (government, PCCs and forces) to establish clearer ways of working and provide chiefs with more clarity on their operational independence.
The review also found strong support for the government’s ambition to increase the accountability of fire and rescue services by having a directly elected official take on governance of the services in order to simplify and strengthen them across England.
There will now be a public consultation on whether to mandate the transfer of fire and rescue authority functions to PCCs in England. This will form part of a Fire Reform White Paper, to launch later this year.
The Chronicle asked the candidates for Bedfordshire’s PCC election in May for their views on a public consultation to decide whether to transfer the fire and rescue authority functions to PCCs in England and Wales, and mandating the appointment of deputy PCCs to ensure continuity in unforeseen circumstances.
Pat Hamill, the Independent candidate, said:
“I can’t see a problem bringing the fire service under the wing of the PCC.
“It will be challenging but I am up for any challenge put before me. We are all on the same side with an aim to deliver services that benefit the public.”
The Labour Party candidate, David Michael, said:
“My priority as Police and Crime Commissioner will be to ensure that Bedfordshire Police is the professional Police Service residents both need and deserve. If any reforms are mandated by the Home Secretary then any PCC will have to take on these reforms.
“However, in respect of the fire service and deputy PCCs there must be a thorough consultation with local residents, fire service personnel, police officers, trade unions, and the general public before any changes are made.”
Jas Parmer, the LibDem candidate, focussed on the proposed change to the voting system, he said:
“I am surprised that the Home Secretary has tabled changes and additions to the role of a PCC given the lack of support amongst the public in the first place?
“Most PCC elections have a turnout of less than 25% and almost all of the PCCs are voted in by less that 10% of the eligible voters.
“To change the voting system after three elections and claiming that the public do not like or understand the system is an insult to the voters.
“First past the Post only favours the two major parties and is hardly democratic. No wonder the public have no faith in the role and on top of that the government will add Fire and Rescue to the portfolio of PCCs.
“The Tory govt with its 80 member majority is steam rolling legislation to suit its own agenda without addressing the public concerns.”
The Conservative candidate, Festus Akinbusoye, sent a link to his Facebook page, which points out his commitment to lead the most ‘open and transparent policing area in the country‘.
The review’s findings also confirmed the government’s desire to see more combined authority mayors with PCC and fire and rescue authority functions. The government will set out its approach to achieving this longer-term aim in the Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper in due course.
The second part of the review will take place after the May 2021 elections and the government will communicate more about these plans in due course. But, the review will not consider the 43-force structure, or scrap the role of PCCs.
The review’s recommendations were outlined to Parliament via a written ministerial statement.