Should PCCs rule the world?
I posted earlier this week about whether Police and Crime Commissioners are a good idea.
I came to the conclusion that there were plenty of arguments for and against but that there is an emerging consensus that we really won’t know until they take office on this November 19th.
However, the Reform think tank, is so confident that PCCs will be a success that it published a new report last week – Doing it Justice – in which they advocate that PCCs should be in control not only of local police and criminal justice agencies but the fire and rescue and ambulance services too.
The report argues that PCCs should take responsibility for commissioning the services currently delivered by probation trusts and for the direct commissioning of the prison places required by a local area.
Who are Reform?
Although Reform emphasise their political independence and the fact that they are a charity, it seems fair to say that they have close associations with the Conservative Party – they were founded by a Conservative MP and their current director, Andrew Haldenby, worked in the Conservative Research Department and is a regular contributor to the popular Conservative Home blog.
It’s quite common for Reform to advance views in keeping with the latest thinking among Conservative-minded politicians and thinkers.
Since the Conservatives are obviously in Government at the moment, this makes the report an even more interesting read.
The central argument of the report is that increased co-operation across criminal justice and emergency services is the key to improving what is generally agreed to be an under-co-ordinated system, and vital at a time of substantial cuts in public expenditure.
The report identifies 28 national and local initiatives which demonstrate the effectiveness of integrated working.
Many of these are well-known and generally agreed to be successful, albeit with some exceptions.
The results of Project Daedalus (designed to cut re-offending rates of young offenders at Feltham) have been widely disputed.
And the payment by results pilot at HMP Doncaster is in its very early days with no published results.
The report also rather jumbles up examples of very different initiatives on the basis that they all involve some form of integration/co-ordination.
The sharing of back-office resources between Essex and Kent police forces is, to my mind, rather different from the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn which is a real and long-standing example of a local justice system which engages local communities.
But Police and Crime Commissioners?
The report goes into considerable detail to argue its case – it’s a really useful compendium of information about changes in workforce numbers in different criminal justice agencies, the boundaries of different police forces, probation trusts etc. and much more.
It’s hard to argue against the principles of better co-ordination and integration and the report is honest enough to acknowledge that multi-agency partnership work has been the focus of reforms by governments of all colours (Blue, Red & Blue/Yellow) for the last 25 years.
What I do find strange is the argument that the untested office of Police and Crime Commissioner should be the way to drive forwards massive integration.
Wouldn’t PCCs suddenly need their own new super-department to drive through change and supervise co-ordination?
Wouldn’t this just be a new layer of bureaucracy to add to the many others that flourish in the criminal justice sytem?
Wouldn’t changes be susceptible to immediate reverse every four years when a new PCC from a different political party is elected?
I’d be very interested in the views of readers.