Conservative Diary

« Matthew Hancock makes a trial run of the Treasury's case against Labour's new leader | Main | Conservatives fight back on Council Tax, quangos, and spending control (and fire more early shots at Labour's leader-to-be) »

Elected police commissioners must have a local mandate if they're to work

By Paul Goodman

MAY-THERESA It was inevitable that Theresa May would be quizzed about this morning's reports, which the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph splashed on here and here, about the Chief Inspector of Constabulary's report on anti-social behaviour.  And it's unsurprising that she should have blamed Labour - whose Ministers, she said "spent record amounts of money and yet...achieved nothing".  That's why, she explained, "I'm scrapping large amounts of bureaucracy".

Quite right, too.  But there's a black hole between the Home Secretary's desk in Whitehall and the horrible reality many people live with: litter, graffiti, noise, drug  debris, aggressive neighbours, worse behaviour, estates where there's no order and precious little law (except during a publicity-inducing crisis).  The commitments in the Coalition Agreement are fine as far as they go: the reduction of "time-wasting bureaucracy" that hampers police operations", and the police obligation "to publish detailed local crime data statistics every month".  But many people won't be persuaded that another bunch of politicians will make much difference - if any.

It will be very hard, given the institutional challenges, for May to force change from the top down, let alone to explain to voters what it is and means.  In health, and still more in education, her colleagues are trying to make it from the bottom up.  As Max Chambers of Policy Exchange indicates on this site, the Home Secretary's trying to do the same through elected police commissioners - or, in the strangulated wording of the Agreement, "measures to make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual".  Nick Herbert, who's been following the police brief since his Reform days, has a big responsibility here.

Herbert and May will have to make change happen while budgets are being squeezed.  But their biggest challenge is as much structural as financial.  The bigger that the area the Commissioners are responsible for, the harder it will be for them to respond to local demand.  Before the last election, the indication was that if the Conservatives won the Commissioners cover areas as large as, for example, the Thames Valley.  As a Bucks MP, I was very doubtful that my former constituents would feel or exercise real ownership of a Commissioner who they shared with, say, Buckingham - let alone Oxfordshire.

If more policing in Britain was shaped from the bottom up rather than the top down, local people would be more likely to set policing priorities.  If they did so, the police would, in turn, be more likely to be on the beat (legal and bureaucratic obstacles not withstanding). And if more police were on the beat, anti-social behaviour would be more likely to fall. Police reform - the fourth leg of the Government's radical public service changes - can't be allowed to become the forgotten reform, leaving elected commissioners impotently covering large areas which leave them with little popular backing and even less scope.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.