What PCCs mean for Wales

Christopher Salmon says public service reform needs accountability.

So much for an “uninspiring” campaign. The General Election gave us an electrifying result.

Against expectations, voters gave a definitive answer in favour of sound public finance, enterprise and public sector reform. They did so whilst burying the hopes of pundits and politicos who anticipated months of soothsaying about coalition deals. What’s not to like?

Beneath the stark fact of a Conservative majority, this election defined policy in many areas. That is true of Wales and policing in particular. The Conservatives were the only party in Wales to defend the independence of local police forces. All the others offered some combination of Cardiff control, amalgamation or centralisation.

Grappling with an inheritance of chronic overspending, the Conservative-led coalition set about not just saving money from police budgets but reform. The electorate gave its support. Plaid Cymru made no gains. Labour and the Liberal Democrats lost. Wales expects public service reform, not denial.

Police and Crime Commissioners were a major component of that reform: they give local people a direct say over their police. Reforms also challenged vested interests: the Home Secretary took one of the greatest, the Police Federation. PCCs scrapped another, the Association of Chief Police Officers, and brought police chiefs under proper scrutiny. Voters determined that these things will stay.

What next, then, for policing? And what next for policing in Wales?

Wales’ four PCCs face reelection in May 2016. This will provide the first opportunity for the public to deliver their verdict on what has (or has not) been achieved. Wales has two independent PCCs, in Gwent and North Wales. In South Wales, Alun Michael represents Labour. I represent Dyfed Powys as a Conservative.

We, and the government, need to promote the role and the choice before the electorate much more effectively than happened in 2012. Turnout was the great disappointment of that election and has overshadowed, unfairly or not, subsequent achievements.

That should improve in 2016, though we should not be complacent. I have two reasons for optimism. First, the public will have a record to judge PCCs on. Secondly, the elections will be in May alongside the Assembly vote, not November on their own.

One of the pleasant surprises of this role is how little party politics feature in our discussions. But there are clear philosophical differences in our approaches. I, for example, am convinced we can do more with less. Dyfed Powys has 30 more officers and will spend 100,000 hours more on the street by 2016. I cut the precept this year and we are on course to save £8.8m by the end of my term. Others have chosen different paths.

I have achieved this by using the stronger accountability that PCCs provide to demand better management. We have a better grip on our finances and as a result are able to invest in IT. There is further to go.

We have more investment planned to improve our hopelessly outdated estate. I have made clear my expectation that future savings will come from fewer ranks and slimmer management, not a thinner front line.

Beyond the police, there are huge opportunities to improve services by pooling budgets and accountability for emergency services and the criminal justice system. Reform should take power away from vertiginous bureaucracies and ensure local delivery for local need.

PCCs and the government need to strengthen and explain the role better in the run up to 2016. But, much more than the turnout, I hope there is a far greater recognition – amongst the media as much as the public – that good governance makes for better public services. And, at the heart of good governance is accountability. In a democracy, that must lead to the public not cosseted institutions or appointed boards.

For all the stalwart efforts of the IWA, Wales is a depressingly reform-free zone. That brings us back to the choice at the election: reform or denial.

Those of us who represent reform in Wales must use every opportunity now to sell the benefits of robust accountability. Wales deserves no less, not just for the police but for the whole public sector.

We may wish to discuss government in Wales without reference to party politics but we cannot. Labours’ dominance for so long makes that impossible. They are the high priests of public sector orthodoxy in Wales and they lost on May 7th.

The cracks in the temple are now unmistakable.

Christopher Salmon is Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys.

5 thoughts on “What PCCs mean for Wales

  1. The embarrassment and costs of the ‘three men and a dog’ PCC elections are still fresh in the electorates mind. I however agree with the author’s assessment that more votes will be cast next time around as the PCC election falls on the same day as the Assembly elections. No doubt this will be trumpeted as indication of success but I struggle with this idea. Many of those votes will be cast by people who happened to be in the polling booth anyway and, struggling through forms as long as your arm, simply resort to ticking boxes next to the names associated with their favourite rosette colour. That is not really evidence of widespread buy in by the public. A true (though granted more costly) test would be to hold the elections separate in November again. That way you are comparing like with like and we will see who is really bothered.

    The author points to a benefit of the new regime being the dissolution of the ACPO as a saving/reform yet omits to point out the creation of APCC http://www.apace.org.uk/ in its plush Westminster office. The cost of this whole PCC project when you consider elections and salary bills (not to mention severance packages for outgoing PCC’s and their entourages ?) dwarfs what was previously paid out of the public purse to fund Police Authorities. The additional governance cost would be acceptable if it produced a better outcome – but does it ?

    Yes crime is down, but falling crime is an evident phenomena right across the western world whatever local governance methods are in place. The trend was already apparent here in the UK prior to the creation of PCC’s. Can’t really claim that as a unique victory.

    Yes costs are down and efficiencies are up, but they are right across the public sector. Many CEO’s of public bodies have achieved greater efficiencies within the structure of their pre-existing governance arrangements. The Police had been largely exempt from cuts since Thatcher’s time so (and anybody who has had direct exposure would probably agree) there was a lot more fat available to be pared away. Turn some of the money supply off and Chief Constables adapt.

    But what of the real reforms – those of culture and working practice. Despite good work done by many officers, the drip feed of reported stories of police incompetence and criminality or corruption continues. Pay and conditions are organised along lines more suitable to the 19th century than the 21st. The unaffordable practice of pensioning off policeman in their 50s despite the fact that their role has been desk bound for many years goes on. We have all come to enjoy the annual spectacle of Theresa May dishing out a stiff talking to at the Police Federation congress but has it changed much – apparently not. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32781156

    A cynical public still views this project as a job creation scheme for wanabee and has-been politicians. Yes we have two independents in Wales but lets not forget that in Winston Roddick http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winston_Roddick we have a former Liberal Party Parliamentary Candidate and Chairman of the Welsh Liberals who carried the ringing endorsement of the Welsh Liberals for his candidacy http://www.welshlibdems.wales/en/article/2012/628567/kirsty-williams-backs-winston-roddick-for-north-wales-police-and-crime-commissioner-1 Perhaps with an eye for an opportunity he resigned his Liberal Party membership when he got the new job and realised the brand was turning toxic ? Even in Gwent, as in a few other areas of the UK, there is discomfort in some quarters with the concept that an Police Chief Superintendent now acting as PCC on his former patch can ever be truly independent. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    So, like many of the electorate, I remain unconvinced. Perhaps if we saw a radical candidate next time around proposing the unification of all welsh constabularies into a single welsh police force (See Northern Ireland, Scotland or single bodies such as Greater Manchester overseeing a larger population than Wales) to deliver savings through economies of scale and reductions in governance cost it might make me sit up and take notice. But that would reduce the number of PCC job opportunities………..and turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

  2. No thanks, I’d rather have our policing run from within our communities and not via a colonial style set up from Londonistan. Time to give policing control to us the Welsh people

  3. ” I, for example, am convinced we can do more with less”
    Regarding the scrapping of the Dyfed Powys police helicopter based at Pembrey it also appears, convinced that we can do less with less.

    Given the levels of criticism throughout west Wales of the PCCs apparent acquiescence on this matter it looks like there’s going to be an open season on Salmon through to next May.

  4. CapM. In defence of Mr Salmon on the helicopter subject I suspect it is not as clear cut as is being made out in the press. In recent years Chief Constables seemed to be acquiring high value assets as status symbols which were inadequately utilised. For Dyfed Powys, high specification RIBS and launches along with helicopters appeared on the manifest. The boats spent the majority of their time tied up alongside or trailered and when deployed were often carrying out roles that should fall to other agencies/organisations (Border Force, RNLI, Military) – a case of mission creep in order to justify retaining the assets ?
    For helicopters, they are most useful in the roles of crowd control support, stand off surveillance. vehicle tracking and missing person search. In the latter case we now have a recently reorganised and re-equiped civilian SAR helicopter capability optimised in this role which can do a fair portion of this work. As for the other roles I doubt, in the cold light of day, whether the volume of demand is present in rural west wales to justify keeping a helicopter locally – different crime patterns. So some of the money could be better spent – doing more with less.

    On a different tack I would like to see a PCC leading the charge against the creeping militarisation of the police force. The modern trend is for constables to be dressed from head to toe in black, big boots, cluttered with belt kit carrying all sorts of paraphenalia and increasingly armed. This sends a very poor message to the public – it actually frightens children. It gives the impression that the organisation is stuffed with ‘Walts’ all fantasising about having been the second man on the balcony at the Iranian embassy siege ! I simply don’t buy into the notion that this is all necessary to fight the threat of terrorism. Compared to the time of peak IRA activity in the 70’s and 80s (significant attack about every every third day) many of us lived through and remember well, terrorism in the UK is currently non existent. Lets go back to blue shirts and a softer facade for the overwhelmingly law abiding public whose consent is required for effective policing.

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