Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 367 - 379)




  367. Dr Henig, Mr Peel and Ms Leech, welcome. Can you just start by telling us, in the case of Dr Henig and Mr Peel, which police authorities you are members of?

  (Dr Henig) Yes, indeed. Obviously we are very pleased to have the opportunity to be here this afternoon. I was going to start off by introducing ourselves.

  368. Please do.
  (Dr Henig) Dr Ruth Henig, that is myself, I chair the Lancashire Police Authority and I chair, also, the Association of Police Authorities. Mr Anthony Peel chairs Essex Police Authority and is the Vice Chairman of the Association of Police Authorities. Melanie Leech is our Executive Director. I just thought perhaps, in case there were members who were not fully familiar with the way the Association of Police Authorities works, I would outline that. It is a body which operates through a plenary committee and that plenary committee has all police authority chairs from authorities throughout the country—England, Wales and Northern Ireland—and a lot of vice chairs as well. The Executive of the Association has representatives from the three main political parties and from the magistrates and from the independents because effectively we operate through those five groups: Conservative, Labour, Liberal, magistrates, independents. We operate largely by consensus. I hope that might become clear this afternoon because Mr Peel and myself perhaps do not always agree on all political matters, being on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but as far as policing issues are concerned I think we are at one pretty well down the line and that would be true of the Association, generally speaking, and of our members.

  Chairman: Perhaps I ought to tell you what we are up to. We are attempting a little pre-legislative scrutiny of the Police Reform Bill. It is having to be done necessarily hastily since the Bill will be coming to the House of Commons very shortly. We are taking evidence from all the main interested parties, of whom you are one. Perhaps we can start, Mr Singh has some questions about the national policing plan.

Mr Singh

  369. In terms of your submission, your only comment on the annual national policing plan is that it will not be subject to a statutory consultation procedure. What are your thoughts on the national policing plan in more general terms than lack of consultation?
  (Dr Henig) I will start off with a general answer and then perhaps I will defer to my colleagues on this. There exists already the basis of this plan in the sense that ministers lay down already a number of things that we have to follow. They lay down ministerial priorities. There are certain things that we have to comply with across the board. Their argument is that the national policing plan is simply a way of drawing together those basic ingredients which are prescriptive already and that would be a better way of operating. I think we can see the logic of that argument. We do accept that there needs to be a national strategic framework within which we operate. I think the argument is about the degree of prescription that is required and the flexibility to operate within that. We do accept that there should be this strategic level nationally and there then has to be a debate about what is appropriate to be dealt with strategically and what should be dealt with locally. I do not know whether my colleagues want to comment.
  (Ms Leech) I think there is not much to add to that. Obviously we have some concerns about how that balance is going to be drawn and how the decision about what is truly strategic is going to be made. That partly underlies our concern to be full consultees in that process along with the Association of Chief Police Officers, as the three partners who actually deliver policing. Obviously we have some concerns, which I guess you may come on to, about some of the things to do with regulations and codes of practice and so on, and how those are going to be derived. In general terms, as Dr Henig has said, we welcome the idea of pulling together the various things which ministers currently rightly set out at that strategic level. We do have some concerns that the Bill as currently drafted would enable a much more prescriptive and detailed national plan which would be able to go beyond the strategic and we would welcome the amendment that has been tabled in the Lords to try to address that issue and to narrow down the focus. At the strategic level we have supported the plan.

  370. You would like to push for consultation on the context?
  (Dr Henig) No, clearly there is an issue about consultation and as one of the tripartite partners I think we would want to be fully consulted about what falls in which category and how things should be processed. I think that has to be part of the tripartite relationship. I think if the consultation was not meaningful and embraced all the partners on an equal level then there would be concerns about pulling too much power to the centre and that would be part of our general concerns that while no single measure in this reform legislation can be pointed to, the cumulative weight is putting power to the centre and clearly that is a concern that we have and this is part of that concern.

  371. Do you have any worries that the national police plan might squeeze out local priorities? We have the national policing plan; we have the force wide plans and I believe also we have policing plans at basic command unit level.
  (Dr Henig) That is right, yes.

  372. Do you see a problem with this together? Do you see a problem in terms of local priorities, basic command unit plans will be squeezed?
  (Dr Henig) This comes back to my point. I do not see a problem provided everybody draws a clear demarcation between what is national and strategic and what is appropriately local. If you have a clear national framework that should allow more of an emphasis then to be placed on what are local initiatives, local strategies, and indeed you are right there is a force policing plan and then within the different localities. We have in Lancashire six divisional plans and then we have a number of other plans under those, it could be community safety partnerships and I am sure the same is true of Essex. I think if you draw this properly you can maximise and emphasise and give more weight to the local but if you are not careful you are going to blur the two and that is where our problems then would arise.

  373. ACPO I do not think are very happy at the Standards Unit looking down at the basic command unit level in terms of performance etc. In a sense it relates back to the previous discussion we have had. Do you believe the Standards Unit should focus at a strategic level or are you happy with proposals for it to look at basic command unit level?
  (Dr Henig) Can we go to the theory first? The purpose of having a Standards Unit is to drive up the quality of policing. We do not argue with that at all. We accept that at the moment there are variations. There are different parts of the country which perhaps have different levels of policing. We accept that we should all strive to improve both through police authority effort and nationally we should try and improve the quality of policing. In as much as the Standards Unit is being brought in to forward that objective we support it and particularly we support it if its role is going to be to spread good practice and to actually be able to take from one part of the country to another things which have worked and try and make policing better, because that is what we are all in the business of trying to do. In as much as Standards Units are advising forces, as I say we have no problem with that. Now you introduce the BCU, I think that is a very different situation because for the first time ever there is going to be this inspection, which has already started through HMI, of looking at BC units, and there is of course the whole argument which ACPO have developed that you have to look at the force, and the way the force operates and BCUs are only part of the story. You do not go into a branch of Marks and Spencers if you want to know how Marks and Spencers operates, you go to head office, you know you cannot look at one without the other. In terms of BCU inspections, and the Standards Unit, at the moment, of course, we are desperately unhappy because I think everybody is involved in those BCU inspections bar police authorities, and that is something we really cannot accept without challenging it I think. Certainly we feel we would want to be involved because just as we are involved in the strategic oversight of the force so clearly if a BCU is being inspected the police authority would want to have some involvement in that. I think at the moment you will find that we are not mentioned in that process.

  374. In a sense you feel this proposal undermines the position of police authorities? Does it also, maybe, do you feel undermine the accountability of the chief constables?
  (Dr Henig) I think there is a danger here. With all these things there are opportunities and there are threats. I think if the Standards Unit is targeted properly there is an opportunity to use the expertise of the Standards Unit to drive up the quality of policing but it has got to be exercised with the force and with the authority and not cut across those processes. The danger at the moment I think is the legislation as drawn will cut across those processes, it will then be seen in a sense as a hostile force and you could then develop antagonisms which would be very undesirable.
  (Ms Leech) I think the key word is the word you used which is accountability. A police authority is responsible and accountable for delivering efficient and effective policing locally. They appoint a chief constable to have operational control of the force and directional control of the force and those are the accountabilities.

  So any process that derives from issues of performance should flow with those accountabilities and should be tackled through those accountabilities, not by going around them. As Dr Henig said, in so far as the Standards Unit can help to identify the issues and identify the ways in which those issues might be tackled, and in particular what works and why it works, that is a helpful tool to help those people who are properly accountable for performance to tackle issues of poor performance and to raise standards, but not if it comes in and cuts across the delivery and the way of dealing with those issues and the management of those issues in a way that is unhelpful.

  375. I understand entirely the point of accountability and the point that you are making but would you accept that there are wide variations across different forces in terms of effectiveness and efficiency and detection rates, etc., and there are wide variations between Basic Command Units across the country? In those circumstances do you not think that this proposal is legitimate in the sense of trying to get that best practice at that basic level?
  (Dr Henig) I was trying to indicate that, yes, I did. I am supportive of it if it works in a positive way but, as with all these things, they have to go with the grain and not against it. You will find that police authorities themselves are very conscious of differences between BCUs. Part of our job in monitoring police performance is to actually monitor the different divisions and to ask questions such as why this division is doing well and this division appears not to be doing so well. In a sense we are trying to do that anyway and any support we can get we welcome. It is a question of setting up structures which actually help us to do our job better and also work to enable the Home Secretary to be more effective. I am not against the principle of this at all, I think the way it operates is going to be vital.

  376. So would it be helpful if when the Standards Unit was looking at the BCUs in police authorities if the Standards Unit actually co-operated, informed and consulted with the police authorities?
  (Dr Henig) We have got to be involved. If we are involved then I think we can actually work with the Standards Unit. At the end of the day whatever they come up with we, along with the chief officers, will have to implement. I think there is an issue of ownership here and we need to be in there actually negotiating with the Standards Unit, working with them to say "yes, okay, these are the problems and we need to do this, this and this". I just think it would make the principle work more effectively. What I am concerned about is effective performance and outcomes out there on the ground.
  (Mr Peel) There is another area where we are concerned about the Standards Unit. We are already subject to inspections by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary and to some extent the two are doing the same job. I think there is a case for saying that we do not need them both. Which one goes and which stays is another matter for somebody else to say but we are getting somewhat confused as to who is actually inspecting us, who is trying to do this job, is it the Standards Unit or HMIC, and how do they fit together?

  Mr Singh: Thank you very much.

Angela Watkinson

  377. Could I address my question to Mr Peel. There is understandable concern that the Home Secretary under the terms of this Bill will be able to set improvement targets without reference to a police authority. Do you think it is possible to set appropriate and effective targets without consulting the authority and finding out what the contributory factors might have been if things had got to a bad state?
  (Mr Peel) This is one of the fundamental issues we take with this entire process. You will know that we have the tripartite arrangement at the moment, the three legged stool, and although they are three independent legs they all support the seat. What is happening here is that two of those legs are going to be put together in a straight line, hence if he is telling us direct from above what we should be doing, no, we should be consulted. I do not know where he is going to get his information from to give us these improvement targets. I think the simple answer to your question is no, we would be far from happy if we were being told directly that way as to what improvement targets we are aiming at. We have got ministerial targets already and we accept those, those we include in our policing plan.

  378. Could you say what sort of factors are likely to cause failure in a police authority or contribute to it?
  (Dr Henig) I am not sure what improvement targets we are talking about.

  379. They are non-specific. It is the power of the Home Secretary to impose improvement targets without reference to a police authority. The point I was drawing out was without reference to a police authority how can they know or how can they form those targets adequately?
  (Ms Leech) Are we concerned with clause 5 and the improvement plan where an inspection is identified?

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