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Home Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 757-v
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Police and Crime Commissioners: progress to date
TUEsday 25 February 2014
Ann Barnes and Alan Pughsley
Rt Hon Damian Green MP
Evidence heard in Public Questions 629 - 720
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 25 February 2014
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ann Barnes, Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent, and Alan Pughsley, Chief Constable for Kent, gave evidence.
Q629 Chair: Welcome, Commissioner Barnes and Chief Constable. Thank you very much for coming before the Committee. We are delighted to see you, Commissioner Barnes. I hope you have recovered fully from your illness.
Ann Barnes: I am on the mend, thank you. Thank you very much, everyone, for your forbearance. It is very kind of you, especially your staff. You were very understanding.
Chair: We will be gentle with you today, I am sure, if you have not made a full recovery.
Mark Reckless: I was a member of the Kent Police Authority during the period of Ann’s chairmanship and served on the panel with Ann, which appointed Alan Pughsley as the Assistant Chief Constable within Kent initially.
Q630 Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Reckless. Commissioner, you were quite critical of the establishment of Police and Crime Commissioners when you-
Ann Barnes: I am sorry, I think because I have been so unwell I cannot hear you very well. Could you speak up a bit please?
Chair: Yes, of course. You were quite critical of the establishment of Police and Crime Commissioners when you were Chair of the Kent Police Authority, when Mr Reckless served with you with great distinction. In fact, to take a quote of yours, you said that they would be a "wilful waste of taxpayers’ money, naive and disastrous". That is a pretty damning condemnation of the concept that the Government introduced. You have obviously changed your mind about this. When did you change your mind, and why did you change your mind?
Ann Barnes: If I had to put money on your first question, it would be that one.
Chair: Then you have the answer already.
Ann Barnes: No, I do not have the answer already. As you know, if you do ask me a question, I do answer it. I was very critical of the timing. I was critical of the cost at the time, when obviously the country was in very dire financial straits. I did not think the model was broken. It needed looking at, and I was always very happy to look at any change to the model of governance, because we are in the 21st century, and you do have to move on. I was critical of the politicisation of the post.
I did my level best as Chair of the Police Authority in Kent. It was a very different kind of governance structure. Like the old Police Committee, it was a very old-fashioned local authority committee system of governance, and this is a different one.
Q631 Chair: You fully embrace it, do you? You are on the road to Damascus-or the road to Gravesend?
Ann Barnes: I wold not say I have had my road to Damascus. All I would say is I did stand as a matter of principle, because I did want to keep party politics out of police governance, so I did. I honestly felt I had to do that.
Chair: Because that was a manifesto commitment.
Ann Barnes: It certainly was.
Q632 Chair: Of course you beat the party system and all the parties and you got elected as an independent. Have you governed as an independent?
Ann Barnes: Absolutely. I was elected by the people of Kent in every single constituency area and every single district, and I am very proud of that fact. They put a lot of trust in me to keep party politics out of decision making, and honestly, Scout’s honour-or Guide’s honour-that is exactly what happens in Kent.
I would just like to say one thing: when Mr Cameron decided that he wanted this system or he thought it was a good idea, he did say he wanted local, credible independent people to stand for this post. That is exactly what has happened in Kent. I will fulfil the people’s trust in me.
Q633 Chair: The Committee has no doubt about that; we could have chosen from 43 and we wanted to hear from you as part of our inquiry, because we believe that the profile that you brought to the job, and the independent nature in which you say you want to do it, is something that we needed to look at. Alan Johnson and Charles Clarke-I do not expect them to be great friends of yours-are two former Home Secretaries who said this in a joint article in The Guardian on 13 February: "It's difficult to escape the conclusion that PCC is a title searching for a role." Do you think they are wrong? Do you think there now is a defined role that can be fulfilled in holding the Chief Constable, who is sitting on your left, to account?
Ann Barnes: Yes, there is. I think it has been a role that 41 Police and Crime Commissioners are doing in their own way. There is a certain list of statutory obligations in how you go about doing it. There is a fair bit of local discretion over that. I think that is a good thing as well, because it does mean that local people get some influence over a job description, if you like. There is no job description. Holding the Chief Constable to account is my statutory duty. How I do it is for discussion with the people of Kent. I and other Commissioners decide to do it a different way. But I do think there is one thing that all Commissioners have, and that is a single point of contact, because that is the one thing that did not happen with the Police Authority.
Q634 Chair: Give me an example. In the past I used to write to my Chief Constable about constituents who complained that officers had not visited them after a burglary. You might now get those letters. Do you get letters like that?
Ann Barnes: I have had nearly 9,000 pieces of correspondence from local people. When I was Chair of the Police Authority I had a handful a week.
Q635 Chair: Do you find that you then take those letters, send them off to the Chief Constable, to Mr Pughsley, and he replies? Do you chase them up, or do you find your work is done by giving it to him?
Ann Barnes: No, my work is not done by giving it to him. I need to make sure that he acts on it if he needs to. A lot of the correspondence has been historical. People have gone through a system and come to the end of that system, and think now with the Police and Crime Commissioner there is another opportunity. You still have to do that. You still have to go through that process. Anything that comes into my office is automatically sent to the force, and I track where it goes and what happens to it.
Q636 Chair: So you can tell this Committee very clearly that you have now changed your mind, that it is not a wilful waste of public money, it is a role that needs fulfilling, you are glad you stood and you feel that there is a future for this job.
Ann Barnes: I am glad I stood. It was a matter of principle for me. If I had lost, I would not have liked it, but at least I was pleased I stood for it. If it has to be anybody, I am glad it is me, because I do not bring any party politics into police decision making in Kent. I do have a track record of delivery as well as Chair of the Police Authority-a different system, I know. But I do work very hard. It is early days for Commissioners.
Chair: We will come to that in some of the other questions.
Q637 Dr Huppert: Can I turn to this issue about crime reporting figures? You had HMIC do an inspection, and I am sure you know very well that they found a target-driven culture and that crimes were pursued on the basis of how easy they were to solve, rather than their seriousness or their impact on victims or communities. I understand steps had been taken to try to deal with that by both of you. What are those steps, and how much do you think these problems have been eliminated? Either of you can answer.
Ann Barnes: As far as Kent is concerned, I was very pleased I did do that independent report. It was very important to me that there was a distance between the police and any investigation because of the independence of it. Even though the police do a lot of investigations, and 99.9% of the time they are fine, there is a little bit of doubt if the police are investigating themselves, so I needed to have that independent thing.
I was putting a marker down, Dr Huppert, because I wanted everybody to know that whatever I did in Kent was open and transparent, so I am pleased I did it. I was shocked at the report, because the year before that I had had a report from HMIC to say in almost every case Kent records crime accurately, and we went from that to that in a year.
Q638 Dr Huppert: So you think that during that year things got worse, or you think HMIC gave you a different answer in that time?
Ann Barnes: I do not know.
Q639 Dr Huppert: Which do you think it is?
Ann Barnes: All I can say is, as Chair of the Police Authority, we had to rely on HMIC to tell us that the force’s recording practices were accurate. That is what they always used to say, apart from no crime, which is a different issue. The last report I had said that-I quote it because it is etched on my mind-in almost every case Kent Police records crime accurately. Then we went from that to the new methodology. They did a new methodology for Kent. They looked at 300 crimes very seriously, right down from the first call to the end of it. Our Chief Constable, when he was the Deputy, was given the task of putting it right, and I held the last Chief Constable to account for putting it right, and I hold this one to account for putting it right.
Q640 Dr Huppert: Chief Constable, do you think it has been resolved?
Alan Pughsley: I think there has been significant improvement. The most recent HMIC report recognises that itself. If I may, I will encapsulate probably the three big headlines about what has changed. The first bit is at the point of contact in the control room. There are better processes and systems in place in there to make sure that decision is better than it was. The next point is the point of whether or not we record that as a crime in the IMU, as we call it; there is better supervision and better challenge of officers from that part of the business. The third bit is a change in culture, which is the hardest bit to put right and it has taken the longest, but that starts right at the very top, with me. There is no target-driven culture now in Kent Police. Our officers have been seen by the HMIC as part of focus groups, and they have been told by all of those officers, "No numerical targets, no individual targets." I am just carrying on, at this moment in time, trying to make sure the culture does not change.
Q641 Dr Huppert: Where do you think this puts you in comparison with other police forces?
Alan Pughsley: I could not answer for other police forces at this moment in time. I can just say where Kent Police is, and I know that the 90% that was talked about some time ago is consistently 96% and 97%.
Ann Barnes: Can I just make an extra comment there? On the 6% or 7% that it has improved by now, recorded crime in Kent has gone up by that amount; that has directly contributed to the fact that it has been recorded. The crime is still the same, but it has been recorded more accurately. I cannot believe that that was just a matter for Kent, and I am pleased that HMIC is now doing this national look at crime recording.
Chair: Indeed, prompted by us and other committees.
Ann Barnes: It is important that those figures are accurate.
Q642 Michael Ellis: Just a supplementary on these points. First of all, the British Crime Survey operates in a different way to the individual police forces’ statistical analysis of their crime rates, because it questions individuals and it operates the same way as it has done for many years. That has also shown significant reductions in recorded crime, so there is a danger of some wishing to argue for political reasons that crime has not come down. In fact, I put it to witnesses before this Committee that that does a disservice to the excellent work of our policemen and women, who have succeeded in getting crime down by significant numbers-by over 10%-across the board, not just in your county. Do you accept that the British Crime Survey strengthens the whole issue? That is one supplementary point.
Also, is not the success of the democratisation that has been brought about by Police and Crime Commissioners’ being in existence evidenced by the point that you made to Mr Vaz a few moments ago? When you were Chair of the Police Authority, a police authority that had been in existence for 30 years, you were getting one or two letters a week from members of the public, and now you have had 9,000 letters. Is that not democratic accountability?
Ann Barnes: Yes, it is democratic accountability, but going back to the decrease in crime, crime has decreased. If you look at Kent, it has significantly decreased over the years. We might now be recording it more accurately and it might be a little bit higher, but during that time it has still decreased. But going back to the crime figures, it is important that local people have trust in their crime figures. You cannot compare one force with another unless they have exactly the same accuracy for crime recording.
Chair: Thank you, Commissioner. That is very helpful. We need to make progress, colleagues, because the Minister is also coming in. Paul Flynn.
Q643 Paul Flynn: What arrangements have you made to hold your Chief Constable to account?
Ann Barnes: The way I do it is openly and transparently. I have a bi-monthly governance board, which is open to the general public. We go through all different aspects of force performance. I am also setting up a support services board looking at the support services that the Chief Constable provides. We also do together-this is accountability to the people-a "Meet the Commissioner" and "Meet the Chief Constable" evening. In fact there is one tomorrow. Hundreds of people turn up. There is no agenda. They do not have to write in and say what they are asking. We are just there, and we go round the county doing that on a monthly basis.
I also have a weekly detailed meeting with the Chief Constable about aspects of force performance during the week. We speak daily. We are in constant contact.
I also do what I call an open letter. If I do have a lot of people who have a particular issue, then I will write an open letter and an open answer to that. I did it over Ramsgate and the live exports. There were lots of difficulties over live exports.
Q644 Paul Flynn: Lord Stevens has argued that the power of commissioners to dismiss their Chief Constable has had a "damaging and chilling effect" on police leadership. Do you accept that conclusion?
Ann Barnes: No. I do think with any report, Mr Flynn, you should be objective and dispassionate and have a base in evidence. I do not see evidence for that in the Stevens report. Some of it I did agree with, but that I disagree with. I do think it is a very critical relationship, though.
Q645 Paul Flynn: You would be an enthusiastic supporter of what happened in Gwent, would you, where the Commissioner came in and from day one was determined to sack the Chief Constable? Would that have a chilling effect, do you think, on relationships?
Ann Barnes: It is a matter for the Commissioner for Gwent.
Q646 Paul Flynn: Yes, indeed. You talked about the number of letters you have. Can you give us some idea of the numbers of letters you had in your first month and the numbers you have had in your most recent month?
Ann Barnes: It has not stopped. It is more or less the same numbers. I cannot give you numbers.
Q647 Chair: You gave us a figure of 9,000 since you were elected.
Ann Barnes: Yes, a year last November. I did think it would slow down, but it has not. But a lot of the letters, Mr Flynn, are not to do with policing. They are different parts of the criminal justice system, because the police are the uniformed part of the criminal justice system and people automatically write to me. But I have had to send things to the courts and Crown Prosecution Service and probation as well, so it is not just policing.
Q648 Paul Flynn: Do you expect, when you face your electorate again, to be reporting an increase in the number of crimes?
Ann Barnes: I do not, because Kent now has a very accurate basis for its crime figures and a lot of work has been done in the force. Members of the force will tell you that it is one of the best things that happened, because there is now absolute clarity on where Kent is, according to crime recording.
Q649 Paul Flynn: You are suggesting that in the past the lack of accuracy meant that it understated the level of crime or exaggerated the level of crime?
Ann Barnes: That is what the Inspectorate said, but crime is still at the same level; it just was not reported.
Q650 Paul Flynn: Do you accept now that while you would take pride in the fact you are not a politician, you will be presenting yourself for election, and will be judged on matters such as the perceived level of crime? You are a politician in all but name.
Ann Barnes: I will be judged on many things. I am setting up a victim’s bureau, and I am determined to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system; they are not. They are passed about from pillar to post, often. I am adamant that the Kent Police will not just be a response force; it will always be in the communities, there will always be community policing and I will be judged on a raft of measures. I just want people to think, "She did a good job for us. I am going to vote for her again".
Q651 Paul Flynn: Have you any concern about the conduct of the Police Federation?
Ann Barnes: It is a matter for the Police Federation. I think they are being very brave to have an independent report. It is overdue and the independence is the important thing, and I am quite sure they will work hard to put matters right that they need to put right.
Q652 Chair: You said you would like them to vote for you again, so you are telling this Committee that you have gone to the extent of not only changing your mind about Commissioners, but you quite like the job and will stand again.
Ann Barnes: I love the job, Mr Vaz. It was a job made for me. I am independent, I am credible and very good with people.
Chair: You have clearly started your election campaign.
Ann Barnes: I know, but you know what they say: a week is a long time in politics, and so is two years.
Q653 Chair: Chief Constable, are you afraid of Commissioner Barnes?
Alan Pughsley: Absolutely not, in any way, shape or form.
Ann Barnes: Did he say, "Are you frightened of Commissioner Barnes?"
Alan Pughsley: He did, Commissioner. I absolutely welcome being held to account ultimately by the public. That is the role of policing and the role of the Chief Constable, and I am very comfortable being held to account by one person on behalf of-
Q654 Chair: How would you describe this relationship? You will go to these meetings together around Kent. Some may think that this is quite cosy.
Alan Pughsley: I suppose if I describe the monthly meeting where I am held to account in a public meeting by the Commissioner and her team, it is anything but cosy, to be honest with you. It is the policing plan. It is a manifest of pledges and it is how we are dealing with efficient and effective policing against those priorities, so that is certainly not cosy.
Q655 Chair: How many times has she rung you up since she has been elected and said, "You have done something wrong", and wanted something changed?
Alan Pughsley: Done something wrong and wanted something changed-I cannot think of any occasion where those words have been said to me in the last eight weeks.
Q656 Chair: In the last eight weeks?
Alan Pughsley: I have been Chief for eight weeks, and only eight weeks, so "I want something changed" has not happened at all.
Ann Barnes: It is early days, though.
Alan Pughsley: That certainly has not happened in the last eight weeks. We have regular conversations about concerns that come into the Commissioner’s office, because the public have a different way of corresponding with the police. So, yes, we have regular conversation about concerns, but none of those two in the way that you have asked, Chair.
Q657 Yasmin Qureshi: I want to discuss with you briefly the police and crime panels. Do you think they have a sufficient understanding of the clarity of their role in scrutinising your work?
Ann Barnes: I think they are still steeped in local authority committee work. I have tried very hard to get away from that. There is a lack of clarity. For instance, you cannot hold Police and Crime Commissioners to account for the performance of the Chief Constable. You have to realise they are different roles; that is my job. Perhaps more training needs to be done. I do not know what the criterion is for people being appointed to the panels. I have absolutely no idea what it is, what criterion is set up from there, and what qualities and experience people have for doing that.
I know the panel in Kent are, at their next meeting, looking at their own ways of working. I do think that members of the panel need to turn up to meetings of the panel and not send substitutes, because that is quite tricky; somebody goes along and they have very little knowledge of the policing world. But we are talking about a year. It is very early days and we are all quick to criticise, and yet everybody out there is doing their best to do a good job for local people. Instead of criticising them, we should be helping them.
Q658 Yasmin Qureshi: Yes, but I do not think that was the question. What I was asking you was whether you think the police and crime panels have sufficient understanding of your role and are therefore able to scrutinise you. From what you have said, if I understood correctly, they have not fully understood what your role-
Ann Barnes: I am sorry; I didn’t hear that.
Yasmin Qureshi: If I understood you correctly, you said just a few moments ago that in your opinion the panel has not fully understood what your role or responsibilities are. I think you gave an example of them asking about the Chief Constable. What I was going to ask is: do you think that the panel has sufficient powers, or could its powers be strengthened to be able to effectively hold the Police Commissioner to account?
Ann Barnes: I think they do have the powers they need. Ultimately, it is the electorate that will hold me to account, as the electorate holds you to account.
Q659 Chair: Yes, but that is every four to five years. What Ms Qureshi is talking about is this: we received evidence from Councillor Roger Seabourne, who came to us and said that they were toothless and did not have the power. He is the ex-Chair of the committee in Hertfordshire. He said they did not have the power to hold the PCCs to account. Of course you are going to be answerable to the electorate, but in the meantime who holds you to account? Quis custodiet custodes?
Ann Barnes: I cannot speak for other Commissioners and their panels, because I do not know what their relationship is. I have had nine meetings of the police and crime panel in Kent. We have discussed a range of subjects. It is not a cosy relationship; I am quite sure that it might be in some areas, but it certainly is not in Kent. They certainly take their work very seriously in Kent. You only have to look at the webcast, because they are all webcast, so I invite you to do that.
Q660 Lorraine Fullbrook: This is a supplementary to Chief Constable Pughsley. You said earlier that you liked being held to account by the public. But surely the point is you are not held to account by the public, however much you like it. That is the point of the Police and Crime Commissioner role.
Alan Pughsley: I am certainly held accountable to the public and by the public when I go to public meetings and answer their questions. As the Chief Constable in the previous regime, that did not happen, to be brutally honest. This is every two months. Tomorrow is an example: we are in a certain area of Kent at 6 pm in the evening, and anywhere between 150 and 200 people ask me any question they want around how policing services are being delivered in their part of the county.
Q661 Lorraine Fullbrook: With respect, you will still have your job, no matter whether you have a hard time or not at a public meeting. It is Ms Barnes who will keep her job or not, depending on whether you deliver, so liking being held to account by the public is not the point of the role of Police and Crime Commissioner.
Alan Pughsley: Yes, I am held to account officially by the Police and Crime Commissioner-of course I am-on a daily basis, on a formal weekly basis and at an informal public meeting, as we described. Equally important is the interaction and the way that I am seen to be accountable to the public. So it is very important that the Chief Constable is accountable through a PCC if necessary, certainly to the public.
Q662 Mr Winnick: I am sure we are all pleased that you two are able to get along very well professionally. It is almost, as you described it, Chair, a platonic love-in, and we will see how it progresses. Would you accept that however much you like your job, Ms Barnes, as undoubtedly you do, the position of Police and Crime Commissioners is very much on probation?
Ann Barnes: It is a new role. It needs time to bed in. There are 41 of us. We are all trying to do things different ways. I do think that nationally we could, as a group, become quite a vocal force for good, if we united around a particular issue. I am thinking of the mental health issues and people with mental health difficulties being kept in cells. Also at the moment I am spearheading some work around female genital mutilation and the petition that is going on. I already have more than half the Commissioners signed up to going back to their Chief Constables and talking to the force about how that message is going out.
I do think we are going to be a force for good nationally. Looking to the future, I would like to see more of a sphere of influence around the whole criminal justice system, because if we are absolutely key to putting victims at the centre of the criminal justice system, we should not be working in quite such rigid silos. There is governance and accountability of the police; I do not see it anywhere else.
Q663 Mr Winnick: The Police and Crime Commissioner in the West Midlands, in my part of the world, is on record as saying, in effect, that it is a very disappointing position, and he clearly feels, given the way he stated that, that it should be abolished. Do you recognise that it may not be a permanent position? Who knows what a future Government may decide to do?
Ann Barnes: Yes, I know perfectly well what Bob Jones’ position is. I think he gives himself four out of 10.
Chair: I think it was two out of 10.
Ann Barnes: Was it two out of 10?
Chair: It was.
Ann Barnes: Well, I think he is being very harsh on himself. He is very influential and a very good advocate for Police and Crime Commissioners. It is early days and we should all be working together, spreading good practice. We are, actually, and I think we are all doing our best to do what we were elected to do, and that is to be the voice of local people, to hold the force to account, to make sure we get a good policing service.
Q664 Mr Winnick: One last question, because the Chair is hurrying us up-understandably, because the next witness is outside. You have no deputy.
Ann Barnes: No.
Mr Winnick: No, that I know. Could you just tell us the total number of staff?
Ann Barnes: Yes, I had 13 full-time staff-
Mr Winnick: Thirteen?
Ann Barnes: No, I had 13 full staff in the police authority. I now have 16; some of those are part-time, and two are secondees. The budget is £1.5 million. I am keeping to that for my term, but it is very difficult, Mr Winnick, because I have far more responsibility, especially taking on board the whole of the issues around victims and victim services. I need to have a team around me who can deliver for me, because I have lost all the expertise of the police authority. Mr Reckless will tell you we had some really good members on the police authority who did an awful lot of work, and that has gone. I am having to build that resource around me, and it is very hard.
Chair: Thank you. That is an excellent curtain raiser for Mr Reckless’ questions. I am going to give him some latitude as he is your local MP.
Ann Barnes: Well, he is not my local MP.
Mr Winnick: Don’t say it with such pride.
Chair: No, he is the local MP of your area.
Q665 Mark Reckless: Commissioner, you spoke about the Kent Police Authority and there has been some focus on commissioners and the costs of their private offices. Can you make any estimate of the cost to Kent Police of supporting the Kent Police Authority, in terms of the main meetings, the committees, and the 100 or 200 pages of briefing materials and the comprehensive and, in many ways, very impressive work that went into that? Have you any idea of what that cost was, and how much of that you have been able to save as the commissioner?
Ann Barnes: You will be pleased to know, Mr Reckless, that if you came to my meetings now, you would not find that there was a plethora of reports. I have banished them. Two sides of A4 bullet points is what we have now, and everything is a discussion. You can hide things in papers quite easily. You cannot hide very much with two pages of bullet points. That bureaucracy has gone, hasn’t it, Chief Constable? It seriously has. It is far more one-to-one meetings now. I do not have a cottage industry-nor does the Chief Constable-churning out reports for me, because I do not want it and do not need it. I would rather have a grown-up, sensible, honest debate.
But no, I think it is practically impossible to do that. On the other hand, the force really cannot quantify what they get from my office, because they get an awful lot of public engagement and stuff that goes through to them from my office as well. It is quite difficult to quantify that. You are an economist, I know, so perhaps-
Q666 Mark Reckless: Could you or the Chief Constable give some sort of estimate of the amount of that material and the preparation work? I just think it is one area that has not been in the public domain, so it might be useful for an inquiry.
Ann Barnes: Do you know, I might get my teeth into that next. It might be worth looking at that.
Mark Reckless: Thank you.
Chair: Chief Constable?
Alan Pughsley: I could not put a figure on it, but I can certainly say it is about half of the work that we were doing before. From a transparency point of view, just on the straightforward governance meetings, we are probably doing half the work we did before with the police authority.
Q667 Mark Reckless: We spoke before about the Stevens report, and the ex-Chief Constable referring to the damaging chilling effect on police leadership of the power of a commissioner to dismiss the chief constable. Why did the powers of police authorities in this respect not have a similar chilling and damaging effect?
Ann Barnes: I have no idea. I do not agree with him anyway, I really do not. I thought it was very emotive language. It should not have been used. I do not see the evidence for it.
Q668 Mark Reckless: Commissioner, do you think chief constables could be held to account by the array of local authority joint committees that Stevens reports, or would the chief constables be able to do pretty much as they liked?
Ann Barnes: Well, it strikes me that the Stevens report, with that particular model, is going back to the old days of the old policing committee. Michael Howard, when he was Home Secretary, abolished those and set up police authorities to have some sort of independent voice there, rather than the party politics that was played out on a lot of the old policing committees. I think it would be very difficult but, as I say, a week is a long time in politics and we have an election coming up next year, haven’t we?
Q669 Mark Reckless: What impact do you and the Chief Constable believe there has been from the change in the senior appointments process, so that you as a commissioner just appoint the chief constable, and then the chief constable appoints his team?
Ann Barnes: I did not have a problem with that. As you know, I chaired the official side of the police negotiating board for a long time, so I was heavily involved with chief officer appointments and I was on the senior appointments panel. It is his team and I hold him to account for how his team works. I suppose in a way it is only right and proper that if he is being held to account by me for the work of his team, then he should appoint his team. That said, he does ask me to sit on the appointments panels. We did one last week in Kent and I think that is probably the best way of doing it. I do not have a problem with that.
Q670 Mark Reckless: You said it was not for the police and crime panel to hold you to account for the performance of the chief constable, but surely to the extent that you appoint, and only you can dismiss the chief constable, isn’t it right for them to do that, at least to some degree?
Ann Barnes: Well, on going in front of the police and crime panel to make sure that the appointment process that I used for the chief constable was open, honest, transparent and based on merit, it is absolutely vital that somebody looks at that. It is just right and proper that that happens, so I am very happy for that to happen.
Q671 Mark Reckless: Could I quickly look at a couple of the more difficult areas that you have had? Some other commissioners have been criticised, rightly or wrongly, for appointments of deputies, with some people criticising the appointment process for that. You received some criticism for the appointment of Peter Carroll and Howard Cox at I think £5,900 a month. You said to the Kent and Sussex Courier, "‘They’re not spin doctors’, she insisted. ‘They’re highly experienced in public relations, have run very successful campaigns’-I think one of them was your campaign manager-‘and have got skills I need’." One of them styles themselves a social media expert. Do you have any regrets about how those appointments were made?
Ann Barnes: No, I took it on a business decision. I needed those skills in my office. I did not have them. It is like any organisation, any person; you have to have a group of people around you who can deliver the work you want. I did not have that on the people I inherited from the police authority. I could have gone to the market. I could have picked people off the shelf-it would have cost me more-or I could have advertised for those jobs. It would have taken me three, four, five months to get people in place. I did short-term employment. They did their work. They came in, they upskilled, they built all kinds of things, and they have gone. Their time has ended and they have gone. I have a new chief of staff who is busy reorganising my office. I do not make any apologies for doing that. It was on a business basis.
Q672 Mark Reckless: The criticism that you received, though, and that other commissioners may have received for deputy appointments more frequently-would you see that more as teething problems of the first-stage appointments, when people are coming into an office new, or do you think it is something we can expect to hear to the same extent in future?
Ann Barnes: When you are going into an office new and you do not inherit those skills, you have to make sure you get them somehow. I would like to think the next time round those skills will be there, whether you have appointed those people or not. The commissioner at the time will have appointed those people, so I cannot see that being a problem anymore.
Q673 Mark Reckless: Finally, Chair, on your youth commissioner, we know about Paris Brown and everything that went on around that. I understand, though, that you concluded your interviews for a youth commissioner. You want to push ahead with that appointment. You had all those interviews, and I thought a decision had been made at the end of November, but three months later we still have no announcement. Why is that?
Ann Barnes: Because I have been waiting for him or her to negotiate a start date with me. It has been quite complicated for one reason or another, which I am not going into here. There will be an announcement before very long, and I am looking forward to my youth commissioner starting work.
Q674 Chair: Do you think lessons can be learned from the Paris Brown recruitment?
Ann Barnes: Well, let us put it this way, Mr Vaz. Every hour of every day, I shall be looking at a Twitter account.
Chair: Excellent. Well, I am sure you are following Mr Reckless, at the very least, on Twitter. Can I just say on behalf of the Committee thank you for coming in to both of you?
Ann Barnes: Pleasure.
Chair: We are particularly impressed-I am, and the Committee is-with your campaign, "Go Green to Stop FGM."
Ann Barnes: Thank you.
Chair: As you know, the Committee is about to start an inquiry into FGM, and we have just secured a debate in Parliament on this subject for the first time in many years. Thank you so much for coming here today, and to you, Chief Constable.
Ann Barnes: If I can be of any help with that, please let me know.
Chair: Thank you, and thank you, Chief Constable.
Ann Barnes: Thank you.
Alan Pughsley: Thank you.
Examination of Witness
Witness: The right Hon. Damian Green MP, Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice, gave evidence.
Q675 Chair: Minister, my apology-whenever you appear before this Committee I seem to be apologising to you, rather than the other way round-for keeping you waiting because previous witnesses have been exciting the Committee with the answers to the questions that we have put. We would like to examine you today on two issues. The first is Police and Crime Commissioners, but we have also announced an inquiry into the Police Federation, so to save you coming back again, we are going to talk to you a little bit about that. Could I ask you, first of all, a question about police morale? This has been a feature of some of your recent speeches in the House after Hillsborough, the Andrew Mitchell affair, and examples of misconduct cases. Do you think that we have now reached a stage where we can turn the corner, basically turn the page, on what seemed to be a declining situation regarding police morale?
Damian Green: Well, I hope so. I am always struck whenever people talk about morale by a quote I have heard Hugh Orde give very often, which is that since he entered the police in I think it was the 1970s, morale has always been at its lowest ever. I take his experience to bear in this.
There are two separate issues from the question. One is the morale of the police looking at themselves and their own terms and conditions, and I think it is inevitable. We went through a period of stringency in pay, which obviously has to remain, and changes to the pension regime. It was natural that serious concerns were expressed by many police officers about that. We have done those changes now. Clearly, there is going to be no pay explosion anywhere in the public sector in years to come.
Q676 Chair: Is that the end of the fashioning of the new landscape? We can say to the police service, "It has been tough, because we have had to change so many things, but that is it now-no more changes"?
Damian Green: The other point I was going to make was that there are also the external changes as well. Those will have to continue. You have been having investigations into PCCs. One of the good things I think PCCs have done has been to introduce more innovation into the police service. Just as it is true in the private sector, it is true across the public sector, it is certainly true in policing, that change will continue. Anyone entering, frankly, any career now thinking, "I have now got to grips with this job and it will remain the same for the next 30 years" is deluding themselves. That is as true of the police as it is of politics or anything else. Change will continue but, as I say, the initial changes that had to be made to pay and pensions have now happened.
Q677 Chair: Do you think that you have reached the end of the Andrew Mitchell affair? There have been some misconduct cases; a police officer has gone to jail. Is there anything more to be done on this? Do you think it is time just to draw a line under it?
Damian Green: The misconduct cases are, of course, still going on, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on what might come out of that. In general terms, if I can step away from the individual issue, which, as I say, is still going on, it is clear that police integrity, public confidence in the police, remains a very important issue. The Home Secretary made an important announcement to Parliament last year about that. That is also a series of changes that will continue. The college will produce the code of ethics. I hope that and other changes result in a change in the culture that, over time, will, among other things, increase public confidence in the police and, I hope, improve police morale as well, because the two are mutually supportive.
Q678 Chair: Yes. We have just heard some very interesting evidence from the commissioner in Kent, who started off being very much against Police and Crime Commissioners when she chaired the police committee, saying that the change was a wilful waste of public money, naive and not necessary, and has now come to the conclusion that it is a very good thing to have. She is enjoying the job. Do you think you have now done the deal with the British people; they now will accept the need to keep Police and Crime Commissioners irrespective of what Lord Stevens has had to say, or even Mr Chris Leslie, who today is talking about them costing a great deal of money and perhaps on economic grounds they should have to go? Do you think the deal has been done, the public will now accept this?
Damian Green: I think there is a lot of evidence that the public appreciate what Police and Crime Commissioners can do and are doing, much more than they did in the first few months. It is unsurprising. They are still only 18 months old as an institution and the figures are quite stark. The old police authorities, about 7% of people were aware of them; Police and Crime Commissioners, about 70% of people are aware of them. In those terms alone, on public visibility and, therefore, accountability, I think it is unarguable that Police and Crime Commissioners are a considerable improvement on the old police authorities.
One of the other big changes has been the degree of innovation that has come from having these visible, publicly accountable, publicly elected figures. Across parties and across the country there are innovations being driven by Police and Crime Commissioners. Vera Baird in Northumbria has rolled out vulnerability awareness training. You have heard, no doubt, from Ann Barnes very eloquently what she is doing in Kent; Adam Simmonds in Northamptonshire is bringing together police and fire services. You can see beneficial changes in the policing landscape brought about by PCCs.
You mentioned Chris Leslie’s speech this morning. I was struck that he said that Police and Crime Commissioners are costing more than the old arrangements. On the evidence of this Committee, that is not true. You found that they were costing about the same in terms of a percentage of the police budget as the old police authorities. They are not costing any more and they are producing good results.
Q679 Chair: Maybe he has not had the chance to look at the evidence that has come before us. Let me turn to the Police Federation and then other colleagues will come in on other issues. On a scale of one to 10, how shocked were you at the conclusions of the Normington report?
Damian Green: Like everyone else, I found it hugely illuminating and somewhat shocking. There were various elements that I know not only you or I would have found shocking but the leadership of the federation found shocking: the No. 2 accounts in particular, the existence of these hidden accounts. Clearly, it drove not least David Normington himself to the conclusion that you need root-and-branch change to the federation. I very much welcome the fact that the current leadership of the federation commissioned that report, and that the report itself is so thorough, and that it sets out a time scale for improvement and reform. It is very important that we see that this is not a report that gathers dust, that this is an action plan that needs to be put into action.
Q680 Chair: You can only speak for yourself. You have been in the job for 17 months. Do you regret not having probed this before? It took the current chairman, Steve Williams, to commission this report but, of course, David Normington was a former Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. Did it ever cross your mind that police officers were paying subscriptions that were disappearing into these accounts, and nobody knew what the figures were? I am not blaming you because obviously you were not running this stuff, but yourself and your predecessor Ministers and successive Governments never seemed to have asked the questions. Indeed, this Committee has never asked the question. It took Steve Williams to commission this report before somebody asked.
Damian Green: It is a fair point that these accounts had clearly been running for a long time. What I think it shows is that the lack of central information systems in the federation itself meant that everyone in a sense was not asking the right question, starting, as I say, from the leadership of the federation itself. I would not blame predecessor Administrations or officials at the Home Office.
Q681 Chair: No, but it is a creature of statute, isn’t it, and Parliament obviously was not concerned? No individual should be blamed. In a sense, the system did not work to ask the questions. Is it because they were too fearful of poking the Police Federation because of the enormous power that the Police Federation is perceived to have? Nobody wanted to criticise the police and nobody wanted to interfere in their private arrangements?
Damian Green: I think the root over the decades is that, as you say, nobody wants to criticise the police. We all recognise that individual officers, the vast majority of them, do a difficult and sometimes dangerous job and do it well. Over time, that built up to saying, "If you do not want to criticise the police, then you must not ever question the Police Federation." It has taken the current leadership of the federation to say-
Q682 Chair: Sure. Do you trust the current leadership to implement the recommendations made by Sir David?
Damian Green: I know they are determined to do so, and I very much hope they can persuade their colleagues to do it.
Q683 Chair: If they do not, would the Home Office be in a position to seize any of these assets or not? You are going to give them the chance to do it first, are you?
Damian Green: At this stage of the process it is sensible, given that we all agree the leadership is acting courageously so far, to allow them to continue the process. The key date that I would set is this year’s federation conference in May. We want to see progress by then. We want to see that conference, the whole federation and its representatives, embracing the need for radical reform. I know that the federation leadership would hope that as well.
Q684 Chair: Do you plan to implement the review’s recommendation to amend the Police Act 1919 to revive the core purpose of the federation, or are you waiting for the conference?
Damian Green: At the moment, those decisions are there to be taken by the federation. It would clearly be preferable if the federation itself took the decision to embrace radical reform as set out in the Normington review and, as I say, I would encourage them very strongly to do that.
Q685 Lorraine Fullbrook: There are several-I think two Police and Crime Commissioners and one chief constable-who are calling to receive a greater proportion of the funds raised from the Proceeds of Crime Act. What would your view be about this?
Damian Green: Well, we do, because of the Proceeds of Crime Act, take in hundreds of millions of pounds, which can be distributed. I am aware of that, obviously. As it happens, I was in West Yorkshire yesterday with Mark Burns-Williamson, who is one of those PCCs. Fifty per cent of it goes to the force; 50% goes to the Home Office, but it is then spent on Home Office core purposes. It is spent on policing and we will use it to support regional crime squads and so on, so it is all being spent to a good purpose in fighting crime.
The most important thing-I appreciate the desire of PCCs and chief constables to get more money from this-is to try to increase the quantum of money that comes in. To that end, today my ministerial colleague Karen Bradley, the new Minister at the Home Office, is in Spain at a conference because Spain is clearly one of the areas that is fertile territory where we might be able to use this Act more efficiently. We are working very hard with the Spanish authorities. We also intend, as soon as we can, to legislate to strengthen the Act. So for those who are hoping for greater proceeds in the future, we are on the case.
Q686 Chair: We know that 80% of the fines that have been imposed on the Mr Bigs have not been able to be collected; that is out of the £920 million that the courts have fined them. You are saying your legislation will do what?
Damian Green: Will attempt to strengthen the collection element. That is one of the things we are looking at. You will also have seen this week that the new Director of Public Prosecutions is appointing more people to do this. The whole criminal justice system is working together to try to make sure we get more of these proceeds back.
Q687 Mr Winnick: Do you think there is any justification for the view some hold about the event in which you were involved, namely when your Commons office was searched? Your party understandably felt very strongly-as did others, including myself. Do you think perhaps historians in the future-who knows what historians will write-will say that to some extent that antagonism between the police and your political party started around that? Do you think there is any justification for that?
Damian Green: I think that was a one-off event. The truth is the antagonism, as you say, was to a large extent dissipated between my party and the Commons authorities, the Government of the day and various other parts of the Whitehall machine. No, I do not think that was a determining element at all.
Q688 Mr Winnick: There is no connection at all?
Damian Green: No, I think that was seen as, thankfully, a one-off event that everyone looking back hopes could not happen again.
Q689 Mr Winnick: I will not pursue that point. As regards the Police Federation, undoubtedly things occurred and apologies have been made. Andrew Mitchell was again apologised to by the Chief Constable in my part of the world, in the West Midlands, and you know of the meeting that occurred. Do you accept that in a democratic country the police have every right to make clear where they are unhappy-for instance, with the reductions in police force numbers and so on? You do not challenge, presumably, their right, individually and through the Police Federation, to make their position clear?
Damian Green: No, that is the whole point of the Police Federation. It is because they do not have the right to strike that they have a federation that can both argue about terms and conditions and make political points. They have had marches and demonstrations against Governments of all kinds in my experience as a Member of Parliament. Clearly, those have to be done in an appropriate and dignified way and there must be no sense in which the powers that we give as a society to the office of constable, those specific powers we give people, bleed over into political campaigning.
Q690 Mr Winnick: Police and Crime Commissioners, Minister: do you accept it is on probation?
Damian Green: No, I just think it is new. With every quarter that passes, people across the country find them both more visible and see the benefits that I have already outlined. I point out again the amount of innovation and the fact that they are using their powers for good in practical ways. You have just heard from Ann Barnes. The fact that she took the decision to bring in HMIC to look at the way her force was recording crime statistics, knowing that that might produce some embarrassing headlines-which it did-I think was a brave and correct decision. To some extent, that is as near as we can get in social science to a properly controlled scientific experiment, because the previous police authority did not do that. It had Members of this Committee on it, I believe. Or were you on at a different time? I apologise.
Mark Reckless: I do not think we had the power to request that.
Damian Green: Indeed, so it is powers, but also Ann Barnes was chairman of that police authority. She has been able to do some work as Police and Crime Commissioner that she could not do as chairman of the police authority. As I say, that seems to me quite a good experimental piece of evidence to show that the current system is better.
Q691 Mr Winnick: One last question on Police and Crime Commissioners, Chair. If there is a high-profile murder case, as in Bristol where a female was murdered and the wrong person was featured in the press as being responsible-the media have apologised and there has been court action and so on-or what happened in the very early 1980s in Yorkshire, where a number of females were murdered, is it not quite clear that the distinction between operations and the work of the Police and Crime Commissioners will be somewhat merged, because inevitably the media will ask the Police and Crime Commissioner in a particular area what is being done to resolve the murders?
Damian Green: I do not think so, and I have read the evidence.
Mr Winnick: You do not think so?
Damian Green: It need not be. It requires both the commissioner and the chief constable to be sensible in observing the distinction that we all make between operational policing and overall strategy. The Police and Crime Commissioner is there to set the crime plan, to set the precept, but in an individual case of how you are going to catch this murderer, then in the end it is the chief constable who has operational responsibility for that. The media would naturally go to the chief constable or whichever senior officer is in charge of that as their first port of call.
Mr Winnick: Well, we will see. I find it difficult to believe that would have happened in Yorkshire.
Chair: Thank you, Mr Winnick. We will move on.
Q692 Michael Ellis: Minister, can I ask you again about the Police Federation? The current leadership certainly seem to be moving in the right direction. They have a very difficult set of circumstances that they have inherited. Are you concerned about the reports that we have received, including evidence we have had in this Committee, about the so-called No. 2 accounts? The sums involved apparently are in the tens of millions of pounds. Would you venture any suggestion on whether those sorts of sums should be finally disclosed as being in existence in the No. 2 accounts, and on what should happen to those sorts of sums? Do you also agree that it would certainly be appropriate for the Police Federation to release information about the expenses that have been incurred by their elected officers, and things like the salaries paid to their elected officers? Do you think that would be appropriate?
Damian Green: First of all, I cannot say with any authority whether it is tens of millions or billions or any other figure. None of us knows.
Michael Ellis: No, but if there were those sorts of numbers in them.
Damian Green: Almost regardless-I would think this even more strongly were I a serving police officer paying £22 a month to the Police Federation-I would want to know how that money was being spent. The fact that both the federation leadership and, indeed, Sir David Normington could not get and was just refused access to details of the No. 2 accounts shows a real underlying problem. It shows why the scale of reform needs to be so radical inside the Police Federation.
Q693 Michael Ellis: Of course there have been reports about a person who was engaged by the Police Federation to look into these matters. That lasted three months and they no longer work for the Police Federation. Are you concerned about those reports and do you have anything to say about the issue of expenses and salaries?
Damian Green: I am in favour of transparency in all public bodies. The federation is clearly a public body and, therefore, I think it would be in the federation’s interest to be as open and transparent as possible about matters like that.
Q694 Michael Ellis: It is also under the 1919 Act, isn’t it? That is under statutory existence.
Damian Green: Yes. That is why I say it is a public body; therefore, it has responsibilities over and above those of, say, a private company.
Q695 Michael Ellis: Finally from me, on the issue of Police and Crime Commissioners, on a completely different point, how do you feel progress can be made, if progress is desired to be made, in the amalgamation, if you like, or the co-operation between blue light services? You mentioned the work that Adam Simmonds is doing in Northamptonshire, my county. Do you see some movement in that area as being positive in terms of savings to the public purse and so on?
Damian Green: I think it is very important that blue light services collaborate more than they have in the past. Partly it is to do with efficiency in terms of spending public money, but mostly it is about providing a better service. When I was in Northamptonshire I visited a police and fire station; it is both. They all said that not only has this enabled them to vacate and sell one building, but it means that they work together much more closely, just habitually, because they are in the same building every day. That is happening in other parts of the country. In Durham, we have given some money through the Innovation Fund to the PCC there specifically for the purpose of creating police and fire stations together. One should not forget the ambulance service as well. Around the country, the mood is now there to improve this co-operation, and it will be one of the next big stages of reform that we need to see.
Q696 Dr Huppert: Let us turn more to this issue about police and crime panels. How do you think they are performing? Have they done what you hoped they would do and what it was agreed that they would do?
Damian Green: I think they are getting better. I say this deliberately addressing one of the areas where there have been difficulties: in Lincolnshire-which we discussed on this Committee in one of my previous experiences-when it was perfectly clear that immediately after they were set up and the PCC was there-there was the dispute between the PCC and the chief constable-that the panel did not do its job adequately and did not use the powers available to them. I take that as an example because we have seen this week that after the incidents that happened, the court case and so on, the panel has now demanded an apology from the PCC and the PCC has given that apology. Now, that seems to me the panel using its powers effectively. It has taken some 18 months to get there. Generally, and I know this from the evidence you have heard from other PCCs as well, they are developing a rhythm of being quite a good scrutiny mechanism over the PCCs and I hope and expect them to continue to do that.
Q697 Dr Huppert: I think there is a long way to go, and perhaps it would be worth looking at whether they should be given more powers in order to exercise it. Currently, they are fairly weak in power and hence it is less interesting and less attractive to serve on them. Would you agree with that?
Damian Green: No. I think they have the appropriate level of powers. The difficulties in some areas-not in every area but in one or two areas that we have seen so far-have been because the panels have not exercised enough the powers that they have. Where they are exercising those powers, there is a good creative tension between them and the PCC, which is what is meant to be there. They are meant as a scrutiny mechanism. They are not there as an executive. They are not there as a sort of "son of police authority".
Q698 Dr Huppert: Do you think Police and Crime Commissioners should also try to engage with other existing bodies, whether they are council scrutiny committees that look at safer neighbourhoods or whether they are local area committees? Do you think there is an expectation that commissioners should try to engage with such bodies?
Damian Green: It depends what you mean by "such bodies". I am very keen on local criminal justice boards. Obviously, Police and Crime Commissioners play a significant role in them, but there are also health and wellbeing boards-they are called different things around the country-and quite often policing can play a significant role in that sort of area. It is good for PCCs to engage with them as well. Yes, I think the PCC needs to become a significant player across the spectrum of local interests.
Q699 Dr Huppert: One last question from me. The funding for police and crime panels themselves: in the longer term, how should that be paid for? How should the costs be assessed? Should it be from the police precept? Should it be done by the local councils?
Damian Green: I have not heard any particular objections to the current way of doing it. Both in terms of, if you like, the quantum and the distribution mechanism, I do not see that as a particular problem at the moment.
Q700 Mark Reckless: Commissioner Barnes said, at least about the Kent police and crime panel-she was critical in this sense-that it was steeped in the committee culture of local government. Do you see that as a good model in terms of a scrutiny committee, perhaps looking at the health scrutiny committee and some of the work it does with an outside body? Is that something police and crime panels should be aiming at or is it the wrong model?
Damian Green: It is inevitably going to be a committee of some sort or another. Given that it needs to have, if you like, some kind of legitimacy, then having people chosen from elected local councillors seems as good a model as any. As I say, the problem has been the realisation of the panels of what powers they have and how best to exercise them. That is settling down, it is getting better, so I do not think there is a need for an early change in that.
Q701 Yasmin Qureshi: Can I ask about the relationship between the police commissioners and the chief constable, especially the power of the commissioner to remove the chief constable? We have heard and I am sure you are aware of the cases of Gwent and Lincolnshire, where some concerns were generated because of what happened. Two little questions: first, are you satisfied with the way the PCC has handled these things up to now? Secondly, are there any lessons to be learned as to whether the Home Office may be able to provide further detailed guidance to PCCs on this process if these issues occur? The whole question about the police commissioner being able to sack the chief constable has also been suggested as having a chilling effect on the police being able to do their work. I just wanted to ask: has the Home Office looked into this potential problem, or problem that happened?
Damian Green: Obviously, we look very carefully at any incidents of this and the legislation is there, not least the powers of the panel, to ensure that if a chief constable challenges a decision, and clearly it would be an important decision, then not only does the panel have powers to call evidence and make statements but, very importantly, HMIC, the inspectorate, can come in to provide an independent outside look and provide evidence on which the panel can then comment, and on which both the chief and the PCC can comment. The system is there. You have mentioned the two famous incidents in Lincolnshire and Gwent. Of course, in Gwent the chief simply stood down, so the process was never triggered.
In terms of the other bit of your question-have we considered giving more guidance-if you look at the legislation, the procedure is there. There is what would be a fairly rigorous procedure. Therefore, it is for-if it happens-an individual chief to trigger that process, and at that point rigorous scrutiny is brought about.
Q702 Paul Flynn: The chief constable in Gwent stood down because she was under the impression that the commissioner had absolute right to dismiss her. It was suggested by Tom Winsor that this was not the case. In the Gwent situation, the commissioner has said that he engaged secretly the best brains in the country, the legal people, so that the chief constable could not hire them. In those circumstances, she had little choice, I believe. Do you think that the chief constables need more protection and more information about their role to stop them being misused by decisions that are arbitrary and possibly malicious by incoming commissioners?
Damian Green: Without going into the details of the Gwent case, simply because I am not aware that lawyers were not available, there is a whole organisation, CPOSA, which exists to provide trade union-style advice to chief officers. Chief officers themselves have that protection and, in general terms, clearly if somebody has risen to the level of chief constable they will have a significant level of skill and organisation and self-confidence. In broad terms, it is quite difficult to bully a chief constable. They can look after themselves, in my experience.
Q703 Paul Flynn: This was a new situation, and there were three instances, as you know. I can assure you that the commissioner was described in this House as a vindictive bully. In those circumstances, do you not think that this matter should be addressed? There are many who feel that a great injustice was done to the chief constable.
Damian Green: As I say, the system is there. If the chief constable had said, "I do not accept this," then at that point a process would be trigged that involves HMIC, so would involve somebody very senior coming in from outside who would owe nothing to either side and who would investigate and then lay the evidence in front of everyone, including the panel. The system is there to protect both sides. All it needs is triggering.
Q704 Paul Flynn: Was it a mistake to give commissioners absolute powers to appoint their deputies?
Damian Green: No, I do not think so. We have now moved all the operational policing under the stage 2 transfer to the power of the chief constables, and I think that the key to all of this is transparency. The public will know who the PCC is appointing and what they are paying them and so on. The distinction that I think is really important and is perhaps not drawn often enough is that Police and Crime Commissioners are elected politicians. They are not functionaries. They are not officials. In the end, they are responsible to their electorate. They can always be chucked out by their electorate. If they behave badly, then that will make it significantly more difficult for them to get elected next time. They have that discipline over them. Given that, then I think they need to be regarded in that light, rather than simply as an official.
Q705 Paul Flynn: If there was a transparent system that was open to competition from outside, there would not have been accusations of commissioners appointing their political allies, those who financed their election campaign, members of their own fraternities or other pals. There was the case in Sussex where one person took on the job and then later resigned, but there have been other accusations of cronyism.
Damian Green: There are accusations made against elected politicians of all kinds at all times. As I say, the solution to this is transparency, is openness. We all know a lot more now about those who are responsible for police governance than we did under the previous system. There is in the legislation significant demands on PCCs to publish a whole raft of information that was not available to the public before. As I say, for elected people that is the best protection against any kind of corruption in the system.
Q706 Paul Flynn: This is my final question. Would it not be better if they were elected on the same ticket as the commissioner and they served jointly?
Damian Green: What, the chief constable?
Paul Flynn: The assistants.
Damian Green: Oh, the assistants. I do not think it would make much difference.
Paul Flynn: The way they elect the presidents.
Chair: A sort of dream ticket.
Damian Green: Yes. You are electing an individual to do a job, and we could all go off into disquisitions about the American presidential elections and how it has changed over 200 years, but I will resist the temptation, Mr Chairman.
Q707 Paul Flynn: In your view, it is all right to put someone in a job earning about £50,000 a year without advertising, and without giving anyone else an opportunity to commence that job?
Damian Green: If everyone knows what you are paying, who you are paying it to, and what their qualifications are for the job, then people will be able to judge you. In the end, it is as true of Police and Crime Commissioners as it is of Members of Parliament. An individual has to put themselves on the ballot paper and put themselves at the mercy of the electorate. That seems to me a very, very significant control mechanism, which enforces over time good behaviour.
Q708 Chair: Lord Wasserman, who is perceived to be the father of PCCs-we did not really establish who the mother was when he gave evidence-told us that there should be a gap between the election of the PCC and them taking office to give them time to be trained. In very candid and open evidence to this Committee, he said that, of course, he still supports the idea, but they needed that little bit of extra time. Some of the teething problems and controversies that we have seen-for example, in Kent-could have been avoided if they had been given training before they took office. What do you feel about that?
Damian Green: It is an interesting idea. I am not sure about the practicality of it. I also think there will be quite a significant difference between the first set who have been elected and what happens next time, simply because the job will have been done by more than 40 people for a period of four years. Anyone contemplating standing and hoping to do the job will have templates to work from that they will either want to follow or not, whereas we have asked 42 people to invent a new job. It was more difficult for them than it will be for any of their successors.
Q709 Mark Reckless: Are you satisfied, Minister, with the extent to which commissioners are driving savings through collaboration?
Damian Green: I am never satisfied. It is not the job of a Minister of State ever to be satisfied.
Mark Reckless: Are you disappointed?
Damian Green: No, I am pleased because-
Mark Reckless: Is that better than "satisfied"?
Damian Green: What I am pleased about is that one of the dangers that people foresaw beforehand was that electing someone for a specific area would militate against them collaborating, because they would say, "I want to have everything under my control in my area." That has not happened. That is what I am pleased about, and I look at Warwickshire and West Mercia, where they do not talk about collaboration; they talk about an alliance. Those are two forces that combine all their specialities. They have separate Police and Crime Commissioners, separate chief constables and separate cap badges in the force, but the forces collaborate very, very closely. That has driven a lot of savings as well as lots of efficiencies.
Q710 Mark Reckless: Do you think that could become a merger in due course?
Damian Green: That is up to them. We have said that what we are not going to do is impose mergers top-down, but if people want to come up with proposals from the bottom up, they can do. If you talk to-
Q711 Mark Reckless: You will facilitate them?
Damian Green: We will take each case on its merits. What Warwickshire and West Mercia have said is that they have the benefits that people see from mergers in terms both of better policing and of more efficient policing without any of the enormous hassle that the previous Government went through and in the end retreated from over mergers. That is not a lone example. Norfolk and Suffolk are moving to much greater collaboration, and I think over time we will see other forces doing that. There is some non-geographic sharing of services: Cheshire and Northamptonshire share some services. There are 1,000 flowers blooming in this.
Q712 Mark Reckless: In terms of scope for savings, how would you rank the potential for three different types of collaboration: one, Police and Crime Commissioners collaborating with each other; two, Police and Crime Commissioners collaborating with other blue light services; three, Police and Crime Commissioners collaborating with local councils? Which gives the greatest scope for savings, do you think?
Damian Green: It is a really interesting question, but I think it is genuinely impossible to answer, because it will be different in different parts of the country. One of the advantages of this system where we do devolve power out is that we will see, because in different areas there will be different degrees of enthusiasm for collaborating with blue light services, using local council services or just collaborating across borders. In some areas, people will do all of the above and that, I suspect, is the answer, long term: the habit of collaboration is such an obvious virtuous circle to get into.
Q713 Chair: Thank you. Can I ask you a couple of questions in conclusion that are in the public domain? This morning, as you know-I do not want you to comment on the individual case-an 82-year-old dog breeder was arrested following shootings involving two women. The Committee produced a report a year and a half ago about firearms in which we expressed concern about the police seizing firearms and then giving them back to individuals. In this particular case, this appears to have happened. Are you satisfied that our gun laws are adequate to deal with circumstances of this kind when people have certificates, and they seem to have these certificates on a permanent basis? They are just renewed automatically. Does the particular case cause you any concern?
Damian Green: Well, any case that involves the illegal use of guns obviously concerns me. If I can enter a small caveat, I am no longer responsible for firearms policy. Norman Baker now is. My knowledge is, therefore, slightly out of date.
Q714 Chair: When did you lose this?
Damian Green: When Norman Baker became a Home Office Minister, which was October, wasn’t it?
Q715 Chair: Try to look back to when you were Firearms Minister, if you could. What was the Government’s policy on this?
Damian Green: The Government’s policy is that the protections are there, and clearly firearms licensing is a very delicate issue. One can think of other tragic cases that have ensued. I was confident when I was doing the job that the individual forces, because it is done on a force basis, were significantly tightening up the way they operated. To say that licences are just automatically renewed is not the case.
Q716 Chair: In terms of crime statistics, we have also heard evidence about the accuracy of these statistics. The commissioner has not changed his evidence, but looked again at the evidence he gave to this Committee and came to the conclusion that there are concerns about the way in which they are being recorded. There is now an HMIC review of this. Are you happy with that, or do you have any concerns about the accuracy of these statistics?
Damian Green: There are two things. First, thankfully we record crime in two completely different ways. We can be confident that crime is falling because the crime survey, which does not depend on the statistics produced by the police, gives a consistent story, so I am confident of that. Of course, we need accurate police statistics as well. That is precisely why the Home Secretary called in HMIC and said, "Look at this on a force by force basis." They are going to produce an interim report in April, and I think a final report in October. In the course of the coming months, we will have some authoritative independent evidence both of what has been done in the past or is being done in the present and, no doubt, knowing HMIC, strict recommendations about what needs to be done in the future as well. I think that is a step forward.
Q717 Chair: Finally, on the historical cases that have been looked at by the police, obviously the public have been watching the very high-profile cases of William Roache and Dave Lee Travis and others, who have been acquitted after a very long and expensive police investigation. Do you think that this is proceeding in the correct manner? Should the police continue to do what they are doing, or have we reached a stage where there is an end to the investigations?
Damian Green: If you are the victim of a crime, you deserve a police investigation and, following that, potentially a prosecution and a case, whether that crime was committed last week or 30 years ago. That is the sensible and correct principle we need to work on, on this basis.
Q718 Chair: There is an open cheque-whatever it costs-to clear up these cases? The police should follow the evidence in the way that they think best?
Damian Green: Yes. If evidence is produced and then the CPS thinks there is a case to be answered, and that it is worth a court case, then, as I say, if you were a victim of a crime 30 years ago, you have as much right to have that crime cleared up as if you were a victim a few months ago.
Chair: One final question from Mr Reckless, and then we will release you.
Q719 Mark Reckless: Just finally on collaboration, Minister, there seem to be some barriers between police collaboration and the court system. Obviously, the judiciary are independent and we have to respect that, from that perspective, but there are a lot of administrative issues. Matthew Ellis, the PCC in Northamptonshire, has a very impressive pilot programme that is cutting through this and saving quite a lot of money. Can you support that more in other areas and nationally?
Damian Green: I not only can but do. I am also a Ministry of Justice Minister, and one of the things I am most keen on driving through is precisely that: the thought that this is a criminal justice system that starts with the police arresting somebody and ends with somebody being let out of prison and put on probation. If that is what the system takes, that should be one system. In particular, the technology through that system should be able to talk to itself, so that it is reliable and quick, and so that you are not constantly photocopying, faxing, doing all the things that have happened in the past. That is why in the last budget the Chancellor gave a special fund of £160 million precisely for this type of work.
Our vision is that by 2016 we will have a digital criminal justice system, which will mean not just the police using tablets or smartphones-it does not matter, there will no doubt be some other technology in the future-but recording everything digitally, both in terms of writing and body-borne video. That creates a digital case file that then goes through the system. You press a button and the file goes to the CPS. The CPS can press a button and disclose it to the defence. The court case can be heard with barristers with screens in front of them, with judges with screens in front of them, so at no point do you have the traditional barristers travelling round the country-I speak feelingly as the husband of a barrister-with suitcases full of papers, some of which will have been lost, all of which will have been transferred around at massive expense and slightly inaccurately for periods past, and then getting there and the defence saying, "This document was not disclosed", or the police saying, "Yes, we will go back to the station and get that." All that kind of thing that causes delay and frustration in the criminal justice system is unnecessary in a digital era, and we are moving as fast as I can to get towards that.
Q720 Chair: Very finally, we are concerned about the reduction in police dogs: 117 units have been lost since 2009, and they are very cost-effective. They do not answer back. We have seen the value for money that they provide when we have been to Calais, when we have seen them on drugs raids. The NCA, as you know, in their new operations, use them. Is it a worry to you that these very effective parts of policing that are not expensive are being reduced so dramatically?
Damian Green: That is classically an operational matter for individual chief constables. You are right, dogs do effective work on drugs and some public order, but it is not for the Police Minister to second guess any individual chief constable.
Chair: No, I am not asking you to second guess it. I want you just to say what you feel generally about police dogs and their use.
Damian Green: Like this Committee, I have seen police dogs used extremely effectively, but it is not for me to tell chief constables how many police dogs they should have.
Chair: I am sure they will be relieved to hear that. Minister, thank you very much for giving evidence to us today. We are most grateful. Apologies for keeping you waiting again. That concludes the evidence session.