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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 757-iv
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Home Affairs Committee
Police and Crime Commissioners: progress to date
Tuesday 4 February 2014
Councillor Joanna Spicer and Ed Hammond
Councillor Dorothy Ross-Tomlin, Councillor Alison Lowe and Councillor Roger Seabourne
STEVE WILLIAMS and STEVE WHITE
Evidence heard in Public Questions 450 - 628
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 4 February 2014
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Councillor Joanna Spicer, Local Government Association, and Ed Hammond, Centre for Public Scrutiny, gave evidence.
Q450 Chair: Could I welcome all those present to the session of the Home Affairs Select Committee dealing with our ongoing inquiry into police and crime commissioners? Could I refer everyone present to the Register of Members’ Interests, where the interests of all members of the Committee are noted? Are there any additional measures that need to be declared? Good.
I welcome Mr Hammond and Councillor Spicer. Thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us today. You have probably been following some of our previous sessions. We have covered quite a lot of ground in the last few months. What we would like to focus on today is the LGA’s view of police and crime commissioners. With you, Mr Hammond, we want to look at the issues of public scrutiny. Perhaps I could start with a question about public scrutiny. Do you think there is enough public scrutiny of the removal of chief constables?
Ed Hammond: It is slightly difficult because it connects, I suppose, to the wider issue about the use of confirmation hearings more generally and hearings for appointment and dismissal of senior posts. The experience that some panels in some areas have had does suggest that there might be cause to look again at the powers of panels to examine at least the reasons for removal of chief constables in particular, yes.
Q451 Chair: Councillor Spicer? One of our witnesses who is going to come in a little later, a fellow councillor, Roger Seabourne, described the legislation as so poorly set up, rushed and ill thought out that the panel has no teeth and they are not able to scrutinise. What do you feel about that?
Cllr Spicer: I certainly saw the comments at the time and I have read them. The Local Government Association’s view is that it is still too early to come to firm views on the effectiveness of all the police reforms, both the police and crime commissioners and police and crime panels. I am here on behalf of the Safer and Stronger Communities Board, which is chaired by Councillor Mehboob Khan, who I expect some of you know. We have had reports throughout the last 15 months on police reform, both the panels and PCCs, and although we have some thoughts that we want to share with you-and we have already submitted some of them-as to how things could be improved, we certainly think it is too early to come to those sort of statements that you referred to.
Q452 Chair: Councillor Spicer, do you think that the panels ought to have the power to veto the appointment of a chief constable?
Cllr Spicer: You asked earlier about removals of chief constables. To be quite clear, although some of that was a bit rocky to start off with and has been watched very carefully by the LGA, we think that it is part of the learning that it is inevitable that there be changes.
In terms of the veto, currently the position is that the police and crime panels are holding these confirmation hearings for deputies and chief constables. I think that as people get more experienced-and this is a relatively new process for local government-the few glitches there have been about that will soon be calmed.
Q453 Chair: Ought they to have the power of veto? If you are looking at the legislation again and you are considering it, do you think that they should be able to dig their heels in and just say no?
Cllr Spicer: I am pretty certain that the view shared across party at the LGA is that the power to send back is probably more correct than the power to veto.
Ed Hammond: I would tend to agree with that. It is difficult to envisage circumstances in which the use of the power of veto would be appropriate. It would only be useful in extreme circumstances where, for example, the proposed appointment was considered to be so inappropriate, which would suggest a significant failing on the part of the office of the PCC and the PCC in terms of their internal HR and recruitment processes. Given the fact that the office of the PCC will have a monitoring officer whose job it is to ensure the probity of those arrangements, it is difficult to see what could be added.
Also a veto, certainly in employment law and other terms-I am by no means a lawyer-could be seen as essentially career ending for any chief constable who would be subject to it. You can imagine a circumstance where a proposed chief constable comes before a panel and their appointment is vetoed. That would cast significant doubt on their ability to hold a senior policing post.
Q454 Chair: Yes, of course. The Gwent situation is one that we have looked at. I don’t know whether you looked at the Gwent situation, where a commissioner says to a chief constable, "I am not going to renew your contract" and the chief constable then says, "Okay, I am going". Have you looked at that?
Ed Hammond: I have. I am somewhat unwilling to go into depth on my views or otherwise on individual panel-
Chair: That is why you are here, Mr Hammond. You are here to give us the benefit of your views, otherwise you would not be here.
Ed Hammond: Of course, but it is always difficult to talk about individual circumstances where I don’t know everything about the situation involved, and certainly when somebody from Gwent is not here.
Chair: Give us your view on that.
Ed Hammond: I can say in general terms that one would have expected, or certainly if I had been on the panel under those circumstances I might perhaps have expected, to look at that decision made by the commissioner. There may well be circumstances existing in Gwent of which I am not aware that made that impossible or made that difficult.
Chair: Councillor Spicer?
Cllr Spicer: The LGA have looked very closely, through the events they hold for police and crime panels, at the circumstances surrounding what happened in Gwent and also, more interestingly for us in terms of learning, in Lincolnshire, which I believe you have had a view on as well. The view that we have at the moment is that we do not need a change in the legislation around that, but there is a need for some learning from those processes, both by police and crime commissioners and by panels and to a certain extent by public expectation.
Q455 Chair: Lincolnshire is very close to home as far as you are concerned.
Cllr Spicer: Suffolk does not quite join Lincolnshire.
Chair: I thought you said you knew about the Lincolnshire situation.
Cllr Spicer: The Lincolnshire situation was of interest as much as Gwent to us in local government.
Q456 Chair: Assuming they have been on this learning curve, how could that have been handled better?
Cllr Spicer: I think if you look at the timing of both those events, so early in some of the most radical police reform in 40 years, it was inevitable that there would be a mixture of misunderstanding combined with unusual behaviours. One would hope through the national bodies, including ACPO and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, that such events would not quite unfold the same way again.
Q457 Mr Winnick: One could understand if a police and crime commissioner has been in office six, 12, 18 months and comes to the view that a chief constable should be removed, but is it surprising that a police and crime commissioner-there were two, in fact, in the areas named by the Chair-was in office for some four, six or eight weeks and suddenly decides that the long-serving chief constable should go? What fairness or justice could there be in making such a quick decision after being elected?
Cllr Spicer: I should have said at the beginning that I do answer some of these questions with the experience of having been on a police authority for many years, and I was the last chairman of our police authority, so I would like to think I know a bit about employment of chief constables.
I can only reiterate that the detailed circumstances, as Ed Hammond said, that might have been behind particularly those two would not happen with such speed and in that way again. The Local Government Association does do a huge amount of training now for police and crime panels to work with them. This was very much the message around the powers that police and crime commissioners would have. I suspect that possibly those very hasty decisions had been made a long time before by the candidate.
Q458 Mr Winnick: When you were on a police authority, and you said you were for many years, did it ever occur to you or your colleagues to dismiss the chief constable?
Cllr Spicer: It certainly never occurred to us in Suffolk to dismiss one. I have to say that there were some difficult times and relationships on and off over the years, not of any particular significance today, and tension, because police authorities had the right to take similar actions, but the relationship was different. There were some weaknesses that the Government has quite rightly sought to address. There were some strengths, too, in the partnership arrangements that inevitably developed. Sometimes they were too cosy, sometimes there was a lot of tension between police authorities and chief constables. No, it certainly never occurred to us in Suffolk to dismiss one, but I am aware it happened elsewhere.
Q459 Mr Winnick: Mr Hammond, it has been suggested to us by previous witnesses that before the process takes place, namely dismissal, there should be some intervening body to look at the situation, not necessarily be in a position to decide one way or the other but to give advice to the police and crime commissioner and the panel. Do you think there is a case for that?
Ed Hammond: I would assume that that would be the kind of advice that the commissioner would expect to receive from their monitoring officer, from the HR director that works with them in the office of the PCC and also with the HR function of the local force. I am not sure if there is necessarily any cause for an additional independent body to provide advice on that. You would hope that between them those bodies would be able to provide high-quality advice to commissioners as to what was legal, what was appropriate and what was not.
Q460 Michael Ellis: Why shouldn’t chief constables on six-figure salaries, £100,000-plus a year, sometimes closer to £200,000, be capable of being discharged by a democratically elected person? After all, police and crime commissioners are responsible for a budget and they are responsible to the electorate who elect them. Other people are accustomed in their day-to-day lives to hirings and firings. Why should the chief constables be protected by this cosy arrangement whereby people can be moved around at public expense or kept in place despite the perhaps wider public interest? I am not talking here about any specific case, I am talking in the generality. Why shouldn’t they be susceptible?
Cllr Spicer: I should have added before that police authorities did on several occasions suspend chief constables. I am not particularly aware of any high profile sackings. Mr Ellis, I completely agree with you; police authorities could have done that too, but perhaps were not brave enough.
I think the only qualification I would add-and I think the LGA would agree with me and where your Chairman was coming from-is it is also how you do these things. We all work in different ways as councillors or whatever in the public sector. If action is required to be taken, whether someone is earning £20,000 or £200,000, there is a due process. Clearly these very early steps attracted a lot of concern and publicity. Mr Hammond was talking about due HR process. I completely agree with you that it is what the public have elected police and crime commissioners for and these are actions that they are completely entitled to take. My only plea would always be that due process is applied in the interests of fairness and to prevent legal action, as happened in Lincolnshire, at a later stage.
Q461 Michael Ellis: I don’t disagree with that in principle, but isn’t the reality that if two people who are supposed to work very closely together have discovered that they are incompatible-I am not citing any individual case here-there may sometimes be circumstances where it is necessary for a move to be made? After all, what should be of paramount importance is the wider interests of the public that they are all there to serve, shouldn’t it?
Cllr Spicer: I completely agree with your last point. What is in the interests of the public and indeed the officers and employees of that police force? Good chief constables don’t grow on trees. Any police and crime commissioner would need to consider very carefully their relationship to get that right balance of tension, which the public expect and which the elections have raised expectations about, combined with the fact that the two of them have to work very closely together. There would be some members of the public who still don’t see the difference.
Q462 Paul Flynn: Do you believe that a police commissioner with a mandate of 8% of the vote-in my constituency at one polling booth nobody voted-has a mandate to sack the chief constable immediately, without mentioning that this was his policy in his election campaign? Is that a democratic mandate?
Cllr Spicer: There are two questions there. If I could just say, as a politician-a humble one compared with all of you, but nevertheless one of over 25 years-winning an election is winning an election. It is deeply unfortunate that the turnout was so low, a combination of time of year, not on an election cycle routine, dark evenings and so on, and it was pretty low all around the country. The evidence from polling is already showing some improvement in public awareness.
Going back to this word "sacking", I hope I have covered that. I do think it is very difficult for me to comment on the individual circumstances, particularly as I am here on behalf of the Local Government Association. All I can say is that I certainly would not have done something like that and it was not in a manifesto, but the Government had raised expectations that police and crime commissioners were going to be able to do things like that.
Q463 Paul Flynn: There has been confusion between the two views of whether the police commissioner had unfettered authority to lean on the chief constable to resign. The chief constable thought he did. We have since been told that he does not, by Tom Winsor and other distinguished people. Do you think there was confusion about that and that if they had both been better informed the chief constable could have put up a defence? We know the commissioner has said that he had cornered all the best legal brains in order that the chief constable could not hire them in defence. It is an atrocious situation, isn’t it? Why aren’t you coming out and complaining about it? It seems to be an obvious misuse of power.
Cllr Spicer: The LGA’s stance is not regularly to complain. We do try to go about our business constructively. We are very concerned in both the high profile cases about the advice that was given to the panel, and probably the advice that was given to the commissioner, but I am not the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and I think they have to explain their actions.
I do have concerns, both personally and on behalf of the LGA, to ensure that there is better training and better clarity for the police and crime panels, who are meant to hold the commissioner to account and who also have a formal role in such dismissals or suspensions, or indeed appointments. That needs to come from the Government, from the Home Office.
Q464 Paul Flynn: You say it is too early to judge. Decisions will be made soon on manifestos for the 2015 election that might well include at least one major party’s proposal to end the police commissioners experiment and to go on to a totally different system. When will you be in a position to tell us whether you think the system is working or not?
Cllr Spicer: It is a question I have been asking myself all morning, wondering whether you would ask that. The LGA takes some pride in being cross-party, although we are well aware of Lord Stevens’ report. At the moment we have lead members from each of the three political parties and the independents and we have discussed this among ourselves very clearly. Our position at the moment remains that it is too early to say. There will be a lot more research, including your own report, that will emerge during the course of the next few months. I believe that all political parties, including my own, will need to be very clear what their position is because I think the public will show a lot of interest in this at the general election.
Q465 Paul Flynn: Mr Hammond, you are being equally coy about what your views are. Do you want to open up, because you are among friends here? How do you think the scrutiny of PCCs could be improved?
Ed Hammond: There are probably a few things that can be done to improve scrutiny commissioners. Fundamentally, I think effective scrutiny rests on the existence of a positive, constructive working relationship between the commissioner and the panel, where the panel feels empowered to act as a constructive critical friend to the commissioner and the commissioner listens to what the panel says. The success or failure of these arrangements rests so much on the existence of that relationship that the importance of it should not be underestimated. There are certain things that can be done to help to improve that. There is certainly a lot that can be done around improving the way the information is shared between the commissioner and the panel.
There have been some significantly different approaches around the country with commissioners who have been very open with the panel, who have been prepared to share a significant amount of operational and management information with the panel, and where the panel has used that information in order to carry out its strategic role in holding the commissioner to account. Equally, there have been examples where the commissioner has been rather more opaque, a commissioner who is not consistently publishing key decisions, not being consistent in the way that they interpret what a key decision is, producing police and crime patterns that in some cases have fallen rather below the standards that panels need in order to be able to conduct good scrutiny. In a couple of circumstances people have told me that there has been actual obstruction by commissioners, and in some instances offices of PCCs, in response to what certainly appeared to us to be entirely reasonable requests for information from panels. In part that derives from a misunderstanding on some sides of what the panel’s role is.
Q466 Paul Flynn: Just a final question. Isn’t it true that rather than being watchdogs the panels have generally been fawning pussycats without teeth or claws? How can we make them less friendly and more critical?
Ed Hammond: I think that presumes that you cannot be critical and friendly at the same time, and I think you can. You can act as a critical friend. You can make constructive recommendations and suggestions for changes to the commissioner’s approach without being antagonistic or hostile. There are a number of panels that have that balance right, for example, those that have taken steps to look proactively at the business that the commissioner is undertaking and suggest ways that the commissioner can improve his or her approach and those that have looked forensically at the police. This week many panels around the country are looking at the commissioners’ budget and precept and many are having significant difficulties with that exercise, for reasons that I could go into if you want.
Q467 Paul Flynn: Perhaps you could tell us on which date you will tell us what your views are.
Ed Hammond: I can tell you now, if you like.
Q468 Paul Flynn: Should we continue with commissioners or should we scrap them?
Ed Hammond: I am going to disappoint you because I am going to agree with Councillor Spicer and say it is too early to say. Can I explain why I think it is too early to say? It is because when elections were held in November it meant that commissioners came to post when they had a period of about six or eight weeks to finalise their budget and precept for the following year and also to finalise their police and crime plan for the next year in an effective sense. That meant-certainly our perception has been-that in most instances the plans that belonged to the police authority from before the election were simply carried over to this current financial year.
That has meant that the scrutiny of those statutory arrangements, the budget, the precept and the plan, was quite rushed last year. It was mixed in a number of panels, with a number of confirmation hearings; for example, a lot of panels had confirmation hearings for deputies. We had, as we have talked about, confirmation hearings in a number of big cities for new chief constables, chief executives and finance officers, and that meant that the whole exercise of scrutiny by panels this year, up until maybe last summer, was not reflective of what it is going to look like in the future. I think now it is quite interesting. What we are moving to is a second phase of panel operation.
Q469 Chair: We will come on to some of these in a moment. Let me put one thing to you. You wrote in your e-politics blog on 19 October about the murky world of lobbying. "The murky world of lobbying needs more than just transparency. Stop trying to convince ourselves that transparency will automatically bring about accountability." What did you mean by that?
Ed Hammond: This goes back a couple of years, because that was October 2012, I think. What I mean is that just publishing information is not enough. You need to have the culture and the mindset in place among decision-makers to accept that when people use that information to hold them to account, they need to take action as a result. That goes to the heart of the things that I have been talking about under the relationship.
Q470 Chair: Yes, it does. Councillor Spicer, one of the things the Committee felt very concerned about is that there was no national register of interests of police and crime commissioners, so we compiled our own last year and we have promised to keep doing this until somebody takes this on board. We keep being told by the Home Secretary that people have to disclose this information locally and put it on their local websites. For the public, and indeed for Parliament, we cannot compare what they are all doing. We have to look up 43 different websites. Do you think there is a case for a national register where everyone can see in one place exactly what the commissioners’ other interests are, as they have for Members of Parliament and chief constables?
Cllr Spicer: And indeed elected councillors, if I could add that to the list. I have not come with an official LGA view on that specific question, but I am very happy to say-and I believe I would speak for everybody at the LGA-that we would welcome and be enthusiastic about that transparency. Equally, I accept the stated wish of the Coalition Government that police and crime commissioners should stand for election in their own individual right and not be tied by what their businesses or anything else were. I personally was not aware that they were not all putting that information on their website. I think that would be very valuable and equally-I don’t know if you were planning to come on to it-for their deputies and assistants.
Q471 Chair: Mr Hammond, a register of interests so that everyone can see-open transparency, no murkiness?
Ed Hammond: Yes. I would go further. I would suggest more nationally accepted standards for the kind of information that needs to be published. You will be aware that there are in existence regulations and guidance published by the Home Office about the current information that needs to be published by PCCs. Certainly research has been carried out by-
Chair: We are aware of that. Thank you.
Q472 Michael Ellis: You said that it was too early to tell as far as police and crime commissioners are concerned whether it was a good thing or not, and I accept it is early days yet. You made a valid point about the election being off cycle and at a time of year that we do not frequently have elections. You said that the turnout was bound to have been low and it will be much higher next time because it marries up with local elections.
As far as too early to tell is concerned, crime has fallen across the board, hasn’t it? I am not suggesting that that is all down to police and crime commissioners by any means, but isn’t one of the main arbiters of whether something is successful or not, as far as this issue is concerned, the fact that crime is falling? Look at my county of Northamptonshire. It has the fastest reduction in violent crime in England and Wales and the second fastest in crime reduction across the board. Would you agree with me, Councillor Spicer, that that is the sort of thing the general public are going to be looking at?
Cllr Spicer: I sincerely hope they will look at that. At this stage I would say, and you would expect me to, that crime has been falling for four or five years. The last year ran right through with the priorities. In fact, the priorities and the budgets being set by almost all police and crime commissioners do not look very different from those of previous police authorities, particularly in terms of performance. There is very little difference.
What is important about the reforms is that the public can clearly identify who is in charge of their policing, and I will readily acknowledge that that is working. It pains me to say it is working, but I was chairman of a police authority that was probably failing to make that happen. It didn’t actually worry me. I thought it was important people knew who the chief constable was. The reforms are designed to have an elected role and the evidence would seem to be that that is working. I think the fall in crime is-
Michael Ellis: There will be a number of factors, yes. Mr Hammond, did you want to add anything?
Ed Hammond: No, I think I will-
Michael Ellis: Leave your answer to Councillor Spicer, understood. Thank you.
Q473 Paul Flynn: Do the police and crime panels have enough resources or are they going to be outgunned by the commissioners and others?
Ed Hammond: I do not think they are sufficiently resourced. I think the Home Office made assumptions about the amount of resourcing that would be needed, based on meeting four times a year. The experience of panels in the first year and a bit of operation demonstrates that they need to meet more frequently than that in order to carry out their statutory role effectively. You cannot expect panels to come together and immediately be able to carry out effective scrutiny of the PCC’s budget. They will need briefings beforehand; they will need to meet beforehand; they will need to go through the budget beforehand with the PCC. That will involve more meetings, more briefing and more officer support. We have thought, certainly in the absence of the likelihood that the Home Office will commit more funding, that local authorities should think about committing extra resource themselves, as they are empowered to do in legislation.
Q474 Paul Flynn: It should come from the police precept way?
Ed Hammond: No, that would be from general funds. Many local authorities are going to find it difficult to do that, frankly. We suggested £2,000 per authority in our research, but I recognise that the political difficulty of doing that might work against it somehow. I know that some have done that, but I do think more resourcing is necessary.
Q475 Paul Flynn: As there is a general recognition throughout the country that police crime figures are a series of continuous fictions and have been for years, if they are brought back on an even keel and become truthful this is likely to show a picture that crime is increasing from the previous fiddled figures. The true figures might prove that. Isn’t this going to present a real difficulty for the commissioners who are in fact politicians and who are seeking re-election and have a due vested interest in fiddling the figures again?
Ed Hammond: Of course, answering that would require me to accept the premise that figures were originally fiddled, which I-
Paul Flynn: We have evidence of this.
Ed Hammond: If you have taken evidence of this, then you could-it is a very difficult question to answer. I suppose you-
Q476 Paul Flynn: Lord Stevens and the policemen in the Met. I sit on another Committee that has dealt with this in detail and I do not think there is any doubt whatsoever that generally the police crime figures have been manipulated; they are generally untrue and trimmed in various ways, but if you do not accept that, you are pushing against this mountain of evidence that has been presented, including from Lord Stevens, which said that they are fiddled, they were fiddled, they are being fiddled now.
Ed Hammond: I honestly do not-
Cllr Spicer: I do not think he used that word. I have to say, I have some difficulty accepting that word. HMIC go into constabularies doing what they call crime recording checks and clearly from time to time evidence emerges such as has done recently. I do know, having done sampling of crime statistics over many years, that a lot of it is certainly not deliberate fiddling. It is a matter of completely misunderstanding when one crime counts as three or four and whether they are recorded right and so on, which is quite difficult to do.
Q477 Michael Ellis: Needless to suggest, it is not at all accepted that crime figures are that disrupted. In fact, there will always be some errors, but the British Crime Survey is another form of statistics gathering. That is a survey adopted by members of the community, like an opinion poll, and that clearly is not susceptible to the sort of interference that it is suggested that other figures are. Do you accept that the crucial factor here is democratic accountability, and although there will be some resistance to that from certain quarters, the fact that the general public can identify with someone who they can praise and blame accordingly when they are happy or unhappy with things as to how public money is being spent is a principle that should be supported?
Cllr Spicer: Absolutely, yes.
Q478 Mr Winnick: Democratic accountability: police and crime commissioners are elected, however low the poll. They have an electoral position that obviously chief constables do not, but what about deputies to the police and crime commissioner? Aren’t there allegations that some of these recently elected police and crime commissioners have been appointing their mates?
Cllr Spicer: I think that is probably one for Ed, but that has indeed been alleged. Not all police and crime commissioners have appointed deputies. In fact, many, including my own, do not have any deputy.
Q479 Mr Winnick: But some have, have they not, Mr Hammond?
Ed Hammond: Some have appointed people without using what you might think of as standard recruitment practices, and I think that has caused significant concern to panels. When recruitment happens purely on the basis of a PCC inviting somebody to be their deputy, there is no effective base on which to conduct a confirmation hearing. You cannot then ask the commissioner, "What criteria did you use to appoint this person? Why are they most suited to the role? What will the role be?" In many instances, the role of the deputy is very ill-defined and I think many panels have experienced significant frustration in carrying out confirmation hearings for deputies for precisely that reason. I think the position of deputies needs to be looked at again. I think there is certainly an argument to say that people wishing to appoint deputies should make that clear before elections, but we are where we are, and of course under the legislation PCs are empowered to appoint deputies and have absolute discretion on how to do so. Obviously, making a change there would require primary legislation.
Q480 Mr Winnick: But as far as the panels are concerned, as I understand the situation, they have a responsibility to scrutinise a deputy appointment.
Ed Hammond: Yes.
Mr Winnick: But isn’t that bypassed simply by changing the name-instead of deputies, they are assistant commissioners-and therefore there is no necessity in legislation, am I not right, for the appointments to go before the panel?
Ed Hammond: I think you would have to look at that individually and say, "Is this person effectively performing the duties of a deputy?" It would be based on what that person’s job title was and what they were there to do. If it was about providing political management support to the commissioner as a person appointed by them in that role, then they are there as a deputy, really. Certainly if I were the chair of a PCP or somebody providing advice and support as an officer to a PCP and that happened, I would probably approach the office of the PCC or the PCC directly and say, "In our view, this appointment constitutes an appointment of a deputy and we are supposed to carry out a confirmation hearing".
Q481 Mr Winnick: In Surrey, Mrs Spicer, two assistant commissioners were appointed without any oversight from the panel.
Cllr Spicer: Did you say Surrey?
Mr Winnick: In Surrey, as I understand it.
Cllr Spicer: I think your next witnesses this afternoon come from Surrey. I do not have the details of Surrey.
Q482 Mr Winnick: No, but do you know of this?
Cllr Spicer: No, I am Suffolk, so I do not.
Chair: Yes, we know. Councillor Spicer and Mr Hammond, thank you very much. The bell indicates a Division and members of the Committee will be going for a vote. You are welcome to stay to hear the other witnesses who are going to give evidence to this Committee today, but thank you very much. If there are any issues you think-
Q483 Mr Winnick: I am aware that Mrs Spicer is Norfolk, but I am just wondering if she knew about the decision.
Cllr Spicer: Yes, not the detail, but I think you can obtain that later.
Chair: I must stop the conversation going ahead. If there are other issues that you wish to raise with the Committee, please write to us. Thank you very much.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Councillor Dorothy Ross-Tomlin, Chair, Surrey Police and Crime Panel, Councillor Alison Lowe, West Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, and Councillor Roger Seabourne, former member of Hertfordshire Police and Crime Panel, gave evidence.
Q484 Chair: Could I call the Committee to order and apologise for the vote? I do not think we are anticipating any more votes during your evidence session. I welcome Alison Lowe, Dorothy Ross-Tomlin and Roger Seabourne. Thank you very much for coming to give evidence. This inquiry into police and crime commissioners has been ongoing for a number of months and we are now focusing on the work of the police and crime panels. That is specifically what we would like to ask you about today.
I want to start with you, Councillor Seabourne, because you have been the most outspoken about these panels and we welcome your transparency and the fact that you have allowed us to look at this whole issue in the round. You were pretty critical of the police and crime panels when you resigned from the one in Hertfordshire. Why was that?
Cllr Seabourne: Thank you, Mr Chairman. First of all, with the benefit of hindsight perhaps I might have been a little bit harsh in my comments, but they were made at the time. I was only on the panel for what I referred to as its nascent year and things were very early, as was said earlier. I know I am in the esteemed company of people who are probably far better at doing this than I will ever be, but I suppose I am guilty perhaps of using a little bit of a sound bite. I suspect that I would not be sitting here now were it not that I used fairly strong language at the time. I know you may well comment on it because you followed up my radio interview and commented at the time. I suppose that it achieved its objective. I did not want to just walk away as some kind of admission of defeat. I came into local politics because I wanted to help change things. I felt I was not able to do that and I wanted to make a bit of a sign to at least shake things up. My chief officer tells me that things have improved since I have gone. I am not suggesting that I take credit for that.
Q485 Chair: You did describe the panel as "toothless". That is quite a strong word. You have had a lot of involvement in local government over the years and you have sat on many committees so you know the difference between an organisation that has some teeth and one that does not have any. Tell us why you said that.
Cllr Seabourne: I think because things were happening that I was not happy with and I felt, having made my comments to the panel, that they either could not or would not do anything about them. I am not sure even now which it was-if they would not do anything, that is very sad; if they could not, that is very disturbing.
Q486 Chair: Who is "they" in this case? The PCCs?
Cllr Seabourne: No, I would say the panel. I do not want to be critical of the PCC as such. My main criticisms were of the panel itself.
Q487 Chair: You would have liked your colleagues sitting on the panel to be a little bit more proactive or to do more than they did do. Is that right?
Cllr Seabourne: Indeed, or to be able to do more. I am not sure if they did not wish to or they were not able to, because in those days it was still too early. I can give hundreds of examples and perhaps I will write in with some.
Chair: One would be fine.
Cllr Seabourne: Of course, because I realise time is short.
Chair: Give us one practical example of the way in which-
Cllr Seabourne: Sure, and I will write in with the others because I could talk for an hour. One case is the publication of statutory data. The Government, the Home Office are continually saying that, "One of the best forms of bringing the commissioners to account is that they publish the information and the public can look at that and judge it", but what if the commissioner does not publish it? This was happening, it was drawn to our attention that it was happening and it was pointed out to the commissioner. I do not want to be too critical, it was early days, they were busy, but nevertheless, when push comes to shove and you are a believer in the rule of law and you have a public position that is literally the head of that rule of law in that area at that time, you have to follow the rules that have been laid down. When it was not done there was nothing the panel could or would do about it, and I felt that was an example of toothlessness.
Q488 Chair: Councillor Ross-Tomlin, have you served on the panel since its inception or were you added afterwards?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: No, Chairman, I have been there since the beginning.
Q489 Chair: Do you recognise this description of the crime panels in your area? You have a Chief Constable in Lynne Owens and you have a Commissioner, Kevin Hurley, who is an independent.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Yes.
Chair: Do you find that you have enough powers to deal with the work that you need to deal with?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: We would like more powers because you know we only have two vetoes, one over the precept, which the commissioner can choose to ignore, and over the appointment of chief constables and so on. My experience of the panel is very different. I do take the point that we are now more than a year in and my panel is a very good blend of experience and skill; it is very representative across the county, and I think we are growing in strength. We are now challenging robustly, and I can see the panel working effectively for those we represent.
Q490 Chair: You are challenging robustly Commissioner Hurley?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Yes.
Chair: Do you see that as your role, to challenge him rather than to look and see what the chief constable is doing? You see it very clearly as accountability of the commissioner himself.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Absolutely, because the chief constable is accountable to the commissioner and he is accountable to us. His role is one of strategy. The chief constable’s role is one of implementation.
Q491 Chair: Give me one example of where you have got your way as a panel and one example where you did not get your way.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: We are getting our way increasingly often. We have decided to focus on three things: one was cybercrime, which is now in his police PAC plan, another was rural crime, which we are working on, and we also wanted to look at neighbourhood policing. A review had started. In a sense, we did not get our way on that because the commissioner promised us he would come back and talk to the panel before implementation but, as he does sometimes, we were told retrospectively once all the changes had been made.
Q492 Chair: Councillor Lowe, where do you stand between these two opposite views as to the powers of the police and crime panels? We accept that this is early days and that this is a new experience for everybody, but you are also an experienced councillor. You have Mark Gilmore as your Chief Constable and Mark BurnsWilliamson as your Commissioner. Do you feel you have enough powers? Do you feel that the commissioner is being held to account?
Cllr Lowe: I think we do have enough powers. Probably the precept is the one area where perhaps we would like a bit more, because obviously we would want to agree the precepts. We are also local councillors and we want to make sure we get the very best value for the people of West Yorkshire. That might be an area for you and for legislation to consider going forward. In terms of everything else, we have powers. We have the power to get Mark, the PCC, to attend our meetings to give us information. The problem for us is more about capacity, not our capacity but his office’s capacity to give us the information we need in a timely way. There is sometimes a bit of tension about the information that we think we need and that his office thinks we need. The legislation is still in its nascent stages and we are a very new panel. I think the powers are there and we just have to learn to use them and use them appropriately so that the relationship with the PCC gives us what we want.
Q493 Chair: Just to get some facts, how many members of the panel are there apart from yourself?
Cllr Lowe: There are 14 of us, all councillors apart from two independents.
Q494 Chair: How often have you met since the election of the commissioner?
Cllr Lowe: Last year we met 11 times. This year we will have eight formal meetings. I think we have met so far once this year.
Chair: Almost once a month.
Cllr Lowe: Yes. There is quite a lot of work and, on top of the work that we do, we have leads on particular areas. We developed our own accountability framework, looking at all the statutory areas that we have to cover.
Q495 Chair: Councillor RossTomlin, how many times have you met and how many members of the panel are there in Surrey?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: We have exactly the same number of members, 14 members, including two independents. I have attended 23 meetings in the last year, but some of them have been complete panels, finance sub-groups and so on. I would think our formal and informal meetings are similar to what Alison has described.
Q496 Chair: Councillor Seabourne, we know that you have resigned from the panel, but how many meetings had you had before you resigned and how many members of the panel are there in Hertfordshire?
Cllr Seabourne: There were 14 when it was a full complement, but three resigned. It was not just me. I think I attended four meetings during the first year, which again shows some of the disparity with where we have come from, which is what all this is about. I never claimed I could paint a national picture. I will run on otherwise, so I will stop there. Thank you.
Chair: I am going to bring in one of your local Members of Parliament from Hertfordshire, James Clappison, who has a supplementary.
Q497 Mr Clappison: You mentioned statutory data and your frustration that it was not published. There is quite a lot of what you could call statutory data. Can you just enlighten us as to what the particular statutory data was that you were so concerned about?
Cllr Seabourne: I can certainly write in with it; it is a very long list.
Mr Clappison: Just choose one. There must be something that stood out.
Cllr Seabourne: Yes, hospitality expenses are one example, but I would not want to pick one. The issue to me was the fact that there was one that was not there. I read the Audit Commission’s report of literally the day before yesterday and found out that it is not just Hertfordshire. The best from their sample was a 75% strike rate of publishing what they are statutorily obliged to publish. I think for any other public body, be it education, health or whatever, if the best achieved was 75% serious questions would be asked.
Q498 Mr Clappison: Has it been published?
Cllr Seabourne: No, it still has not to this day. I am sure some has and some has not.
Mr Clappison: You say some has. Hospitality data for whom?
Cllr Seabourne: For the commissioner.
Mr Clappison: Has that been published?
Cllr Seabourne: Some has, but not all.
Q499 Mr Clappison: What has not been published that you are aware of?
Cllr Seabourne: Obviously, by definition I cannot identify what has not been published. I know some examples, but that is where my problem is. As soon as there is one gap, one asks the question, "I wonder what else is missing?" Obviously, by definition you do not know what is not there.
Q500 Mr Clappison: Some has been published, though, you say.
Cllr Seabourne: Yes.
Mr Clappison: Was that one of the reasons for your standing down?
Cllr Seabourne: It was one of many. I would say it was not the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it was not so much the lack of publishing the information. To be fair to our commissioner, who had only been in the job a few weeks and had a lot to do, it was the fact that when the panel identified it to him and he admitted it had not been done and assured them it would be done, for whatever reason-I am sure there is nothing underhand or he is hiding anything-it still was not done. The panel was absolutely powerless to do anything about it and I think it would have been in his interest if we could have forced him to do it.
Q501 Mr Clappison: But it has been done now?
Cllr Seabourne: Not all of it.
Mr Clappison: Some of it has?
Cllr Seabourne: Yes.
Q502 Mr Clappison: Did it occur to you, looking at this in the round-you were only there for four meetings and you were obviously very concerned about it-that you could stay there and seek for change from within? You would be able to say all of the things that you have said to us today if you were still a member of the panel. Presumably you would be much better informed and know what was happening at the moment.
Cllr Seabourne: That was a very difficult decision for me to make and, having spent more than 20 years as an elected representative-I have to be careful of my language-I do not like people who stand outside the room and do things in it. I prefer people to be in it fighting. But in the end I felt I had to resign, despite all of these issues, which I was prepared to stay and fight for. In one meeting in particular someone said to me, "You batted on your own all meeting, well done". I said, "Well, why didn’t you support me?" I decided I had a conflict of interest, which I have referred to in my written submission. I was appointed by my council as a member of the Hertfordshire Community Safety Board, which has executive decision-making powers, and then I was sitting on the panel that scrutinises those decisions. To me that was an absolutely clear conflict of interest so, if you like, I had a way out of my dilemma.
Q503 Mr Clappison: How did you come to be nominated in that case?
Cllr Seabourne: My council felt, and I agreed, that I was the best person to be sitting on the Community Safety Board, which had executive decision-making powers. We could nominate anyone to sit on the panel that did not have executive decision-making powers and in fact it did not have very many powers at all, as has been highlighted adequately enough over the last parts of your hearing.
Q504 Michael Ellis: Councillors, what arrangements have you developed, if any, in your respective crime panels to scrutinise the decisions made by your commissioners? How effectively do you think those arrangements have worked to date? For example, do you think there should be more guidance to commissioners on what constitutes a decision? In terms of scrutinising the decisions that the commissioner has made, are you happy that the arrangements that you have made are working and therefore that you are providing proper scrutiny for your commissioners? Councillor Lowe?
Cllr Lowe: Our commissioner is very clear about what constitutes a decision and I think overall we would agree. The arrangements are working pretty well. There has not really been any falling out about that. The only thing we would say is that the decisions that should be on his website are very out of date. I think the last decisions are from July. He has been reminded of that.
Michael Ellis: I am sure this is a further reminder.
Cllr Lowe: Yes.
Michael Ellis: Councillor RossTomlin?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: I think a definition of what a key decision is would benefit our commissioner hugely. We are finding as we scrutinise that the better we get at it, the more inclined he is to use the ambiguity of who does what.
Q505 Michael Ellis: I suppose by its very nature what amounts to a decision or a key decision is quite difficult to define. We have to use common sense, don’t we, and that means probably working together? Do you see room for improvement in that area?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Absolutely I see room for improvement. I don’t know if I am going off your question here, but I also see huge room for improvement as far as our challenge to the precept is concerned because of the timing element of it. We have six days and although our commissioner is able to say in December what he is going to be asking for, he did not give us the information until the 1st of this month. We meet him to discuss it on the 6th and it has to be all resolved by the 20th if we have challenge, yet we do not have enough information yet to know the way forward.
Q506 Paul Flynn: Are you happy with the resources you have to challenge the precept? You get a relatively small amount of money, about £53,000 I understand. Do you employ anyone who can give you useful advice on that?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: We have three accountants on the panel, which helps hugely. We also have two ex senior police officers and a retired Member of Parliament. We have quite a lot of expertise, but we do not really have enough resource as a panel. I think Councillor Lowe touched upon it. The timing of the precept is ridiculously short. We also, as lead authority in Surrey, do subsidise it quite a lot because our total is about £65,000. The only people on our panel who are paid are the independent members, who get about £2,500 each.
Q507 Paul Flynn: What percentage of the members of your panel live in rural areas?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Maybe five out of the 14.
Q508 Paul Flynn: Is crime in the rural areas worse than in the urban areas in your area?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: It is different.
Q509 Paul Flynn: Why are you concentrating on it then?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: We feel that the police resource is concentrated on the urban areas and perhaps they are not paying sufficient attention to the crime that is going on in the rural areas.
Q510 Paul Flynn: I will take your answer where you say it is different. There is less crime in the rural areas, which would explain the proportion you have been allocated.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: We have not studied it yet in detail so I can’t say with any confidence how much less it is than we expect.
Q511 Paul Flynn: So it was an evidence-free decision to concentrate on rural crime.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: It was in response to concerns expressed to panel members by their residents.
Q512 Paul Flynn: Councillor Lowe, looking at the very impressive activities that you have indulged in, when in many years time you come to retire and you look back on your career, which will give you the greater satisfaction, the work you have done on the panel or other activities you are involved in?
Cllr Lowe: I have to say the work as a mother would have to come first, but I think we are doing some good stuff in West Yorkshire. I am really pleased. We do not have the same problems with the precept discussions in West Yorkshire because we meet the PCC all year round, we get information all year round, and in November we began our discussions with his finance lead. We use the resources of our local authorities to properly triangulate some of the assumptions that they are making; to interrogate some of the things that they are telling us so that we have a very clear brief from the local authorities-Bradford this time, last year it was Leeds. We are really happy with the information that we are getting and using that methodology this year we were able to get the PCC to agree to give some money back to the local authorities. He is giving £1 million to us for domestic violence work, he has given money back to subsidise some PCSOs and he has given money back to the CSPs across the region.
Q513 Paul Flynn: You are convinced that there is useful value to be gained from the panel and from the existence of the commissioners?
Cllr Lowe: From the panel, yes, and obviously we are stuck with the commissioners so the panels have to work with them.
Q514 Paul Flynn: Are you unique in getting money back from the commissioner?
Cllr Lowe: I think we are unique in several ways, but probably that will turn out to be the case, yes.
Q515 Chair: Councillor Seabourne, did David Lloyd ring you up and say, "I don’t agree that it is a waste of time, space and money. Please, Councillor Seabourne, stay on. You have a great contribution to make to this venture"? Were there attempts made to keep you on?
Cllr Seabourne: No, he didn’t. I meet David at least once a month and we have a very good working relationship. That is not a problem. I do not agree with everything he says and I would not expect to.
Q516 Chair: Did he try to keep you on? He presumably did not agree with you.
Cllr Seabourne: No. I am sure he did not agree with me, but I think thereby lies one of the problems. The PCC has an undue influence on the panel and I would say it is not at the instigation of the PCC by any means. It just happens to be because of the political make-up of the panel. You asked a question earlier on about more guidance for what is a key decision. You can never have too much guidance. I will give you an example. When it came to the closure of front offices of police stations, we could not even decide whether or not it was an operational decision or a police commissioner decision, let alone whether it should be a key decision. Obviously, there would be this vagueness to start with.
Q517 Chair: Would it have helped if you were elected at the same time as the commissioner?
Cllr Seabourne: I think one of the real problems was the timing. I referred to what I considered to be rushed legislation, and I won’t go over that again, and the implementation even more so. On this first cycle, the time given for David to prepare the budget and the plan and for us to scrutinise it was indecent, and I think I have said it would be rude and insensitive to be too robust on its scrutiny. It just was not fair. Unfortunately, that was inevitable, but I think that set a culture and it was too late, it was done, water under the bridge.
Q518 Chair: Indeed, and Councillor RossTomlin, what about your commissioner, Mr Hurley, does he go out of his way to curry favour with you? Does he know that you have influence over him and does he go out of his way to be helpful to what you are doing?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Our relationship is quite good. He is quite a character. He is happy to work with us. We mostly get the information we require from his office, but of course if they are doing something we know nothing about we do not have the resource to challenge that and to drill deeper into finding out what it is.
Q519 Chair: Would it have helped if you had been elected at the same time? One of the features of the police authority structure is that you are elected councillors. You are an elected councillor, but you are not elected by the people and he is.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: No, and I think it works better the way it is. We are all selected from our own districts and boroughs and the county because we have a particular interest, expertise or background, and the blend of that seems to work well.
Q520 Chair: Councillor Lowe, what about your relationship with Mark BurnsWilliamson?
Cllr Lowe: It is cordial.
Chair: Cordial or cosy?
Cllr Lowe: Cordial, definitely not cosy. Mark will tell you, I hope, if you ever ask him, that we give him respect, but we are also very clear about our role and his. He has been very uncomfortable in many of our meetings, and I think that is right. We have to be constructive, but we are there for a different purpose. He is responsible for £2 billion over the course of the four years. He has to be held accountable for that.
Q521 Mr Winnick: If I can start where I stopped because the Division bell. My question is to you first, Councillor RossTomlin, and it is about the situation where the police and crime commissioner appointed someone and changed the designation. That was in your area and the panel that you chair had some critical words to say about that.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: We did indeed. We quite often have critical words to say. Our meetings are webcast and you will find lots of critical words. Yes, we were unhappy. He needs to consult us, but he sometimes does it retrospectively and that is not good enough. I do feel very strongly that when a commissioner is appointing assistant commissioners, deputies or whoever it should be advertised publicly.
Q522 Mr Winnick: What did happen when the police and crime commissioner decided on what everyone would have considered-presumably your panel as well-a deputy? What happened? Did he simply change the designation and ignore you?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: No. He has a deputy who he produced. We did go through the hearing for that and we were happy with his choice, but the assistant commissioners were brought to a meeting as assistant commissioners and this is what he looked on as consultation.
Mr Winnick: Commissioners, so it is two?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Two, one looking at racial equality issues, and the other looking at victim support.
Q523 Mr Winnick: Basically, would they be looked upon with justification as deputies?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: No, they are different. They work for a far shorter time and they are paid significantly less.
Q524 Mr Winnick: Your panel nevertheless was critical and you said, if I may quote, "It is extremely easy for commissioners to sidestep the PCP", and made the point, for example, "While the legislation prevents the commissioner appointing a deputy without consultation with the panel, Surrey’s Commissioner was able to appoint two assistant commissioners without any oversight". Do you stand by that?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: I absolutely stand by it.
Q525 Mr Winnick: Councillor Seabourne, does that strengthen your criticism of the panels as being toothless. Did it justify your resignation?
Cllr Seabourne: A very smart commissioner-and most of them obviously have not got where they are by not being smart-can play the system very well in terms of putting up a straw man precept to be knocked down, to have the second one walk through if they wish to do that. They can have an assistant rather than a deputy commissioner if they wish to have that and bypass the system. The system allows them a bit more freedom than I think is good for them.
Q526 Mr Winnick: I take the point. You are not intending to go back on the panel, I take it, at some stage?
Cllr Seabourne: Who knows? It is not high on my list of ambitions.
Mr Winnick: By popular demand?
Cllr Seabourne: I have not had a transfer request put in and now the window is closed, but I am certainly not anti the panel. I only felt that there were changes that needed to be made and I thought I could do more good sitting on the board than on the panel, so in a way the decision was made for me.
Q527 Mr Winnick: May I ask you something that has not been asked so far, namely the oath that the police and crime commissioners take, and I quote, "I will not interfere with the operational independence of police officers". As far as I understand it, it is very difficult to pin down operational independence because, as the HMIC has stated, it is not defined in statute. Let me give you one or two examples and I would be pleased to have your comment. There was a high-profile police case two years ago, the tragic murder-all murders are tragic, it goes without saying-of a Bristol woman and the press picked on the wrong person. We know the outcome of that, and over 30 years ago of the case of the mass murderer of women, and so on. Am I not correct in saying that it would be very difficult for the police and crime commissioner to tell the media in effect, "That is entirely a matter for the chief constable and his police force and not for me"? I doubt if the media would be satisfied. What do you feel? In a high-profile murder case that is dominating the media, as in the examples I have given, would the police and crime commissioner stand aside and say, "Not me"?
Cllr Seabourne: I hope he would, but I think there lies one of the problems. It is quite understandable that, irrespective of the low turnout at the polls, the public generally are not aware of and cannot be expected to be aware of the rather intricate rules and responsibilities and interests of the chief constable and of the commissioner, let alone of the panel and of the commissioner. Therefore, one of my fears and one of my strongest platforms at the time was that the public think police, be it commissioner, chief constable, panel, don’t know what the panel is. If things are not done properly and seen to be done by the book, as we well know, it gets a great deal of poor publicity, as has happened in my county yesterday and this morning. Therefore, the job of the men and women on the street doing the real hard job is made that much harder because the police are getting a bad name. It is nothing to do with them if the commissioner does not publish his results or comments or even is asked a question that he is not responsible for. That was one of my main concerns-that it is a public perception of the police, not the institution, not the new governance arrangements. The public, quite frankly, do not understand very well.
Q528 Mr Winnick: Before the elected positions were created in legislation, members of the police authority would not be asked questions by the media-I can’t recollect any example where members of the police authority or the chair of the police authority were asked questions by the media-in high-profile murder cases. Do you agree that the situation is now different?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: I have no working knowledge of the Surrey Police Authority, but I know that our commissioner is the sort of chap who would be happy to give a quote because he declares himself to be a pundit in any case.
Q529 Mr Winnick: It would not just be a quote because the media would be saying, "What is happening? When are the police going to catch the alleged murderer?"
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: I would hope that he would be working closely with the chief constable and their respective communications departments in any statement that was given.
Q530 Mr Winnick: Are you in agreement, Councillor Lowe?
Cllr Lowe: I agree. My experience is that Mark, in those circumstances, would not get involved in the operational detail, would not be giving any information to the press. But what he would want to do is ensure that the public perception of the police’s conduct was that he was doing all that he should do in his position to ensure that that was transparent and all the rest of it.
Q531 Chair: Councillor, why did you let Mark Burns-Williamson get away with appointing so many Labour party people to his team? You are a member of the Labour party.
Cllr Lowe: I am a member of the Labour party.
Chair: He came to you with the appointment of a regional director of the Labour party and you passed that, did you?
Cllr Lowe: Are we talking about the deputy? Yes. If you have done your homework-
Chair: Sorry, not the regional director. I think a relative of the regional director.
Cllr Lowe: Yes, a relative. If you have done your homework you will have seen that I was very vocal-
Chair: We try to do our homework on the Committee.
Cllr Lowe: -in my opposition to Mark recruiting a deputy. It was not the person of Isabel Owen that I had any exception to. It was the fact that he was-
Chair: The concept.
Cllr Lowe: It was the concept of recruiting a deputy. I thought it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Q532 Chair: You told him he did not need one.
Cllr Lowe: For me, he had to demonstrate that there was a need, and that meant that he had to be in the post for up to a year, demonstrate that there was enough work for that person to do and then we would have considered his-
Q533 Chair: But did that show that your committee is, as Councillor Seabourne says, toothless because he went ahead and made the appointment of someone who is politically quite close to him?
Cllr Lowe: Yes, he did, and the legislation allows him to do that. If you have a problem with it, then it is about changing the primary legislation that allowed that to happen. I remain unhappy about that. Mark knows that, but I am a grown-up and we move on.
Q534 Chair: Councillor Ross-Tomlin, in respect of local matters in Surrey, there was an attempt to begin a quite extensive privatisation scheme in Surrey, which predates the arrival of Chief Constable Lynne Owens. Would you have been part of any discussions about that? It has subsequently been shelved, I understand, but would they have shared any of that information with you?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Was this the amalgamation with another force?
Chair: Yes, with the West Midlands.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Yes, that predates me and I do not know much about it, but the commissioner is very keen himself that we amalgamate with Sussex. I have a working relationship with the chairman of Sussex-
Q535 Chair: What do you mean, amalgamate the whole of the police authorities?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: The Surrey police force amalgamate with Sussex police. We do not consider he has a mandate to do that. The Surrey panel is against it and the Sussex panel, I understand from my discussions with it, feels the same, although we are happy with all of the collaborative working that goes on, because that makes sense.
Q536 Chair: Your commissioner wants to merge Surrey and Sussex?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Yes.
Chair: Nobody supports this?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: No.
Q537 Chair: Councillor Seabourne, for the time that you were on there, when you made your very brave and principled stand in deciding to resign, did you see anything that caused you concern? I know you have a list of 100, I know you threatened to read it out and I know you are going to send it to us, but in terms of the appointments that were being made by the commissioner. Hertfordshire does not seem to me the kind of place where lots of appointments were made.
Cllr Seabourne: No, and I have been very careful not to criticise the commissioner because he-
Chair: You have been very careful. We understand that your beef is not with him.
Cllr Seabourne: Thank you. For example, he appointed one deputy who we found out later was his running mate but did not get the Conservative party ticket to stand. I think it would have been more transparent to say that at the time. I am not that bothered; he has a mandate and he is going to appoint who he wants, because that is what the legislation allows him to do, but in terms of the public perception it was not good. She resigned for an unconnected reason and he appointed a second deputy who happens to live in his village. It is just not good public relations and the panel was not happy with that. It is his choice and I support his right to choose, but it was not a tactful appointment because the public perceive, "Oh, it is the police, jobs for their mates" and they say "the police", not "the commissioner". That is what worries me.
Q538 Mr Clappison: Do you think it would be an improvement and avoid some of the problems you have just outlined if the deputy was elected as well as the commissioners?
Cllr Seabourne: On the same ticket, absolutely, because it is transparent. Take it or leave it, absolutely, because he would have got there, that is for sure, yes.
Q539 Mr Clappison: Do you all agree with that?
Cllr Lowe: Yes.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Yes, either that or the post was advertised.
Cllr Lowe: Our post was advertised.
Q540 Michael Ellis: Can I put a counterview to that, which has perhaps been expressed by many? Why shouldn’t police and crime commissioners be able to appoint the people who are going to be working for them and with them and help them achieve the functions that they are elected to achieve? After all, it does not stop Ministers and shadow Ministers from appointing their special advisers without going through the normal employment processes. If an electorate have elected a Labour police and crime commissioner, why shouldn’t he be free to select his own staff, and the same for a Conservative commissioner? It is an elected appointment and he or she will be responsible for them and will be answerable for them as well, come an election. Does anybody disagree with that as a principle? It is a completely non-partisan point that I am making.
Cllr Lowe: I agree with you to some extent. It is fine that we have a Labour deputy and a Labour PCC. My issue is about the use of public funds. But there was a proper recruitment in this instance and Mark is more than welcome to have his Labour colleague in that role.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: I am quite comfortable with the deputy who was selected and I take your point. Why should he not select whoever he wants? But we should have some power of veto, and we should have the ability to get rid of that deputy if time shows that he was not the best chap for the job.
Paul Flynn: Do you agree that there is nothing at the moment to stop any police and crime commissioner from appointing a member of his own family, someone who had helped him financially in his election campaign, a fellow member of the Freemasons or some other body, or anyone? It is a completely archaic system that has to be reformed.
Michael Ellis: Excuse me, I was in the middle of asking my questions. I do not do that to Mr Flynn so I do not know why he insists on doing it at every opportunity in my case. Mr Chairman, as it happens I am concluding anyway.
Chair: Mr Ellis, is that the end of your questions?
Michael Ellis: As it happens I have, thank you.
Q541 Chair: A final question from me: stay or keep after a year and a half? Would you keep the role of police and crime commissioner or would you get rid of it? Councillor Lowe?
Cllr Lowe: Ideologically I was opposed to PCCs and I remain so. Having said that, I am very conscious of the cost of introducing PCCs and I would want to be assured that we have something better and more cost-effective if we were going to replace them.
Chair: Councillor Ross-Tomlin, keep them or get rid of them?
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: I would keep them. I feel it is more democratic and that the residents are better represented by a more transparent process.
Cllr Seabourne: I come from a position of a very low crime rate and a very good police force and a good governing structure. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I would be rather critical if I wanted to throw it all out now and perhaps throw the baby out with the bath water. Sorry about my mixed metaphors. We have come this far. We should see it through a bit more, but there really do need to be some adjustments and some tinkering with the processes.
The last questioner asked about appointments. Can I give you one example with the appointment of the chief executive? In Hertfordshire we appointed a chief executive part time who is also chief executive of the fire and rescue service. As it happened, the result of that is a saving to the budget of Hertfordshire County Council. That is something that should be open to much more robust scrutiny than was possible under this present system.
Q542 Chair: If we gave the panels a bit more teeth, might you consider rejoining?
Cllr Seabourne: I would never say never to anything. I enjoyed my time on the panel and when I felt I was achieving something I was happy to do it, but when I felt I was not achieving anything. then I had better things to do with my time in public service and I would prefer to spend my limited time there.
Q543 Chair: This Committee is most grateful to all three of you for coming here today. We found it a very interesting session and you have given us some very good ideas for our final report. Thank you so much for coming to share all that with us. If you have any information that you would like to give us-I know, Mr Seabourne, that we are awaiting your 100 reasons-we would be delighted to see them and, of course, we will publish anything that we receive.
Cllr Seabourne: I certainly shall do. Thank you very much.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: Chairman, may I send you something about the funding of panels, because in Surrey it is very bizarre. We have 11 districts and boroughs and a county, and unless all 12 agree that panel members be paid nobody gets anything.
Chair: Please do send us anything, even if it is bizarre. It is the job of the Committee to look through these matters.
Cllr Ross-Tomlin: I will try to make sure it is not, Chairman. Thank you.
Chair: Thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Steve Williams, Chair, Police Federation, and Steve White, Vice-Chair, Police Federation, gave evidence.
Q544 Chair: Mr Williams and Mr White, thank you for giving evidence to us. As you know, it is a feature of the inquiries of the Home Affairs Select Committee that we have always invited the Police Federation to give evidence to the Committee on a number of different issues. Can I take this opportunity to thank you and your colleagues for the way in which you respond so very rapidly to our requests for information? Thank you very much.
Steve Williams: You are most welcome, Chair.
Chair: This is part of our inquiry into police and crime commissioners and we are very keen to hear your views on it, but clearly the Normington report has been published and I know the Committee is interested to ask you questions on the report. You have now had a bit of time to digest it. I congratulate you, as Chairman, on having decided to instigate this inquiry. Was it an act of bravery too far, given the damning verdict of Sir David Normington into your own organisation? Do you regret having set it up, knowing what the conclusions are?
Steve Williams: No, not at all. We recognised some time ago that the Federation needed to change; we needed to reform. I took office just over 12 months ago now and instigated the review. We were very fortunate to be able to put together such a credible panel of people, supported by the RSA as the secretariat. The findings are before us; the interim report gave us an indication of the direction of travel. We did not wish to sit on our laurels. We recognised that issues were identified in that interim report so we got about some business in relation to communications, particularly internally. We have already picked that piece of work up and we are actively engaged in a process now. We have had a series of meetings on a national level and we meet again tomorrow. There has been some really positive work on what needs to be done.
Q545 Chair: That is very helpful. But, Mr Williams, you must have suspected that something was wrong with this organisation for you even to decide to set up an inquiry. Something at the back of your mind or perhaps more than anecdotal evidence must have been presented to you that made you feel that, "It is time that we looked at the Fed very carefully", or did you just open it up and have this inquiry without any preconception as to what it might say?
Steve Williams: No, not at all. The inquiry was given very much a blank piece of paper and it was important that that was the case. It was totally independent and-
Q546 Chair: No, I understand that, but did you have an inkling that things were going wrong? It is not normal for the incoming chairman of an organisation to decide to open an inquiry into the organisation itself? Did you feel that there were some problems?
Steve Williams: Yes, I did. We had been looking at ourselves and even in conference in May 2012 there was talk about changing. When I became Chair I recognised there was that need and instigated the review, with the backing of the Joint Central Committee. It has been quite hard hitting, and understandably so. There were no real surprises in there as far as I was concerned as the Chair.
Q547 Chair: Were you surprised that 91% of the Federation membership wanted the organisation to change? It is a very large percentage. It is almost everybody there.
Steve Williams: Yes, there is an acceptance that we do need to change and-
Q548 Chair: Were you surprised at that percentage?
Steve Williams: That particular figure of 91%, yes, I was, but that is 91% of the 12,500 officers who responded to the survey. I understand, from having spoken to Sir David Normington who chaired the independent review, that that need for change was mirrored wherever he gathered the evidence and the team gathered the evidence.
Q549 Chair: How do you feel about some of the most recent events that have occurred involving police officers? I know that you issued an apology in respect of Andrew Mitchell. I think you said this, following the conviction of Keith Wallis, "It is only appropriate that I apologise to Mr Mitchell for the officer’s actions". You stand by that statement, do you?
Steve Williams: I do, indeed, yes, and Mr Mitchell has accepted that. In fact, he has suggested that we meet, but clearly there are ongoing proceedings and that will be something that will take place in the future when, hopefully, I will have some constructive dialogue with him.
Q550 Chair: Do you feel that perhaps in the past the Federation has been too aggressive in dealing with public issues of this kind and that if it had paused and considered more carefully perhaps we would not be where we are today with such low morale in the Federation?
Steve Williams: Yes, there have been some concerns about that.
Q551 Chair: What are you doing practically about issues such as Hillsborough and the Andrew Mitchell affair?
Steve Williams: We welcome the ongoing investigation in relation to that inquiry and we very much look forward to the findings. It is very important that the truth comes out in relation to Hillsborough for everybody concerned. Our feelings still go out to the families and friends of those poor people who died during that event.
Q552 Chair: In respect of Andrew Mitchell, are you supporting the officer who is suing him in the civil courts with financial assistance?
Steve Williams: In relation to Constable Toby Rowland?
Steve Williams: No, I don’t think we are financially supporting him.
Chair: The Federation is not financially assisting him?
Steve White: Maybe if I could answer that point, Chairman.
Chair: Yes, of course, Mr White.
Steve White: For members of the Police Federation, we have certain rules in terms of funding for on-duty occurrences. This is an on-duty occurrence that is being funded by the Police Federation up to a point. Having said that, it is a matter between Toby Rowland, as an individual officer, and the matter before the court. I am sure you will appreciate that it is going to be quite difficult for us to expand on those issues.
Q553 Chair: No, we do not want you to expand on it. All I am asking is, is the Federation financially assisting the officer in his civil case, not the criminal case, against Mr Mitchell?
Steve White: The Police Federation has funded legal advice for PC Toby Rowland, yes.
Q554 Chair: It continues to do so, does it?
Steve White: It continues to do so up to a point, but of course once you get to a point in legal proceedings, when we start talking about conditional fee arrangements and so on, that is then for the legal teams to determine. It is worth pointing out that this is not a blank cheque or anything of that nature. There are checks and balances that we, as an organisation, go through throughout these stages.
Q555 Chair: Mr Williams, in respect of the Normington report, there were suggestions that your regional chairmen or chairpersons had control of the budgets of the Police Federation and there were concerns about how the money was being held. Do you, as Chairman of the Federation, know how much money is in all these bank accounts?
Steve Williams: No, I do not, Chairman. I do not and I do not think that is right. This is about public confidence and transparency and openness and I welcome those findings within the review.
Q556 Chair: As Chairman, you are telling this Committee that you do not know how much members’ money is being held in any particular part of the country, that you would like to know this figure, as the Chairman, because this is the subscription of your members but you do not know it?
Steve Williams: No, I do not and I do not think that is right.
Q557 Mr Clappison: Mr Williams, I appreciate your candour in the way in which you have come to the Committee today. One of the things that the Normington report has recommended is greater accountability of the Police Federation to the public, as opposed to just accountability to its members. Do you believe that if there was such public accountability it would help the Police Federation to make the voice of police officers heard in a way that perhaps it has not been heard in the immediate past?
Steve Williams: I think you are absolutely right. Yes, this is about public confidence. If there is suspicion around the organisation that represents the rank and file, then how can we expect the public to have confidence within the police service? I absolutely agree with you.
Q558 Mr Clappison: We need to hear that voice across a range of issues, don’t we?
Steve Williams: We do, indeed, absolutely, yes.
Q559 Mr Clappison: Can I come back to the question that the Chairman was asking you about the financial arrangements as far as this legal action is concerned. I was not proposing to ask about that, but I was quite intrigued by what you were telling us. The big money in libel actions comes when it goes to court, doesn’t it-the big fees as far as counsel and so forth are concerned? Do you expect, if there is such a libel action, that the Police Federation will be funding it or not?
Steve White: The governance of these procedures is handled by a particular official within the Police Federation-the Deputy General Secretary. My understanding is that there has been funding up to a point and then, of course, we will always keep funding issues under review. As I said earlier, this is not a case of a blank cheque. However, we do have fund rules in terms of the support of members for on-duty occurrences. This comes within that and the criteria for the spend is controlled by the Deputy General Secretary. I wish I could give you the exact details, but I do not have them to hand. It is a matter of procedure for us.
Q560 Mr Clappison: Could I ask both of you very briefly, would we be right in interpreting what has been proposed as a fresh start?
Steve Williams: In relation to the independent review?
Mr Clappison: Yes, not about the detail but for the Police Federation as a whole-a fresh start.
Steve White: It is important to recognise that the Police Federation has been in existence since 1919. We are almost 100 years old. While the independent review has been critical of the organisation, it is important to point out that the huge amount of work that is undertaken by our representatives locally, and is appreciated by our members who use those services, has gone unnoticed to a certain extent. It is one of our failures and one of the reasons why we needed an independent review so that we could get out that message in terms of what our reps do day in and day out. It does often go unnoticed.
Mr Clappison: I am not decrying that, but even very old organisations need a fresh start sometimes.
Steve White: Now is an appropriate time and, as Mr Williams said earlier, as an organisation we have been talking about change and reform for quite some time. There has now been a firm catalyst to drive that forward and hence the Normington review.
Q561 Paul Flynn: Until these reforms come in, would you advise anyone who has dealings with your organisation to secretly record them?
Steve Williams: No, I do not think that is necessary. At the end of the day-
Q562 Paul Flynn: If Andrew Mitchell had not made a secret recording, his career would be ruined and three lying police officers would have deceived the public. Surely it would be prudent for anyone who has dealings with you to make sure that they record every word of it.
Chair: Can I just say, we are recording what you are saying today.
Paul Flynn: Indeed, yes.
Steve Williams: I think it is a sad indictment that people feel that they would have to record conversations with every Federation representative.
Q563 Paul Flynn: How is it that you do not know the total sum of money? I believe very large sums are involved. You are the head of the organisation. Tens of millions involved?
Steve Williams: So I understand, but I do not know the figure.
Q564 Paul Flynn: And you do not know where it is.
Steve Williams: As I said, that is not acceptable and that is why we need to change, and that is why we need to be more open and more transparent in what we do.
Q565 Paul Flynn: Why do you have so much money?
Steve Williams: Why do we have so much money? The money has been collected as membership fees over a number of years and it is used to represent our colleagues, rank and file officers. It is right and proper that rank and file officers have a voice because sometimes they are not able to speak out for themselves and that is the role and responsibility of the Police Federation of England and Wales. But I do agree that we are not as transparent as we should be in relation to finances.
Q566 Paul Flynn: How do you exercise financial control if you, as the head of the organisation, are ignorant of the total amount of money that you hold?
Steve Williams: These are the changes that need to be brought about so that I do know going forward in the future. It is important also that the membership, the officers we represent, know exactly where their money is being kept and how it is being spent.
Paul Flynn: They don’t and they haven’t for a long time.
Steve Williams: No, they haven’t and I recognise that.
Steve White: May I provide some clarity? The accounts of the Police Federation of England and Wales are audited and are publicly available on the website. There are certain financial criteria in terms of the reserves that an organisation of our size has to have. It is also worth pointing out that the conversation that we are having is about what is called the number two accounts. The first accounts of the Police Federation are audited. We have the full details of those centrally and we know all of those details. Some years ago, we sought legal clarity in relation to the secondary accounts, which are used locally by joint branch boards to fund member services and things of that nature.
Chair: That is what you don’t know?
Steve White: To provide the clarity, those accounts are legal. There is nothing within the fund rule-
Q567 Chair: We understand that. Mr Flynn’s specific request was whether you know how much money is being held in those number two accounts?
Steve White: The fund rule states that they need to be audited and the details of these number two accounts should be forwarded to our headquarters.
Q568 Chair: No, we understand that, but do you know now, Mr White?
Steve White: Some of the local joint branch boards have done that, some have not, and several weeks ago we wrote providing the clarity, saying that this should happen. I honestly believe that there was an oversight in terms of the administration and auditing of the accounts. We have now clarified that and we are getting the detail.
Q569 Chair: Your brief is very useful, but Mr Flynn asked a specific question and we would be grateful for an answer. Mr Williams has been very open and transparent with the Committee and we are grateful. He says he does not know the amount of money being held in these accounts. At this moment, does anyone know how much money is in these accounts? This Committee would find it extraordinary that an organisation like the Police Federation and its Chairman did not know how much is in these number two accounts. I understand your honest belief, but just today, at this moment before the Select Committee on Home Affairs, do you know how much money is in these accounts?
Steve White: Mr Williams is absolutely right. No, we don’t.
Q570 Paul Flynn: I think we all understand that there needs to be an organisation to represent the interests of rank and file police and we have all generally had a great deal of respect for the Federation over the years. But would you agree that Plebgate and what happened at Hillsborough have undermined public confidence to a great extent? On Hillsborough, even this morning we hear new evidence of witnesses being bullied into signing statements they were not allowed to read, allegations that we heard and all the rest of it. These are terrible accusations being made against your trade union, which I do not think has ever been made against any other trade union. Do you not need to start from the beginning again and look at the very serious charges being made against you?
Steve Williams: Yes, there have been some high-profile cases that have clearly knocked confidence within policing and you have alluded to two or three of them there. That is why we needed to embark on a reform programme, and why I instigated this work, with the blessing of the Joint Central Committee. We are a democratic organisation and we do need things to go through due processes. Bear in mind that the report has only been out two weeks and we have already made some rapid inroads into what needs to be done. There is a route plan within that report of the work that needs to be carried out between now and our conference in May where eventually this independent report will be taken. We have already completed several aspects of that. There is some positive acceptance of what needs to be done and what is being done.
Q571 Michael Ellis: Mr Williams and Mr White, you are Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Police Federation. This is not good enough, is it? The Police Federation has effectively declined to provide to Sir David Normington’s inquiry the information that Mr Flynn and Mr Clappison and others have been asking for, which is the sum of money in the so-called number two accounts. Mr Williams, you have been Chair of the Federation for over a year, have you not?
Steve Williams: Just a year, yes.
Michael Ellis: Have you asked the various branches to report to you as Chair of the national organisation how much they have?
Steve Williams: Can I just come back on that, Mr Ellis? Yes, as Mr White said earlier, the treasurer of the organisation has written to the branch boards asking for those very details to be provided as a matter of urgency. We have already received details from branch boards as to their number two accounts and their audited accounts.
Q572 Michael Ellis: Is it correct that there is something in the region of £30 million in these so-called number two accounts?
Steve Williams: As I mentioned earlier, we really don’t know.
Q573 Michael Ellis: Do you know whether it is in the tens of millions of pounds?
Steve Williams: I would guess.
Michael Ellis: Do you believe it is?
Steve Williams: Yes, I do.
Michael Ellis: You believe it is in the tens of millions of pounds?
Steve Williams: Yes.
Q574 Michael Ellis: But there has not been sufficient oversight up to this point to establish even an exact figure, and right now, before this Committee, you are not able to tell us what the grand total is?
Steve Williams: No, Mr Ellis. That is regrettable.
Q575 Michael Ellis: Do you agree in principle that there should be nothing to hide here? You are a statutorily created body and this is information that the public should be able to have access to.
Steve Williams: Yes.
Q576 Michael Ellis: Do you think that, in light of that, this discloses a situation where we could effectively have another Co-operative Bank waiting to happen? Do you think that is at least possible? You do not have proper control or oversight over these huge sums.
Steve Williams: We do not have copies of their audited accounts, no. We do not know how much is currently being held around the country, and that does need to be addressed.
Q577 Michael Ellis: Further to that, you have headquarters in Leatherhead. Is that right?
Steve Williams: Yes, that is correct.
Q578 Michael Ellis: How much money has been spent on the headquarters at Leatherhead?
Steve Williams: I think the cost of the building was somewhere in the region of £26 million.
Michael Ellis: £26 million. Do you think that is an exorbitant sum to have spent on the headquarters of the Police Federation?
Steve Williams: That was the sum of money it cost to build the premises. It is a purpose-built building that provides training and support facilities for Federation officers.
Q579 Michael Ellis: It is a premium building, a top quality premium building, is it? It is £26 million for a union headquarters. Is there going to be a return on that investment?
Steve Williams: There is a return because it is a training establishment. Steve and I have come from there today. We have many officers, Federation reps, who have been trained to make sure they can provide a proper service to our colleagues, the rank and file officers.
Q580 Michael Ellis: Talking of the officers and especially the elected officers, what is the payment structure for the elected officers? Do you publish expense accounts? You have spoken nobly about transparency, but can we have some information about the payment structure for the elected officers and their expense accounts, for example, over the last five years? Is that something you are prepared to look into and disclose as well?
Steve White: It is one of the recommendations in the report, but it is worth pointing out that for many years, as long as I have been on the Joint Central Committee, our annual report and treasurer’s report has detailed all of those accounts. It is available on our websites and it is published.
Q581 Michael Ellis: The payment structure of the officers?
Steve White: Yes. The payment structure in relation to honoraria again is included in the Normington report. It says there needs to be an examination of it and that absolutely needs to be the case. But in terms of the transparency of it, audited accounts are publicly available in relation to the operation of PFEW, the national umbrella organisation. It is worth just making the point that because we are a police federation and a staff association representing 127,000 hard-working cops in this country, we have 43 individual joint branch boards. The way we are statutorily set up at the moment gives them autonomy, and we are an umbrella organisation. That is not to say that I am making an excuse. It is just that that is the way we are and that is why we need to change.
Q582 Michael Ellis: Finally from me, do you agree with Sir David Normington when he says that the payment structure should be something to which the public have access? Do you think you should start publishing the expense accounts of your elected officers, perhaps over the last five years, so we can see where this money is going?
Steve Williams: My own personal opinion is yes. We have absolutely nothing to hide and we should be transparent and that should be available.
Q583 Mr Winnick: Opposing cuts in the police force is a legitimate exercise in a democracy. I am not aware that it is not so. But do you think the Police Federation, in opposing the Government-I happen to oppose the Government on this issue as well-you overstep the mark as a federation?
Steve White: I think it is important for the 127,000 officers we represent, who sometimes find it very difficult because of restrictions on their own personal circumstances as police officers. We need to stand up and represent the views of those members, and clearly we-
Mr Winnick: We understand that, but do you think you have overreached the mark and in doing so discredited the Federation?
Steve Williams: In what regard overstepped the mark, sorry, sir?
Steve White: There is always a fine line to draw, and I think Sir Hugh Orde summed it up when he said there should always be a healthy tension between police and politicians. We are here to represent the views of our members and it is right and proper that, certainly over the last three years, our members have been absolutely horrified at the length and breadth of the cuts the police service has had to endure, because it is those officers who have to try to maintain service delivery for their communities.
In terms of how we represent those arguments to policy formers, clearly, with an organisation as large as ours, it is difficult to maintain a corporate message and a corporate approach. But these are very passionate police officers. Every Federation rep is still a serving police officer and cares passionately about the service they work for. Sometimes perhaps the line becomes blurred because of the passion involved. Sometimes it is a difficult one to define. I think over the last couple of years on the whole the way we have presented our arguments has been absolutely right and proper for the good of our members and, more importantly, for the good of the public we serve.
Q584 Mr Winnick: But is it not an irony that, the Andrew Mitchell affair and the way he was dealt with in so many aspects, played right into the hands of the Government you were opposing as regards trust?
Steve White: I think we would all agree that the Andrew Mitchell affair was regrettable across the whole circumstance of it. What we need to focus on now is how we are going to operate in the future and how we are going to stand up to scrutiny, how we are going to represent the views of our members and the communities who want the British police service to remain the best police service in the world.
Q585 Mr Winnick: Can I ask about the money that you spend on legal fees? Police Federation accounts indicate that over £7 million was spent on members’ legal fees in one year, namely 2012, and also in 2011. It is a rather excessive sum, is it not?
Steve White: In context I do not think it is excessive at all. It is the single biggest project that we as the national Police Federation have. But of course, when you bear in mind the number of cases we support our members in, there has to be due process and we need to ensure that during these processes, whether it be civil, employment tribunals, legal advice in relation to equality matters, misconduct matters-we support our members on a whole raft of matters. In fact, litigation is a relatively small proportion of that budget. The vast majority of the legal advice that comes out of that budget is in support of our members fulfilling their role.
Q586 Mr Winnick: In a case that was rather highly publicised, for obvious reasons, a police officer sued a burglary victim because he fell down a drain. The Police Federation took the view that he should be supported. Am I right?
Steve White: We consult legal advisers on behalf of our members and we take legal advice in relation to the merits of cases. We firmly believe that our members should have the same legal rights and protection as anyone else in society. Clearly I cannot talk about individual cases, but as a concept I think that is appropriate and-
Q587 Mr Winnick: Suing the victim of a crime?
Steve White: No. What is appropriate is that our officers have the same protection afforded to them as any other member of the public as they go about their duties, and each case is judged on its merits, with legal advice and decisions taken accordingly.
Q588 Mr Winnick: For my last question, there has been a great deal of criticism about your legal firm. You said legal advice is given. Presumably that is the firm that used to be called Russell Jones & Walker. Am I not right? That is the firm you use?
Steve Williams: One of the firms we use.
Mr Winnick: It has changed its name, I believe.
Steve Williams: It has now become Slater & Gordon, but it is one of the retained firms of lawyers that we use.
Q589 Mr Winnick: Slater & Gordon. Am I right that it is the one firm that you use?
Steve Williams: No. We have several retained lawyers. It is one company that we use.
Q590 Mr Winnick: But you utilise Slater & Gordon for most of the cases, do you?
Steve Williams: They do deal with the lion’s share of our cases, yes.
Q591 Mr Winnick: I give a quote that was in the New Law Journal some years ago, in 1994. It said, "The Police Federation have an efficient and aggressive firm of London solicitors"-presumably the firm that I mention-"and appear to have a policy of attacking the press by legal action in order to improve or correct the public attitude to the police". Unfair?
Steve Williams: How long ago was that, sir?
Mr Winnick: That was some years ago.
Chair: 20 years.
Steve Williams: 20 years ago.
Q592 Mr Winnick: Do you think it has all changed now?
Steve Williams: I do.
Q593 Mark Reckless: You say you follow legal advice, but do you not also have to consider the reputational impact on the police of pursuing these legal actions?
Steve Williams: Each case is judged on its own merits, as Mr White has said, and it is decided from that professional legal advice and the merits of the case whether to support it or otherwise.
Q594 Mark Reckless: Are you saying that if the legal advice is that the case has merit you will support it?
Steve Williams: If it fits within the criteria of our fund rules, yes.
Q595 Mark Reckless: Even if the impact of pursuing it is to bring the Police Federation into disrepute?
Steve White: All the impact is considered on a case-by-case basis, of course it is, and sometimes the decisions are going to be difficult. At the heart of what we do is the fact that we have to take account of our members and their wishes and we have to make judgments in terms of appropriate use of members’ money. That is controlled and accounted for quite tightly. As an example, if funding is turned down for whatever reason, the member has a right to appeal and then we convene an appeal panel and we look at other-
Q596 Mark Reckless: Does that not just give a further structural bias towards the Police Federation pursuing aggressive legal action? When you look at a case and turn it down and say, "This is not right", there is then an avenue of appeal that can lead to it being done anyhow.
Steve White: No, I do not think that is the case. The vast majority of legal cases and legal advice that we pay for for our members is absolutely right and appropriate. Of course, what we are talking about here is a small minority of cases that have hit the headlines when we have had to review what has happened.
Q597 Mark Reckless: You say that police officers deserve the support that an employee would get in another circumstance. Wouldn’t the normal thing, if you are injured in the course of carrying out your work and you want recompense for that, be to seek that from the employer rather than suing the customer?
Steve White: You are absolutely right and in fact sometimes that will happen, depending on the circumstances of whether it is an injury or whatever the circumstances are with the individual officer. But when that avenue is not available, the principle that police officers should be afforded the same legal protection as anyone else going about their work is-
Q598 Mark Reckless: If they are going about their work and they fall on a drain or something at a service station, surely the appropriate avenue is the force that the officer works for, not suing the poor chap who called up and said there was a crime going on.
Steve White: I can’t comment on individual cases, but we operate on the principle that each case is looked at and judgments are made on its merits.
Q599 Mark Reckless: I am suggesting perhaps that, rather than making a judgment on the merits in each individual case, it might be wise for the Police Federation to consider the impact of these decisions on the reputation of the Police Federation and, indeed, on policing and other policemen in this country.
Steve White: I think you make a very valid comment.
Mark Reckless: You have to consider how things are looked at with that in mind.
Steve Williams: Can I just come back to you on that point? We have in fact been working closely with the Home Office and with Government on the issues and concerns that you raise. Going forward, it is something we are trying to address because of the impact that these few cases have on the service and on the Police Federation.
Q600 Mark Reckless: I am glad to hear that. I just have one final question on a different subject. One thing that is disclosed in your accounts is a £2 million provision in respect of a dispute with HMRC. Could you explain to the Committee what that relates to?
Steve Williams: HMRC is currently looking at our finances and accounts and we shall be in dialogue with it very shortly to address the issues that have been raised.
Q601 Mark Reckless: Is it the case that that £2 million relates to a decision by the Police Federation to charge the cost of the flats that you have in Leatherhead as an expense rather than recognising it as a perk for the officers who benefit from it?
Steve Williams: I have not got the detail of what that relates to. That will be dealt with by the treasurers, but I would be more than happy to write to the Committee and update you as to what that relates to.
Q602 Chair: Will you write to us about that? Thank you. In respect of civil compensation, the Home Secretary has written to this Committee to say, "I do not believe that there is justification for a police officer to seek financial compensation from a member of the public for an injury sustained on duty". Are you aware of that view?
Steve Williams: Yes. I have had a conversation with the Home Secretary myself.
Chair: But you are looking at this issue?
Steve Williams: Indeed we are, yes.
Q603 Chair: Can I just say-then we will close this issue on the accounts-that this Committee is deeply concerned about the lack of financial transparency. Our concern is for you, as the chairman of your organisation, that you do not know how much is being held in these accounts. We would like you to look into this and write to us once you have the information. I am sure you would want to know that anyway, but this Committee is very keen to know.
Just one final point on this issue about the number of police officers you have. Do you know how many members you have in the Police Federation?
Steve Williams: Yes. That is a figure I could obtain through the treasurer.
Q604 Chair: Do you have their full names and addresses and details of how to contact them?
Steve Williams: No. One of the concerns that have been highlighted is that we currently do not hold a members’ database. That was identified in the interim report of the independent review. It is something that we are working towards. It is very important that we can contact the membership directly. It was particularly important during the ballot on industrial rights. We could not get the messages across that we needed to get across directly to our people to advise them of the importance of what that all meant and, despite doing pieces to camera and sending out literature, it was not the position that we wanted to be in. We need to have a national database so we can directly make contact with the membership.
Q605 Chair: At the moment you are telling this Committee that you, as Chairman of the Federation, do not have a national database so you are not able to contact every member?
Steve Williams: Not at this time. But I can tell you, Chairman, that that is a piece of work that is ongoing and it is something that we have in fact picked up from the interim report.
Q606 Chair: Of course. Give us a time scale so we can be satisfied that there are going to be changes. When can you come back to this Committee and say, "I now know how many officers we have"? I think we all find it extraordinary that you as Chairman do not know the names and addresses of all the members of the Federation-not personally, but have access to it-and also that you do not know how much money is being held in the number two accounts. When do you think is a reasonable time scale for you to come back to this Committee and say that you know all this information?
Steve White: Would it be helpful if I answered this, Mr Chairman, because I am part of the executive of the project board that is undertaking this work? It is worth pointing out that it was in January last year that the Joint Central Committee took the decision. You are absolutely right, it was ridiculous that we did not have a database of our members, and the work started then. The project board has done a significant amount of work in terms of mapping what is going to happen. Of course, one of the most important things we have to do is get the data from the 43 individual forces around the country, and that work has already started. I would hope that, if not by the end of this year, certainly by the beginning of next year, we would-
Q607 Chair: That is a very long time, is it not?
Steve White: I accept that it is a long time and I want this work, believe me, to happen absolutely as quickly as possible.
Q608 Chair: I think the Committee would find that unsatisfactory. We would expect you to know who your members are well before the beginning of next year and I hope that you will redouble your efforts to do that.
Steve White: The project is formed for us to do it as quickly as possible.
Steve Williams: I would be more than happy, Chair, to come back at any time to address the Committee with an update as to where we are with the issues.
Q609 Chair: That would be very helpful. Have you personally, Mr Williams, been the subject of a lot of criticism by your own members for opening what has amounted to a Pandora’s box of the real problems? Have you personally been subjected to a lot of upset and even abuse by people?
Steve Williams: I have received some criticism, yes.
Chair: Has that amounted to abuse as well?
Steve Williams: Yes.
Q610 Chair: This must be very stressful for both you and your family. How are you coping with that?
Steve Williams: We are doing okay, I think.
Q611 Chair: Has it stopped now that it is all out in the open or are you still getting this abuse and criticism from people? Criticism is one thing, but obviously when it is personal abuse it is not acceptable.
Steve Williams: There is still some criticism being levied, Chair, yes.
Q612 Chair: Do you know who is behind this?
Steve Williams: No. But I appreciate that, as chairman of an organisation representing 127,000 colleagues, I am not going to please everybody all the time. There are some hard-hitting results within this review and some of my colleagues have not accepted what is contained within there very readily.
Q613 Chair: But you are not responsible, are you? You just found out this was happening. That is the issue, isn’t it?
Steve Williams: Yes.
Q614 Chair: Let us move on to other areas. We asked you to come here originally to talk about police and crime commissioners so we have some quick questions on those issues. First of all, the issue of professional standards. There is an issue being raised as to the cost of the certificate of policing under the new arrangements. You clearly want your police officers to be professional and you know that under the College of Policing people now have to pay £1,000 for a certificate. Do you have a view on that?
Steve Williams: We are working very closely with the college as it moves forward and as it develops, and we will play our part in that. It is vital that the Police Federation plays its part in such a case as the College of Policing because that could change the face of policing.
Q615 Chair: Yes, but what about the cost for your members of having to pay £1,000 each? One colleague has described it as a "bobby tax". This must be quite a detriment to those who want to qualify. Would you like to see it removed?
Steve Williams: The funding issue is something we have to work through with both the Federation and the College of Policing as to how that is all going to pan out in the future. In relation to the point you make about professionalising the service, yes, I couldn’t agree more.
Q616 Chair: In respect of crime statistics, having heard evidence that has been given to our sister committee and others, there is a suggestion that crime statistics on a local basis may well have been the subject of changes. In other words they do not reflect the truth of crime statistics. People have called it cuffing and nodding. Are you satisfied that this has now stopped?
Steve Williams: I am not totally satisfied that it has stopped. There is a lot of pressure on frontline officers in relation to targets and figures, and we have some anecdotal evidence. The difficulty we have is that some of our colleagues are frightened to come on record and say it as it is. But we have some anecdotal evidence and we also believe that, in relation to crime figures and crime recording, the face of crime is changing. There is cybercrime out there and lots of things are happening that perhaps are not being recorded. Although the recorded figures show there is a drop in crime, we are not quite sure that that truly reflects what is happening out there.
Q617 Chair: Are you worried that there is still cuffing and nodding going on-basically fiddling of crime statistics because your officers are under pressure?
Steve Williams: We are working very closely with HMIC in relation to crime and integrity. It is very important that the public have confidence in police crime figures and statistics and we are working, as I say, very closely-
Q618 Chair: At the moment do you have confidence, bearing in mind all the evidence received by Parliament, that these are accurate figures?
Steve Williams: No. I still have concerns about the accuracy of crime recording.
Q619 Michael Ellis: I will be frank. I think there is a political agenda behind rubbishing the crime figures and it is unfortunate because it does not give credit to your police officers, who are doing excellent work and working very hard to reduce those crime figures. Crime is going down across many different departments, many different types of offences, and although you have referred to things like cybercrime, when I look at my county of Northamptonshire, violent crime has gone down by something like 15%. There is nothing new, sadly, about violent crime and the British Crime Survey can’t be fiddled because it is of the general public themselves, is it not, responding to a survey, like an opinion poll?
I would like to move on from that point to the point about police and crime commissioners. Do you think that one of the main issues that was worrying the Police Federation about operational independence has borne fruit? In other words, do you think there is a concern that police and crime commissioners have interfered with the operational independence of police officers in the 15 months they have existed?
Steve Williams: On the first point you made, I would not seriously wish to rubbish-you are absolutely right, recorded crime is dropping and that is attributed to the hard work and dedication of my colleagues up and down the country.
Michael Ellis: They should be congratulated on that.
Steve Williams: Absolutely. In relation to the independence, we have mixed messages from our colleagues up and down the country. There are some excellent good news stories and there are some difficulties about, for want of a better term, interfering with operational policing issues from some police and crime commissioners. There is a mixed bag. It is still early days. They have not been in place for a great deal of time and we will wait with interest to see how in time the police and crime commissioners-
Q620 Michael Ellis: You are keeping an eye on that?
Steve Williams: We are very much keeping an eye on it. Yes, sir.
Q621 Mark Reckless: Overall, how do you believe police officers have adjusted to the advent of police and crime commissioners?
Steve White: I think overall most officers in their day-to-day dealings are doing their job to the best of their ability, which is what they have always done. Our members have been saying to us that some police and crime commissioners are more visible than others. Some engage readily with the Federation in particular and some less so. That is also true of the officers on frontline work, regardless of budget control, which is primarily the police and crime commissioners’ responsibility. Whatever direction they may wish to agree with the chief constable, the work of the local officer still needs to happen. Of course, clearly the relationship between police and crime commissioners and chief constables is an important one and I think we have seen it is a steep learning curve for all involved with this new concept. Things are beginning to settle down. But have they really seen a major difference? I think the jury is still out on that, to be honest.
Q622 Mark Reckless: I have heard officers say that one of the issues they think lies behind poor morale-I do not think I agree with this, but there is a perception, at least among some officers-is that their work is not valued as much by the public or perhaps they are not held in as high esteem as before. Even if you do not accept that, does having someone elected by the public help to show officers that they are valued when you have a PCC who is active and getting out there to meet officers?
Steve White: I think the concepts could be sound but, of course, the difficulty we have, without wishing to get into a political conversation, is that 15% of the electorate around the country elected the PCCs. I think that does not give you a flavour of how interested members of public are in relation to policing. They are very interested in it and we do enjoy huge support. If you pick up the phone and you need assistance, the police turn out. The vast majority of members of the public value the service that they get and satisfaction over the last few years has been climbing and climbing and climbing. But in terms of whether members of the public are particularly enamoured with or interested in the issues that a police and crime commissioner has to deal with, again the jury is still out.
Q623 Mark Reckless: Mr Williams, can we use this Normington report into your organisation and the professionalisation of policing through the College of Policing as a way to begin to increase the prestige of police officers with members of the public? Is the way up from here, do you believe?
Steve Williams: I do indeed believe that is the case. Yes, absolutely.
Q624 Mr Winnick: On the question of the Police Federation, reference was made by the Chairman-there are a lot of references to "chairman" because I understand you are the Chair and Vice-Chair, but I do not want to make a great issue of it-to the fact that the Police Federation in itself is a form of compromise reached in 1919, which you mentioned earlier on, in order to make it illegal for police officers to strike. As a result the Police Federation was brought into existence. That is the situation, is it not?
Steve Williams: It is, yes. You are right.
Q625 Mr Winnick: Are you satisfied that what did occur nearly 100 years ago is the proper way to proceed in the future, namely, that it is illegal for the police to strike and that they have the kind of organisation that has existed since 1919? While reform is on the agenda-otherwise you would not presumably have initiated the inquiry and presumably will start implementing the recommendations-are you satisfied that the Police Federation established in 1919 is the right way to approach matters on behalf of police officers up and down the country?
Steve Williams: Yes I am. What you must bear in mind is that we have recently balloted the membership in relation to seeking industrial rights and ultimately the right to strike, and that was overwhelmingly defeated. The country was divided into four sections of police officers. I was very heavily involved in the ballot. You had a vociferous group of officers who wanted very much to have industrial rights. You had officers who said, "I am so proud to be a police officer, I am going nowhere near seeking industrial rights or the right to strike". You had officers who suggested, "I am not going to even bother because Government will not sponsor it and the Opposition will not sponsor it. It is going to cost us a lot of money. It is going to take us an awful long time and it would be an absolute waste of time so I am going nowhere near it." The fourth group of officers was concerned about the big issue of compulsory severance that we are still waiting for the Home Secretary to make a decision on in relation to the arbitration tribunal. That is how the country was divided.
Going back to answering your question, yes, the Federation has been around since 1919. I am keen to drive through the reforms that are needed to make sure the Police Federation is going to be around for another 100 years to be the voice of the rank and file police officers.
Q626 Mr Winnick: Do you now accept that you have a responsibility, not just you two but all the leading active members of the Police Federation, to reform and change? It may well involve perhaps a less aggressive policy. It is a matter for the Federation to decide on who should be sued and the rest of it. I must say, suing a victim does seem out of place, but that is a matter for you to decide. All in all, in general, do you recognise that you have a challenge to change the way the Federation is looked upon, including apparently the large majority of your members?
Steve Williams: I am committed, as the Chairman, to radical reform and I will be calling on my colleagues to help me in order to deliver the changes we need to make sure we are effective in what we are doing on behalf of the rank and file police officers of this country.
Q627 Chair: Mr Williams, would you describe the situation at the moment, as far as the Federation is concerned, as a crisis that you seek to overcome to bring stability back to an organisation that used to be one of the most respected in the country?
Steve Williams: As Mr White alluded to, there is tremendous work done up and down the country by the Federation at a national and local level, but we do need to take on board the recommendations and we need-
Q628 Chair: But is it a crisis at the moment that you are seeking to overcome?
Steve Williams: I do think we need to address the concerns that have been raised, but we are a democratic organisation. We have to go through due process and that is what we intend to do. We have already commenced a piece of work, but Rome was not built in a day, it was burnt in a day. We have to take due cognisance of what is in here and deal with it effectively and efficiently through dialogue and debate, and I intend now to go up and down the country. We have a big meeting tomorrow. We have a meeting with national chairmen and secretaries on the 10th where we will further debate this. There is a lot of work to be done before we get to conference in May as to how we can progress the findings of this report.
Chair: On behalf of the Committee I thank you and Mr White for coming here. You have been very open and transparent with this Committee. You have answered all our questions. You have been extremely helpful, and I hope that your members are proud of what you have done today and they are grateful to you for having initiated the inquiry, because clearly so many of them want to see changes. We wish you the best of luck in ensuring that those changes materialise.
Steve Williams: Thank you, Chairman.