A few weeks ago Victoria Atkins made this rather radical statement as part of a debate on crime levels. It seems as though she is making a case for regional or local devolution of many things, not just policing. The comment came in response to a question from MP Jack Lopresti who asked “Does my hon. Friend agree that greater flexibility for local police and crime commissioners will better enable local forces to solve local problems?” Now to be fair there are a number of weaknesses in the words used and the logic involved. However the overriding theme seems to say that we need more power handed to locally elected people to allow them to decide what should happen in our communities. This is precisely what has happened in Scotland and is happening in Wales and could be happening in Ireland. However for the rest of the UK this only happens when it comes to policing issues.
Now before moving on to write a bit more about policing issues, it is worthwhile challenging the detailed logic in Victorias statement. She is not criticising herself as she is a politician not an bureaucrat, but in fact the work of a PCC is in part to transfer power away from local councillors and in part away from the Home Secretary. There is no indication either that PCCs have any real additional power compared to a Police Authority, even though a few also oversee their Fire and Rescue Services in the way in which Fire and Rescue Authorities used to.
On the same day as this debate took place there was another debate which focused on the 20th Anniversary of the Macpherson report. This report as MPs pointed out came up with 70 recommendations for the public sector. As one Labour MP, Marsha De Cordova pointed out “Having got to the point of having the report, which came up with 70 recommendations, it is quite unacceptable, and actually disgraceful, that 20 years on we are unable to measure where we are up to with those recommendations. I .. hope that the Minister will address that point, because it is really important. If we are not going to audit and follow up on the report’s recommendations, then what was the point in having it in the first place?”
It is certainly vitally important that such matters do get audited. However perhaps just as important is how MPs respond. The only Sussex MP who took part in the debate was Tim Loughton and he referred several times to the need for local police forces to take on board the Macpherson recommendations. He was not alone in doing this. However not once did any of the MPs in the debate make any reference to the Independent Advisory Groups that most Police forces have set up to deal with at least one of the 70 recommendations. The irony is that here in Sussex I have been part of the IAG since 2004, for 15 years of the 20 years of the Macpherson report. In that time we have once met with our Police and Crime Commissioner who made it clear she was not interested in the work we do. However in 15 years there has never been a single approach by any of the MPs in Sussex towards their IAGs. Now to be clear my involvement only covers the Sussex wide IAG and the Brighton and Hove IAG so there may have been links between the other IAGs in Sussex and local MPs. To put the IAG and Police Authority into context, the Police Authority members used to regularly attend the IAG so the ignorance of MPs and PCC is in sharp contrast to the Police Authority here in Sussex.