Archives for August 2015

Police and Fire – Modern Devolution?

Last week the UK Government announced plans to transfer responsibility for fire and rescue services to police and crime commissioners in England. I argued that Wales should not be left behind.

We know strong local accountability works. It ensures public services serve the public. It gives them a human face and makes them more responsive to local need. It saves money.

Strong local accountability has enabled me as police and crime commissioner to deliver more officers and less crime for less money. Since 2013, crime and anti-social behaviour are down 11%, we have 30 more officers and I have cut the police precept – what the public pay – by 5% in real terms.

We know that we have more to do. Further cuts will force us to work more closely with others. And there is no one the police work more closely with than the fire service. I am constantly struck by how productive that relationship is. I am also struck by how much further it could go.

Joint accountability for both services would make it easier to share tasks, like tackling antisocial behaviour, searching for missing people or road safety. In counties like Carmarthenshire, Powys, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, the benefits would be huge.

Distance is always a problem in rural areas. Sharing buildings, which we already do, is a great start. But by sharing tasks we could provide much better coverage over our huge area.

We would still need two services. We must not lose the historic traditions and experience of each, which have served us so well for decades. But you could reduce the costs and direct more money to the front line.

For example, Mid and West Wales Fire Authority spends £72,000 each year on allowances for its members and £1m on corporate and democratic services. The fire service employs five people on salaries above £100,000. Dyfed Powys Police employs two. Most of this could be saved and invested in front line services – more officers, better training, better kit.

So far my approach has met predictable resistance. Most disappointingly, Welsh ministers refuse to consider anything except greater powers for themselves. But devolution is not a one-way street to Cardiff.

Modern devolution should work seamlessly for the public. The Assembly is here to stay. PCCs are here to stay. We should both stick to the principle that power should rest as close to the people as possible.

Local accountability improves services and saves money. We have achieved it for the police. We can achieve it, with the Welsh Government, for fire and rescue services.

Where there is a will, there is a way. So, I repeat my call to anyone who cares about serving Wales: let’s find a way to modern devolution; let’s find a way to put local people in control.

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Safer Waters

Yesterday I launched the Carmarthenshire Water Safety Partnership. You can watch a short video here.

I cannot think of a better example of good coming from tragedy. The tragedy was the loss of Cameron Comey in the River Towy in February. Cameron was playing with his brother when he fell in. His body has never been found.

Following the accident, Cameron’s family decided to make something good of this horrific experience. Thousands of people in Carmarthenshire supported them with donations, concerts and fundraising. With the help of a friend they have established a fund and pulled together the Partnership. Its purpose is to ensure we enjoy Carmarthenshire’s beautiful waterways safely.

I was hugely honoured to be asked to launch the Partnership. My contribution has been miniscule. Others have done all the work. What encourages me most is that this is a grass-roots organisation set up, supported, funded, organised and led by people who care about water safety.

We had representatives from the usual local government agencies – council, fire, police, education – who all support the work. That’s great. But better still was the presence of voluntary organisations, the RNLI, Scouts and others, local people and the Comeys themselves.

My message to the Partnership is this. Harness this expertise, listen to the public and avoid the suffocating embrace of officialdom. If you can achieve only a few small things – safer river banks, better access, greater awareness among children – you will save a life.

You can do that yourselves. Don’t be slowed down by official meddling. Don’t get tied up in meetings full of guff about ‘multiagency partnership working’. Decide what you need and demand a change. The public sector is your servant, not the other way around.

I wish you all success. And I encourage everyone to support this great venture so we can all enjoy Carmarthenshire’s beautiful waters safely.

Go to Facebook and ‘like’ Carmarthenshire Water Safety Partnership to find out more.

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Change the Record

As sure as night follows day, the impending budget is producing talk of doom from the police. Some suggest that they will stop investigating ‘minor’ crimes. Others mutter about the need for reorganisations and bigger forces. This old record needs changing.

More thoughtful officers talk about the police in society: what should officers do, what should we as individuals do and what should others do. But this is the exception rather than the rule.

Let us start with the current record. First, investigating crime is the police’s job, not a choice. That four out of five burglaries go unsolved suggests they need to up their game, not opt out of it. If priorities are needed, those priorities are for the police and crime commissioner who will answer for their decisions at the ballot box.

Second, large forces are dangerous. We have independent local forces for a reason. They are there to keep chief constables – and police and crime commissioners for that matter – in their place. We grant the police huge powers. We limit those powers by restricting the size of organisation any one individual can control.

Britain’s multiple forces are often described as a problem of policing. That is not the point. They are not there to make chief constables’ lives easy. They are there to protect our liberties from overweening officialdom. Local forces are as much a part of ‘policing by consent’ as the office of constable.

If that seems an eccentric concern consider two things. Consider our attitudes to the child abuse. We have veered from wilful neglect to something close to moral panic. Consider how much more sinister the implications of our response would be in the hands of a single, monolithic police organisation.

Child abuse is an horrific crime but there is a fine line between encouraging victims to speak out and McCarthyism. By the time you realise an organisation is on the wrong side of that line, the damage is already done: the larger the organisation, the longer that realisation takes and the greater the damage. We should not want a culture of guilt-before-innocence any more than one that ignores a victim.

Consider also the behaviour of the SNP’s behemoth, Police Scotland. It has £15m of government appointed oversight yet struggles to give a straight answer to freedom of information requests and, quite inexcusably, left two people dying in their car for three days. Who will be accountable for that?

There is no evidence to suggest larger forces are more efficient and certainly nothing to suggest they are more effective. Accountability is the problem of British policing, not force size.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council appears to be playing its predecessor, ACPO’s, old records: more power, more money, bigger forces. Equally concerning is that some PCCs seem willing to hum along. Expect to hear more in the coming months, as the reality of budget cuts comes into view.

Most worryingly, this drowns out more important questions about the police role.

Should the police be looking for dementia patients? Or children missing from council foster care? Should they be dealing with people’s mental health problems? Should they be dealing with sexting and bullying in schools?

Would those things be done better by local authorities, the fire service, health services or schools themselves?

These questions are rarely developed, perhaps for fear of being seen to neglect an orthodoxy that talks of ‘safeguarding’, addressing ‘vulnerability’ and supporting ‘victims’. It’s hard to argue that these are not important: they are. The question is, who is responsible: police, council, or perhaps even you and I?

Somehow, we find ourselves in a situation where senior officers feel it is more acceptable to suggest that they stop investigating crimes – which only they can do – than they stop dealing with Mr. Miggins’ dementia – which others can do.

Senior officers need to change the record: today’s questions are not about size and money; they are about flexibility and thought.

PCCs need to sharpen up: they are not there to be seduced by bureaucratic orthodoxies; they are there to replace them with public demands.

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Crime in the Countryside

There’s good news and bad news for us in today’s papers. The bad news is rural crime is real, not just about stolen eggs and missing animals. The good news is that we can tackle it.

The Telegraph reports that city drug gangs are moving into England’s shires. Organised criminals are targeting market towns and seaside resorts. There’s no evidence yet to suggest it has reached our counties but we must remain vigilant.

It’s a timely reminder of what people who live in rural areas always knew. Crime is not a ‘city’ thing. It happens in our remotest towns too. Drugs, violence, antisocial behaviour, sexual and domestic abuse are as much a rural problem as a city one.

Initial findings from the National Rural Crime Network, which I sit on with other rural PCCs, suggest a lot of rural crime goes unreported. I’m looking forward to more detailed analysis to help bolster our work in Dyfed Powys.

The good news is that, according to the Daily Mirror, Dyfed Powys is the safest place in England and Wales. I spoke to them yesterday. They wanted to know why.

I put that success down to three things. First, we have strong, stable communities which look after each other. Second, we have fantastic officers who know their communities and they are very good at catching criminals. Third, the public want the police to focus on crime, not statistics. They elected me to ensure that happens. Ever since I have demanded a relentless focus on crime: the police now record more crimes and deal with them better.

The last piece of good news is that NFU Mutual report that the cost of rural crime dropped 15% between 2013 and 2014. That’s only part of the picture but it shows that efforts to cut crime, like tractor thefts for example, worked.

Rural Wales has always been a safe place to live. That does not happen by accident. It takes great officers and strong leadership. We are lucky to have the officers. As for the leadership, well, that’s for the public to judge at elections next May.

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Great Value

Today the Taxpayers’ Alliance publishes an analysis of Police and Crime Commissioners’ office costs.

What does the headline say? PCCs cost more.

What does the article say? Over half of PCC offices, 23 of 41, cost less. Overall they cost £2m less than the police authorities they replaced.

That is on top the fact that PCCs do more than police authorities. They commission victims’ services, which used to be done by the government. They pay for restorative justice, which didn’t used to be done at all.

Police and Crime Commissioners have saved money. I can’t explain the dark arts of journalism but I can at least explain my own work.

It is easy to be cheap. I don’t want to be cheap. I spend around £100m a year on behalf of the public. This is an important job that needs to be done well. And, done well, it keeps the police on track and saves money. Quality matters. That is the measure of great value.

My office will cost 5.7% less in 2015/16 in real terms than the police authority cost in its last full year (2011/12). It will cost £969,000 in 2015/16. In today’s prices it cost £1,027,635 in 2011/12.

What does it deliver? In a phrase, it delivers better rural policing. Crime and antisocial behaviour are down 4% since 2013. We have more officers spending more time on the beat for £8.8m less. How?

We put more into analysing police performance and crime trends. That has enabled us, for example, to pin down police mis-recording of crime as antisocial behaviour and fix it. Better scrutiny makes for better decisions.

We put more into communicating with and listening to the public. We have surveys to understand public attitudes to police policies, from firearms to road safety to rural crime. If you don’t understand public concern you can’t improve.

We invest more in support for victims, whether of antisocial behaviour, domestic abuse or traditional crime.

The office itself does more, for example managing the police estate. That has enabled me to save £3.1m from terminating the expensive Ammanford PFI. It means a tighter grip of major investments.

We put more into financial management. That means I can ensure that every penny of the £100m I spend is spent wisely. It means we will deliver more for less.

All of that goes to protecting homes and families. And if I do more, how do I cost less? Because I cut senior salaries and expenses and made space for a fresh blood and fresh ideas.

Elections for the next police and crime commissioners next May will be a big fight for the future of communities across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys. The public will test the measure of their candidates.

I look forward to defending the reassuringly good value of this one. We will know the verdict on May 6th next year.

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