Discussions about ACPO’s future seem to have burst into the open, most prominently with a blog on the Daily Telegraph website by Douglas Carswell, a longtime critic.
In the wake of that, and ACPO’s response, there appears to be some confusion. Since the taxpayers I represent fund ACPO, I think it’s worth clarifying the position. In fact, it’s not ‘worth’ clarifying. As elected representatives responsible for policing, we need to be open. That is how we avoid the murkiness that has surrounded these decisions in the past. We must be clear what we are doing with public money.
I should emphasise that I’m not involved with the small PCC group that is working on ACPO. I speak only for myself. And I am a hawk as far as ACPO is concerned.
I do not believe a private limited company, funded by the taxpayer, should sit at the heart of British policing. That arrangement creates far too many conflicts of interest, perceived or real.
I have little time for its arbitrary diktats or ‘guidance’, a sort of holy text with which eager bureaucrats embellish the actual law. This ‘guidance’ crops up everywhere from firearms licensing to speed cameras to building design. It has huge impact on people’s lives and is seemingly impossible to question. That is not how policy should be made.
What I can say is what I think and what I know. True to political tradition, the former is the greater.
What I know is that I voted to end funding for ACPO as of 1 April 2014. I know that all but a handful of other PCCs did the same. We have released intermediate funding to oversee the transition of some ACPO functions to new bodies, like the College of Policing, a small council for Chief Constables, the Home Office and so on. This is in line with the Parker Report, which we commissioned.
I know that that work has been in progress for some weeks. I understand that the atmosphere is businesslike and progressive, with most seeing this as an opportunity to build structures that are less expensive and more appropriate for the modern police service.
I also know that, for all its faults, officers in ACPO have given many years to public service and are understandably sensitive to these changes. It is quite proper that they should be implemented carefully and methodically. But implemented they must be.
What I think is that ACPO is finished, and none too soon. The fact that its publicly-funded press office engaged in a defensive rear-guard over Carswell’s criticisms is instructive. ACPO should be there to serve the public, not itself. Instead it has grown confused about its responsibility, its purpose and its accountability. Taxpayers, via PCCs, paid for ACPO. Taxpayers have stopped paying for it. That is the end.
The question now is what the police service needs by way of coordination that does not already exist in the College, the NCA or elsewhere, and what taxpayers are prepared to fund. That is the work of the transition board, which has an independent chair and representatives of a range of policing organisations on it.
I wish them luck. I think it is a testament to the value of democratically elected PCCs that the public now have a say in who runs their police. I think it is a testament to PCCs that we are taking decisions that the Home Office ducked. And I think it is a testament to the new generation of Chief Constables that these changes are being approached as the opportunity that they are.
The transparency and accountability that policing needs starts at the top. PCCs are part of that. As far as I’m concerned, ACPO isn’t.