We are approaching an election. Police and Crime Commissioners have been in post for a year. They are increasingly established as powerful voices with big budgets at the heart of Conservative political territory.
As we start to look towards 2015, now seems like a good time to consider what part they might play in a Conservative victory in 2015? And what, indeed, a Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner policy looks like.
I am one of sixteen Conservative PCCs. As we settle in, the outlines of policy are emerging from our experience at the coalface. These are some initial suggestions, from what is almost a year in office.
Like all good Conservative policy our approach should be practical and forward-looking. It should take the side of good people who do the right thing. It should challenge our creaking justice system to do better. And it should take on the vested interests that frustrate reform.
We should focus on three things: protecting people; protecting taxpayers; strong and compassionate justice.
Crime is falling. That is a great success. But it is also changing and people are deeply suspicious of crime statistics. Their perceptions do not move with the numbers. And their perceptions matter.
To protect people you have to first listen to their needs. By giving local people a direct voice, PCCs should bring greater public focus to policing and crime prevention. We are free to set the right priorities for our areas, without central targets to get in the way.
Small things make a big difference. Thanks to work done to implement my manifesto commitments, our police stations now operate on the principle that, as my Chief Constable puts it, “when we’re in, we’re open”. No more “sorry guv’nor, come back another day.”
It costs virtually nothing and makes a huge impact on public confidence.
I have removed all targets from my police force. We have spent millions training the police to cut crime. They know how to do it. Why then tie them to their desks filling in paperwork?
The best way to protect people is to trust professionals to do their job.
The police are fully playing their part in restoring the nation’s finances. They have absorbed significant cuts in funding, even as they continue to cut crime. But funding cuts haven’t always fallen in the right place.
PCCs must make sure we give freedom the front line and value to the taxpayer.
When I arrived at Dyfed Powys, I inherited an organisation creaking with inflated senior salaries. Contracts had apparently been written by staff themselves and signed off by the Police Authority. There were 7.5% bonuses for staying in your job for a year. Police stations had closed while the number of accountants remained untouched.
Working with my new Chief Constable, we have cut the cost of the three top salaries from £420,000 to £330,000. I have cut 15% from the cost of governing the police. We are pushing through further reforms to ensure money is spent where it’s most needed – on policing our towns and villages.
Commissioners across the country have uncovered similar scandalous misuse of public money. Our job will be to make sure it stops and money goes where it should – to protect the public.
Strong and Compassionate
The great innovation of PCCs is the power we have to commission wider crime-fighting services. That’s what will allow us to move beyond the tired old ‘lock-em-up’ criminal justice debate, as the Prime Minister has called for in the past.
We are able to develop policies that allow the police to be more robust and the system to be more sensitive: strong, compassionate and Conservative policies. How so?
Conservatives have profound insights that can help. We understand that clear boundaries give people confidence. We know that respect is important and responsibility does not constrain people, it empowers them.
We understand the importance of incentives in changing human behaviour. We trust people to make decisions. That is why we believe in markets. We don’t fix prices and we don’t fiddle with targets.
Police and Crime Commissioners can take these insights into law and order. We can use our powers to set boundaries.
Crime is a choice. It’s the wrong choice. If you cross that boundary you should face punishment. If you stay the right side we should support you.
On the one hand we can target the police against criminals. Clear leadership frees the police to concentrate on policing. Chief Constables no longer need to look over their shoulder for fear of offending some lobby group. That is the PCC’s problem.
On the other hand we can offer support to people in danger of straying. We are already commissioning services from charities, private providers and others to fight crime. These will help with reoffending, domestic violence, drugs, hate crime and marginal groups.
Rules, rewards, respect and responsibility are vital for people struggling with chaotic lives. They provide something solid to hold on to. These are compassionate insights. They are also Conservative.
What applies to policing applies to justice more widely. PCCs are able to look from crime to cell and back to community to see where the system is failing.
Public confidence is critical. It shocks the liberal consensus – I confess I’ve been part of it – but we must take account of public perception.
Police and Crime Commissioners are a start in putting the public back at the heart of justice. With the right powers we can deliver more rehabilitation, community sentences that people believe in and help for victims in an intimidating system.
In Police and Crime Commissioners communities have powerful new champions. And we in the Conservative Party have important local voices able to deliver strong, compassionate policies. We must use them on our climb to 2015.