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Police and Crime Commissioners and ACPO

Volume 573: debated on Wednesday 15 January 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I am grateful to have secured this debate, which is timely, as the police and crime commissioners’ decision on the funding of the Association of Chief Police Officers is pending.

ACPO still receives £4 million of public funding. Some £1.2 million of that is provided directly by PCCs to ACPO centrally, with the remainder almost all going to national policing units still overseen by ACPO—something that I and other members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs have repeatedly said is wrong. The Home Office has already ended funding to ACPO, so I hope the Minister will find General Sir Nick Parker’s independent review of ACPO helpful.

The PCCs to whom I have spoken do not in any way interpret recommendation 4, on having a change management programme, as a criticism of the Home Office; rather, they see it as an offer to work with the Home Office to ensure that the transition from ACPO happens, and to provide a final year of funding to do so. The Parker report’s other three recommendations also strongly support the changes to the policing landscape driven by the Home Office, and they will be welcomed by members of the Select Committee, and by many chief constables who are perhaps not part of the ACPO in-group, if I may describe it in that way.

The Parker report’s first three recommendations are central to today’s debate, and I will address them in reverse order. Recommendation 3 states:

“PCCs should seek greater visibility of National Business Area governance and output. Even though the overall responsibility for management is transferring from ACPO to the College of Policing the level of resources that Business Areas consume at local level mean that PCCs remain a major stakeholder.”

The Select Committee would probably also add that Alex Marshall and the College of Policing are in charge. The College of Policing is a new body that will take time to get into its stride, which I believe it is now doing. It is important that chief constables look to Alex Marshall, who is operationally in charge of the college, to provide that leadership, because it now happens through the College of Policing, rather than through ACPO.

Recommendation 3 runs counter to the rearguard action being fought by a number of chief constables; that point is addressed on page 10 of the report, where General Parker refers to the “concerns” from some that

“the wide representation of stakeholders within the College, and the processes necessary to ensure appropriate consideration, may delay the implementation of tactical procedures. Chief Constables should retain an important stake in the speed of decision-making and the priorities set to address issues. This will allow Business Area Heads to ensure timely, credible implementation and, if the situation demands it, provide an effective counter to obfuscation by other stakeholders within the College who may not have responsibility for operational effect.”

That betrays some chief constables’ lack of understanding of how the new policing landscape should operate, and particularly of the role of the College of Policing in running those business areas, and the key role of the police and crime commissioners on the college’s board. As the general says,

“it would be wrong to assume that there is a clear dividing line between policy and practice”.

That is why it is necessary for PCCs to have oversight. The business areas should not just be pushed off on to a professional committee within the College of Policing; the PCCs should be central either in directly managing the business areas or delegating them to ensure appropriate supervision. That is essential, as General Parker emphasises in his report.

The second recommendation is on national units, of which there is a great range. Some are small in what they do, although they are often important, and some are smaller or larger in terms of funding. The general says that we need

“alternative models to governance, funding and support currently provided by ACPO, such as the lead force…to streamline governance and financial accountability by reinvigorating the bilateral contact between forces and each national unit. This will ensure that individual force requirements are met in the most cost effective manner.”

The report continues:

“ACPO does provide important administrative services, particularly in support of national units. It governs some commercial interests and acts as the home for CPOSA. There are alternative solutions, including more widespread use of the lead force model in the case of national units.”

There is a clear model for the direction that that should go in, so the question is how we arrange the transfer over the next year, if the PCCs are kind enough to provide funding and support for the Home Office to oversee it.

Finally—this is key—nobody has any objection to chief constables getting together to discuss matters of mutual interest. That is something that they have done, as the so-called chief constables’ council, within ACPO, using ACPO as the agency to the extent that that was required, but the consensus, certainly in the report, is that the status quo is no longer feasible. General Parker says that we need change that

“shifts responsibilities…to the College of Policing and other appropriate bodies, one of which must represent senior…operational leadership at the national level”.

ACPO will therefore have no further role in that. I emphasise that responsibility is shifting to other appropriate bodies, one of which will provide a central focus at the national level and can act as a forum for the senior leadership of the police service.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He rightly quotes at length the Parker review, which praises the historic work of ACPO, recommends a collective national policing function to conduct operational and managerial co-ordination, and argues for reform. It has been embraced by ACPO and supported by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which are now collaborating in a transitional board. Does he accept the importance of a focus akin to that which ACPO has provided historically? Whatever the future reforms, there should be that focus on the effective co-ordination of operational and managerial delivery. Is that not key to the safety and security of the communities that we represent?

What is key for our communities is democratic oversight. As I said in my maiden speech, if Labour is now not the party of democratic oversight, which the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has an honourable record in pushing, but of ACPO, then it can stand on that basis, but that is a sad change. I am not sure whether, in the shadow Minister’s remarks, there was a degree of confusion between ACPO and the National Police Coordination Centre, in terms of that national co-ordinating role during times of crisis—the most obvious recent example is the riots. Everyone agrees that that role is required, but we need appropriate oversight of that, and there is appropriate oversight in that centre. The president of ACPO does not have direction and control; he is one of a number of people serving on the new body, which includes representation from the Cabinet Office and the Home Office. That is the right model.

It is perfectly fine to discuss and develop the idea of whether chief constables need a collective view, and whether or not the body should be called the chief constables’ council. The traditional tripartite model involves the chief constable and the police authority locally, and the Home Office setting the national framework. Unfortunately, over several decades, ACPO began undemocratically to set that national framework centrally, when it is much more appropriate for such things to be delivered locally and with democratic oversight. If there is to be a chief constables’ council, which is perfectly sensible, it should be run by a part-time chair elected by the members—even ACPO was run in that way before 2003. There is no need for some great legal entity and superstructure that has human resources, finance and legal functions; it can operate like the other business areas. The elected chair could use his staff officer and a number of officers within the local force as appropriate, with the costs falling as they lie with the business area. That is the appropriate model, which would allow chief constables to work together, with the chair speaking on their behalf when appropriate. That is all that is required, and we must be sure that the transition does not allow a revamped ACPO to return from the dead.

I will be brief, as the Minister has to speak, and I know that other colleagues also want to contribute. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to congratulate the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) on initiating the debate. He is a true original thinker on the Select Committee on Home Affairs as far as policing is concerned. Throughout the incredible change that has been organised by the Government and the new landscape of policing, he has pushed the Select Committee in the right direction when we have probed the changes. I am happy to remind the House that the Select Committee is investigating how police and crime commissioners and chief constables work together. As part of that, we will have our say on what is left of ACPO in the new landscape.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that chief constables have a different role from the one that has developed over the past few years. They are not supposed to be involved in making policy, although the Home Affairs Committee has on many occasions called on ACPO to give us views on policy. That changes in this new landscape, which I am on the record as saying I am excited about, but it has not yet settled. The hon. Gentleman is saying that when it has settled, chief constables will have a role to play, but it will not be the traditional role that developed under ACPO. It should be a new role. I am sure that the Select Committee will consider those points when we come to make recommendations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who gave an excellent summary. He and I have often taken up this issue on the Select Committee, because it does matter.

When I talk to experts in policing structures from around the world and they look at how ACPO works, they are often shocked at the amount of power that has accumulated without oversight and without deliberate intention. Nobody would deny that there is a role for operational discussion between chief constables, but far more than that has been accumulated and gone into the new structure, as I have seen in many cases. Several years ago, the Cambridgeshire police authority was told that it had to agree a particular policy on Tasers, because it had been mandated by ACPO. The police authority should have known better than to accept the policy, but that is what it was told, in writing, from the chief constable at the time. That is simply inappropriate. It is not up to ACPO to set that sort of policy.

The Parker review is deeply critical on several points, as was summarised by my hon. Friend. Some things have been annoying many of us for a long time, such as the fact that it is a private limited company and exempt from freedom of information requests. In fairness, the president, who is on the parliamentary estate today, has highlighted those as things that he would like to change, but I have not seen them change yet. We have the opportunity to change things now as a result of the Parker review, the new College of Policing, the bringing of a good evidence-based environment to policing, and the changes around police and crime commissioners.

PCCs now have the right to choose what model they would like. It is obviously their choice to make, but I hope that they consider the sort of model outlined by my hon. Friend. I say yes to a chief constables’ council, yes to a place for chief constables to talk, engage and interact, and yes to it having a part-time chair, who should have support and be able to be involved with operational policing. ACPO should be trimmed down, with far more responsibilities lying with accountable bodies, and far less of the power that it has accumulated. Many people at ACPO have worked hard and with the best of intentions, but it has not been accountable, and it has led to a few people collecting a huge amount of power.

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless). ACPO was let off lightly in General Parker’s review. It is a failed institution that is bordering on corrupt. It has myriad conflicts of interest and lacks transparency. General Parker’s review is excellent, but it failed to identify and to nail the heart of the problems at ACPO, which come from a group of men, largely, protecting their jobs over decades.

A very serious allegation has just been made about the most senior police officers in our country. It has been alleged that they are corrupt. Will the hon. Gentleman either justify that statement or withdraw it?

I will not withdraw it. An organisation that offers jobs to ex-officers without following the procurement processes that it created displays a form of corruption. It is a club working in its own interests. The report does not identify that, just as it does not identify the organisation’s moral vacuum. There have been many challenges to our police service, but has this organisation reviewed the issue of better leadership, or what should be done? Has it looked at how many women are in the senior leadership of our police forces? Has it looked at ethnic minorities? Has it challenged itself? Has it looked at new entrants into the forces? Has it looked at why white males largely dominate the senior positions within our police? It has not. For those reasons, we should draw a line under ACPO. The PCCs should not give this organisation a penny piece beyond some transitional funding. The Home Office should be much more focused on ensuring that any money that it pays for ongoing projects does not seep over into the overall running of this organisation. ACPO is finished and should be wound up; the sort of organisation outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood sounds like just the ticket for a new, more transparent period of policing.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. It was also a particular pleasure to hear some thoughtful and trenchant views in the course of this short debate. Those who spoke, most of whom are members of the Home Affairs Committee, have thought about the subject deeply and long. Furthermore, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, said that a report is gestating; as ever, we look forward to its birth. I was especially grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he was “excited” about the new policing landscape. There were many reasons why we conducted such a widespread and radical reform of the police. It was extremely necessary to improve policing in this country. It is an uncovenanted and added bonus that it excites the Chair of the Select Committee.

The time is right, amid all this change, to look again at the role of ACPO to ensure that it has adapted to the massive change and reform programme introduced by the Government, because the whole of the policing landscape has been reformed. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who introduced the debate so thoughtfully, police and crime commissioners have given communities a greater say in policing and introduced new lines of accountability for chief constables. Also, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been strengthened to ensure the highest standards of police integrity, which is clearly an ever more important reform; the National Crime Agency has been created to lead the fight against serious and organised crime; the inspectorate of constabulary has been made more independent; and the College of Policing has been established to provide professional standards for policing. It is therefore essential that ACPO’s functions are now delivered within the ethos of the new policing landscape.

In the short time—a little more than a year—that PCCs have been in office, they have innovated by developing strategies to tackle drug and alcohol misuse and the problem of people with mental health problems being held in custody cells; they have worked with young people to improve engagement; and they have driven innovation in technology to improve policing. They have done all that while holding their forces to account and scrutinising police performance. Many PCCs have wasted no time in introducing new processes to hold chief constables to account for the delivery of the PCC-prepared police and crime plans and in driving value for money. All that has fundamentally changed the accountability process in and governance of policing for the better. I am grateful for the endorsement of that change in the tone of the debate so far.

PCCs have reviewed the role and remit of ACPO within that new context—this is essential, and I very much welcome it. Various hon. Members have talked about the Parker review, which demonstrates that PCCs are providing an impetus to reform at the national as well as the local level. They are of course innovating and delivering policing more efficiently in each of their individual areas, and not only have they brought real local accountability to how chief constables and their forces perform, but they are working hard to ensure that their local communities have a stronger voice in policing.

Everything is happening against the economic and fiscal background with which we are familiar. In the current climate, it is essential to drive innovation and transformation that deliver value for money, so that savings can be made and priority given to front-line policing. PCCs are doing this at the same time as they are delivering against their national responsibilities, which I hope is putting an end to the view of some people that that is a weakness of PCCs. I think that it is a strength.

I now turn in some detail to the Parker review. As Sir Nick Parker said in a review undertaken on behalf of PCCs, not of the Home Office, there are frustrations with the lack of transparency in ACPO funding and with the inadequacy of audit and performance monitoring. Sir Nick said that

“these arise out of ACPO’s undoubtedly complex and unorthodox structure.”

There is a variety of governance mechanisms across the full range of ACPO’s functions, and its status is unusual, in that it is a company limited by guarantee rather than a public body. We have heard some of those frustrations aired in the Chamber today.

To be fair to the president of ACPO, Sir Hugh Orde—I am a great fan of his and the way in which he conducts his policing—he said that he was very uncomfortable with being in a company limited by guarantee. He had torn what little hair he had left off his head in order to find alternatives.

Absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right to make that point. I am conscious that Sir Hugh Orde has thought as much about these matters as anyone else and has, as one would expect, come to thoughtful conclusions.

I support the broad direction of travel of the Parker review, and I was pleased that PCCs had taken collective action to review the role and functions of ACPO. I was also pleased the review recognised the need for efficiencies and for deriving maximum value for money from services that are currently provided under ACPO.

The PCCs have a vital role in ensuring that there is a national forum in which chief constables may come together to co-ordinate what they see as their needs at the national level. We all agree that that is an essential function. As the review recognises, crucially, the majority of ACPO functions have now transferred to the College of Policing. We are using the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill to give the college the power to set standards. It will be for the college to provide leadership for the whole of policing in future.

The Minister is absolutely right to highlight the role of the College of Policing in providing standards and leadership. It is also important to evidence-informed policing and to developing new approaches that were not seen in the previous policing landscape. Will he talk about that role as well?

Indeed. My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am about to come on to the college and its vital, central role in future, but first I will point out the one part of the Parker review with which I disagree: the need for a centralised change management programme for police reform, potentially run from the Home Office. That is exactly what we do not need and is very much against the ethos of the more accountable, locally driven and bottom-up police service that we are introducing. That is one of the reasons why I am so glad that the PCCs have grasped the nettle of reform themselves, because it shows that we do not need a small group in the Home Office driving all change.

The PCCs I have spoken to do not interpret the report in that way. I can see how the Minister might, reading it broadly, but that has not been their interpretation, to the extent that change management is needed and the Home Office’s co-operation with that is desired. I believe that is an issue for the transitional final year funding that PCCs are prepared to offer to help the Home Office to ensure that ACPO’s functions are wound down and that the appropriate transition is made.

Absolutely. I thought that that was what I had said. I am conscious that PCCs want to do that. I am not saying that there is no role for the Home Office—there is of course a role for it, and we have a very senior official sitting on the transition committee precisely so that the legitimate interest that the Home Office has in the process can be represented at this vital time of change.

I have been invited to talk about the College of Policing, however, so I will. We saw before Christmas with the code of ethics that the media and the public are increasingly—and rightly—looking to the college to speak boldly on how it believes the police should response to press and public concerns, in the way that, in the past, they would have looked to ACPO. The college has taken on much that we used to look to ACPO to provide—setting out the case for change, providing leadership and enabling police forces to provide a more effective service to their communities.

In future, we will be looking to the college as the body responsible for developing a better police force, for identifying the challenges that policing faces and for setting out how those challenges should be met. In future the college will come up with the big ideas for reforms to improve the way policing is delivered. I expect to see the college providing dynamic leadership in the face of a wide range of challenges, including reducing bureaucracy, increasing officer discretion and driving the modernisation of the police.

To achieve all that, the college will need to be visible not just to the few at the top of the police or to the many thousands working in policing but—perhaps most important of all—to the general public, without whom the police could not be effective. We have always had a model of policing by consent. The famous dictum of Robert Peel, that the

“police are the public and the public are the police”

needs constant reinvention in every age. It will be to the college that Governments, the police and the public will look to interpret how we achieve that hugely desirable end, which has always been at the heart of British policing, in the 21st century.

We have talked about accountability today, and I agree that it is important. The college is accountable through its board, with a far greater range of people from right across policing responsible for taking decisions about the way the college works. It will also be accountable to Parliament for the standards it sets.

The key is that the range of people on that board include a serious number of PCCs, who are elected. That is the difference, surely.

It is one difference, but the most important difference, and the next thing I was going to say, is how inclusive the college is. It is for the whole of policing: officers, staff, special constables and volunteers. There is a wide range of people on the college board as well as on its professional committee. As my hon. Friend says, that rightly includes PCCs, who are themselves directly elected.

The college is new and new organisations need time to get their strategy and structures in place, and to make sure that they have the right people in post to deliver their aims, but there has already been huge progress. In September, the college published its strategic intent, inviting views on its strategy, including on whether police officers and staff should pay a fee to join. In October, it consulted on the code of ethics for police officers and members of police staff. While we are debating the changes to ACPO here today, the college is working through its longer term structures and developing its commercial strategy. All that is being progressed alongside the work the college is doing on direct entry, on the threshold tests linking pay to skills, on police digitisation and on freeing up police time. It is essential that everyone not only gives the college time to develop but supports it in that development. It will be a vital institution for the future success of policing in this country.

We should all recognise that it will not be some diktat from the Home Office or lever pulled by the Policing Minister that will bring about reform. We need to work in partnership with police and crime commissioners and chief constables to ensure that the model for the future is the right one. We continue to take a strong interest and financially to support those critical national functions that chief constables undertake and must continue to deliver, namely those where operational co-ordination is needed on national issues. Critical national functions including the national police co-ordination centre and the ACPO criminal records office must continue so that we safeguard work on, for example, the sharing of international criminal information across the EU and the rest of the world—clearly an area of increasing importance to the police.

Sir Nick Parker’s review was comprehensive and looked at the future of ACPO in the round. It concluded that reform was needed to ensure that chief constables have a forum with functions and structures that fit the new police reform landscape. I support that objective. The changes to the policing landscape that followed the publication of the review of ACPO will take time to unfold. Once those changes take place, it will be essential that they work. We have already seen the changes the Government have made to this part of the policing landscape through the creation of the college. Those changes have worked because they have been supported by all parts of policing—by chief constables, PCCs, the Police Superintendents Association, the Police Federation and those trade unions that have members who are police staff. The changes to ACPO need to be worked through in exactly the same way.

I am grateful to ACPO and its members. Chief constables have shown the ability to adapt and evolve to meet new challenges. That pragmatic, reforming approach will need to continue as police reform and, in particular, a sharper focus on public accountability and transparency continue to drive change across the policing landscape.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.