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South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions) Order 2024

Volume 837: debated on Monday 18 March 2024

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions) Order 2024 Consideration in Grand Committee.

Relevant document: 15th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, special attention drawn to the instrument

My Lords, this order was laid before the House on 7 February. If approved by both Houses, it will transfer police and crime commissioner functions from the South Yorkshire PCC to the Mayor of South Yorkshire. It will also bring forward the next scheduled mayoral election in South Yorkshire from 2026 to May 2024, thereafter taking place every four years, so that the South Yorkshire mayoral election cycle is aligned to the existing PCC election cycle. We are grateful to the incumbent mayor, Oliver Coppard, for providing his consent to the transfer and to the amendment of his current mayoral electoral term to enable this alignment.

This first mayor to exercise PCC functions in South Yorkshire would do so following the next mayoral election, which is to be rescheduled for Thursday 2 May 2024. This maintains the direct democratic accountability for policing and crime in South Yorkshire, as the mayor will be elected by the people of South Yorkshire on the basis that they are to exercise the functions of the PCC in that area. The incumbent PCC for South Yorkshire will continue to exercise the PCC functions until the end of his elected term of office. The person elected as mayor, from the point of taking office on Tuesday 7 May following the mayoral election, will act as the single, directly elected individual responsible for holding the chief constable and police force to account. They will be accountable to the people of South Yorkshire for this.

Their functions would include issuing a police and crime plan; setting the police budget, including the PCC council tax precept requirements; appointing and, if necessary, suspending or dismissing the chief constable; addressing complaints about policing services; providing and commissioning services for victims and vulnerable people; and working in partnership to ensure that the local criminal justice system is effective and efficient.

Part 1 of the Government’s review into the role of PCCs cemented the Government’s view that bringing public safety functions together under the leadership of a combined authority mayor has the potential to offer wider levers and a more joined-up approach to preventing crime. The Government’s levelling up White Paper, published in February 2022, sets out the Government’s aspiration to have combined authority mayors take on the PCC role where feasible. By working in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level, mayors can ensure that there is a more holistic, unified approach to public safety.

As is required by Section 113 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, the Home Secretary launched a public consultation on the proposed South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner functions transfer on 20 December 2023; it ran for six weeks to 31 January. Just over 3,000 responses were received to this public consultation and the Home Secretary considered the views gathered when deciding whether to lay this order enabling the transfer of PCC functions to the Mayor of South Yorkshire.

It is this Government’s view that incorporating PCC functions into the role of the Mayor of South Yorkshire, who is elected to deliver across a range of other functions, will bolster their mandate to bring greater join-up across the responsibilities that they are accountable for and help to facilitate a whole-system approach to crime reduction. It preserves the democratic accountability that underpins the PCC model while, at the same time, reducing the risk of competing democratic mandates within the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority area, providing greater clarity for the electorate on who is responsible for public service functions in their area.

The exercise of PCC functions by the Mayor of South Yorkshire is a significant step towards realising our ambition for more combined authority mayors to take on PCC functions, as is already the case in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. It means that people in South Yorkshire will be served by a mayor with a range of functions and levers comparable to the Mayors of Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and London, and will be able to hold their mayor to account for this enhanced range of responsibilities. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the careful way in which he outlined the case and reasons for the order before us, on the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority. He will know that, the other day, concerns were raised with respect to the West Midlands—that will follow its course, notwithstanding the judicial review of it—but this order refers to South Yorkshire, which is a totally different situation. We support the Government’s proposition here for the reasons that the Minister outlined.

I do not have much to add to what the Minister said. I just want to ask him this: what steps do the Government propose to take in order to inform the people of South Yorkshire of the proposed changes and the reasons for them? Also, can the Minister explain to us the Government’s view on the discussions they intend to have with the various local authorities in South Yorkshire, Members of Parliament and other local representatives? For these sorts of changes, we make the decision here—in this case, we support what the Government are doing—but it is of course important for us to consider how we both take it forward and explain, to local residents as much as anybody else, what we are doing.

With those brief comments, I have nothing further to add to the important points that the Minister made.

Yet again, as ever, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his comments and his support in this. He is absolutely right to mention the debate on the West Midlands the other day; I am personally glad that this debate has not been as excitable as that one.

I want to try briefly to run through a few things. One thing that I want to set out concerns the public consultation; it relates specifically to the noble Lord’s question on what engagement has been done and some of the local views that were expressed.

The noble Lord asked what engagement there has been. In addition to the consultation, my understanding is that there has been engagement at a local level with the mayor, the PCC and the returning officer. In terms of the local MPs, there was a debate in the other place the other day. The noble Lord is absolutely right that there should be more engagement; if this is passed, the work will then start on making sure that the electorate, as they will be, are informed of what is taking place. I do not have specific details as to what the steps and plans will be, but I assure the noble Lord that I will write to him setting that out.

As I said, the public consultation ran from 20 December to 31 January and the Government’s response was published when this order was laid before Parliament. Just over 3,000 responses were received—a great deal more than have been received by other consultations on similar devolution proposals. As was noted in the debate in the other place, 65% of those responses expressed the view that they did not agree with it. However, my understanding is that some of those responses were not specifically about opposition to this; it may just have been that they were expressing views on local issues rather than being opposed to this per se.

That consultation helped obtain views and information for the Home Secretary, rather than just find out who was opposed to it. While the numbers for and against the transfer were taken into account, the most helpful aspect of the consultation, for the purpose of making the decision, was the information provided in the responses. The Home Secretary’s decision was informed but not bound by the responses in that consultation. In making his decision, the Home Secretary also had regard to information concerning the statutory tests and duties relevant to his decision. Ultimately, the Home Secretary is satisfied that the making of this order meets the statutory tests required of him.

I have been handed a note from the department saying that, in terms of the earlier points I was trying to make—I am more than happy to write to the noble Lord as well—local MPs and the mayor were involved in the consultation last December. The mayor, the PCC and the local authorities all support the merger. Once the election is called, the candidates can be announced in due course, as the noble Lord will know all too well.

It is very helpful to hear that the mayor, the PCC and the local MPs were in favour of this. That is an important consideration for us all. My other point was that, while it is obviously important for the Government to work with MPs, the mayor and the PCC, they should also continue to inform the public about the different changes that are made. Obviously, this is quite a big change in their area, and it would be helpful for the Government to work with local representatives and support them in making sure that the public are fully informed about and aware of the changes and the reasons for them.

Yes. To clarify one point, MPs were engaged in and aware of the consultation, but that does not mean that all of them supported it, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware. However, they were certainly aware of it. The point I was making earlier is that the mayor and the PCC were both in support of it.

I accept that. The mayor and the PCC were in favour and all the local MPs were consulted; that is right. The point I am making is that the Government have taken the decision they have. We support that decision, but I ask them to consider how they will work with the mayor, the PCC and all those MPs, whatever view they took, in taking this proposal forward, if it is passed by Parliament. I also ask them to consider how they will work with all those representatives to make sure that the public are fully informed about the changes and why they are happening.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. There is also a read-through to the next SI; there is a constant lesson to be learned in terms of what engagement is done. Obviously, it is very good that there is significant local support for this, but there is certainly a lesson for us always to be aware of the need for public buy-in for any changes that we make. As I tried to say, part of the mission here is to ensure that the electorate are always kept in mind; that they are involved; that there is accountability in terms of the public services that they want; and that they have the chance to vote for whoever their representatives will be.

I am more than happy to take this away and write to the noble Lord, but hopefully that clarified some of his points. I am grateful yet again for the noble Lord’s comments and support. With that, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.