Whilst it’s tempting to focus on things of direct and immediate interest to policing performance, like the Policing Pledge, there is a bigger picture and that bigger picture continue to evolve.
There was an interesting report published by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee on 20 May, entitled: The Balance of Power: Central and Local Government
The report looks at the current role of local government, assessing where it could be more proactive in making best use of existing structures, and where change is required elsewhere, by central government and its agencies and by Parliament, to increase the scope for autonomous local government activity. Pages 30 -36 of the report take a look at ‘The delivery of local police, health and healthcare services: the role of local government’. I have put together an extract which can be found here. The full report is in the sidebar under DCLG.
The position of the Committee in relation to the localism versus national agenda is made clear: ‘During the course of this inquiry we have come to recognise the potential benefits of greater decentralisation in terms of outcomes both for local people and communities and for the democratic process’. It goes on ‘Local authorities should have the freedom to shape the development of their communities and the scope to unlock the full potential of local innovation’
The Committee asked a wide range of key practitioners (ACPO’s Sir Ken Jones gave evidence) whether local government’s role and influence needed to be strengthened in relation to local policing and health services. The answer from local government, and local government think-tanks, was “yes”
Andy Sawford, Chief Executive of the Local Government Information Unit, observed that in polls they had commissioned “both the public and councillors feel that there should be stronger accountability at a local level around policing and healthcare. Policing comes out as the number one issue that people want a say over in their community, and one where there is least opportunity for them to do it.”
A number of different local government and think-tank witnesses who gave evidence advocated a model where local authorities would commission local health and policing services from the local NHS or police authority. The Association of North East Councils felt that a commissioning model “under which the local authority would hold the budget for, and be responsible for the commissioning of, local health and policing services” would “be a bold innovation but it would take us a long way forward in securing democratic accountability”, and suggested that the model be trialled “in the first instance in a few authorities”.
The Chair of the local authority representative body, London Councils, was of the opinion that 'the way ahead is for commissioning to be carried out along with the budget for level one policing, particularly neighbourhood policing, in other words to be joined to the budget that local authorities spend, which is often quite substantial these days, pool those together and then for the local authority to commission the borough commander to deliver level one policing in our area'.
Not surprisingly, the Home Office take a different view. When Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker was asked for his response to the proposal that neighbourhood policing should move to local authorities, who would become commissioners for these police services, he was described as ‘taken aback’, appearing more comfortable envisaging local authorities in purely supportive crime prevention roles, observing that: “we see the involvement of local authorities in a crime reduction role”
Game on then, because the Committee felt that ‘local policing and health care services remain insufficiently accountable to their local populations. If local councils commissioned these local services, local accountability through the ballot box would be much stronger. At present, local councils are unable fully to assimilate local policing and health and healthcare services into their strategic vision for the locality. So long as two such important local services, arguably the most important for most local people, remain outside its scope, the full benefits of an empowered, autonomous local government cannot be realised’.
They expressed their concern that ‘neither the Home Office nor the Department of Health, on the evidence put before us, are ready to allow local authorities a real role in local policing and health and healthcare services. Despite recent changes that have brought in greater transparency and more consultation, the balance of power remains very firmly in favour of Ministers and the policing and health professionals over locally elected politicians. Whilst we acknowledge that there is much useful joined-up working going on in some aspects of local policing and health services, involving some joint commissioning, it is by no means sufficient to alter the overall balance of power’.
To make sure that the debate continues, they have recommended that the Department of Health and Home Office work with Communities and Local Government to establish a local authority commissioning model for local policing and health and health care, and, as a first step, the bringing forward of pilot projects in localities where there are matching boundaries and where some joint commissioning already takes place.
- Assessment of local services
- 12 ways to improve policing – the LGA view
- Front Office Shared Services Conference
- Guidance for local authorities on how to mainstream community cohesion into other services
- Assessment of Local Services beyond 2008