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Police and Crime Commissioners, the contradiction in UK Government policy, and Wales

07 May 2024 7 minute read
Jane Mudd, right, with her election agent Deb Davies and outgoing Gwent police and crime commissioner Jeff Cuthbert. Photo LDRS

Dr Huw Evans, academic lawyer, Cardiff Metropolitan University

Elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCc) in England and Wales have just taken place.

In Wales PCCs have been elected for each of the four Welsh police forces with voter turn-out averaging just over 17% (Dyfed-Powys 19.2%, Gwent 15.63%, North Wales 17.19%, and South Wales 16.58%).

This article considers the PCC model for police oversight. It also argues that there is a fundamental contradiction in UK Government policy between its promotion of the PCC model and its approach to police oversight in mayoral areas such as London or Greater Manchester.

The article further considers police oversight from a Wales perspective.

PCC model

The PCC model was established by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 and PCCs were first elected in 2012: one for each territorial police force in England and Wales outside London.

PCCs set an annual budget and a 5-year police and crime plan for their police force. They appoint (and can dismiss) the chief constable. PCCs also scrutinise police performance and hold the chief constable to account for delivery of the police and crime plan.

The PCC model replaced oversight by police authorities (PAs) established by the Police Act 1996. There was a PA for each police force area.  A majority of PA members were local authority (LA) members drawn from the LAs in the police force area, supplemented by magistrates and other persons judged suitable.

The Conservative Party 2010 general election manifesto described PAs as ‘invisible and unaccountable’ and that the directly elected PCC would ‘[g]iv[e] people democratic control over policing priorities [which would be] a huge step forward in the empowerment of local communities’.

The argument went roughly as follows. Being directly elected, and having a resourced and legally defined focus, a PCC would have greater legitimacy and profile than a PA. In consequence, there would be more effective oversight, leading to better policing with priorities more in line with residents’ priorities.

But it is helpful to identify two features of the PA model. Although not directly elected, because the majority of PA members were elected LA members appointed from the LAs in the police force area, there was a democratic link.

Secondly, in its relationship with the police, due to LA member involvement, PAs could take account of LA functions (such as housing, community safety, transport, local economic (re)generation, and adult and child protection) and their relationship with policing (termed here as ‘functional alignment’).

PCC model in practice

How has the PCC model worked? In its 2016 report on PCCs the Home Affairs Select Committee said that PCCs have ‘had some beneficial effect on public accountability and clarity of leadership’.

In 2024 following a further Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry, the committee chair wrote to the Home Secretary stating that ‘individual PCCs had been able to unlock innovation and drive cultural change. However, we also heard about a number of challenges facing the model’,

The challenges mentioned included: lack of public awareness of PPCs and their functions; the PCC/chief constable relationship; variable standards of PCC performance; insufficient PCC accountability; and the absence of a requirement for a deputy PCC.

Lack of legitimacy could arguably be added as one of the challenges due to low public engagement (e.g., see Welsh voter turn-out above).

Also raised in the committee’s evidence was (lack of) functional alignment; According to Transform Justice ‘many levers to prevent crime and reoffending – including health, employment and housing – lie outside of the criminal justice system.’ If all those levers could be in one place or, at least, fit within a coordinated overarching structure, surely, there is a better prospect of crime prevention?

Elected mayors and police oversight

In its approach to police oversight where there are directly elected mayors, the UK Government implicitly supports this view.  PCC functions have now been transferred to the mayors for Greater Manchester (2017), West Yorkshire (2021), South Yorkshire (2024), and York and North Yorkshire (2024). More may follow (e.g., West Midlands). The Mayor of London was also given PCC equivalent functions under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. In these cases, policing oversight sits alongside the mayors’ other functions; in other words, there is functional alignment.

In relation to the transfer of PCC functions to the West Midlands* and South Yorkshire mayors, the UK Government stated that giving police oversight ‘improve[s] collaboration across public services’.  Mayors would be ‘well placed to align police and crime priorities with other public services such as transport and regeneration’.

It was also stated that the transfer is a ‘continuation of the government’s plan…to see all combined authority mayors exercise [PCC] functions, where feasible’. [*The proposed transfer to the West Midlands mayor did not proceed for legal reasons].

UK Government policy re police oversight

The UK Government sees functional alignment as desirable for elected mayors because of the perceived benefits. But this contradicts the PCC model supported elsewhere as the PCC model does not have functional alignment.

And in those police force areas for which there is no elected mayor, the requirement to have a PCC remains. There has been no policy attempt to reintegrate police oversight with LA functions and improve functional alignment.

There is a fundamental contradiction concerning the UK Government’s approach to functional alignment and police oversight between mayoral and non-mayoral areas.

Wales and police oversight

Policing (which includes police oversight) is not devolved to Wales. It is devolved to Northern Ireland and Scotland and those countries have not adopted the PCC model for police oversight.

In Northern Ireland there is the Northern Ireland Policing Board comprising members appointed from the Northern Ireland Assembly and independent members appointed by the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice.

In Scotland there is the Scottish Police Authority comprising members appointed by the Scottish Government who are considered to have necessary skills and expertise.

Practicality does not allow exploration of those arrangements, but it is notable that neither model provides for directly elected membership. Each model also would seem capable of accommodating an element of functional alignment.

If the logic of the UK Government’s policy towards police oversight and elected mayors is adopted, for better functional alignment, police oversight should be devolved to Wales.

In the broader context of policing and criminal justice, the 2019  Commission on Justice in Wales report commented how misalignment between devolved and non-devolved functions created ‘jagged edges’ in policy implementation, and with real-life consequences. Police oversight not being devolved is a ‘jagged edge’ example due to the lack of functional alignment with devolved functions.

Police accountability

The police should be accountable and to achieve this there should be effective oversight. There is some evidence that the PCC model has improved police oversight in terms of clarity of expectation and challenging the police.

But the model as implemented does not seem to have been thought through especially concerning the desirability for functional alignment (as evidenced by the policy retreat towards elected mayors).

The previous PA model had inbuild capacity for functional alignment.  And although not directly elected, PA membership did have some democratic legitimacy.  Rather than abandoning the PA model, it could have been revised to improve its focus, profile, legitimacy, and effect.

Police oversight that is best for Wales should be decided in Wales; its devolution, as would policing more generally, would improve functional alignment and help avoid jagged edges.

Whether there should be a single police force for Wales (or more than one, but not four) are separate issues, other than being something again that should be decided in Wales.

And finally, Jane Mudd has been elected as the new PCC for Gwent. She is currently leader of Newport City Council, a role that she will relinquish. But she has stated she will continue as a councillor.

The two hats of ‘Cllr Mudd’ and ‘’Sheriff’ Mudd’ can mean that each informs the other in carrying out those roles. Functional alignment will be present because of her personal circumstances but, crucially, not due to something connected with the PCC model.

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Y Cymro
Y Cymro
19 days ago

With the recent poor turnout for the Police and Crime Commissioners what Wales needs is not an English copy & paste to Wales centrist control but the devolution of Policing and Criminal & Youth Justice System. And if England, Scotland and Northern Ireland capable of controlling their policing, so can we. We were need to happen seeing the Police & Crime Commissioners have recently been elected, is to slowly phase them out in the fir the next Senedd elections and for UK Labour once elected to devolve the power requested numerous times by the Welsh Government but refused by the… Read more »

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
18 days ago

2 jobs Mudd,nice work if you can get it

18 days ago

The roles of PCCs have been devolved to five mayors in England with more on the way. In Northern Ireland and Scotland policing has been devolved. This devolution of policing took place because there are many causes of crime that the PCCs can’t tackle or influence, but the mayors and national governments can. There is no reason not to devolve policing to the Senedd if you are serious about reducing crime and the causes of crime in Wales. The ball is clearly in Sunak’s court. Inaction is holding us back and hurting communities in Wales.

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards
18 days ago

Yes Wales should decide how we want to be policed. But we need a better Wales before we take this decision. Not Westminster-down or Senedd-down. Senedd-down just reflects the 100yr Labour hegemony, as seen now in Gwent. We need a Constitutional Convention to decide on a better Senedd (bicameral, directly elected FM, written Constitution, with a Bill of Rights). How Wales then organises Court and Police is (in 2024) a hot political topic given lawfare both here and in the US. Definitely one for a Constitutional Convention.

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