Ed Hammond, Head of Programmes, Local Accountability, from the Centre for Public Scrutiny has shared his thoughts on the Committee’s most recent report ‘Tone from top, leadership, ethics and accountability in policing’, which was published in June.
Thoughts on 'Tone from the top'
Good governance is all about culture. It is all about the way that decision-makers at the very top of organisations go about their work – the willingness with which they submit to being held to account, the openness with which they release information about their work, and the extent to which they seek to involve a range of other people in what they are doing.
The success, or otherwise, of Police and Crime Commissioners hinges on this, and it is a central theme in “Tone from the top”. We at the Centre for Public Scrutiny have been working on these kinds of issues for some time now. We were involved in the preparation for the establishment of PCCs in the runup to the elections in November 2012 and the CSPL report identifies some key issues with which we are very familiar, and with which we would strongly agree.
The first big risk that we recognise is the lack of a common understanding of roles and responsibilities between the key participants. Between PCCs and Police and Crime Panels (the bodies which are mean to hold PCCs to account) there have, in some cases, been disagreements over some quite basic issues, which have made it difficult for Panels to exercise either constructive challenge or support. Panels have, in some cases, had sporadic and patchy access to information which should ideally have been made public, and which should have been available to the Panel to review as a matter of course.
PCCs’ adherence to basic standards of openness and transparency – particular in how they go about making formal decisions – has been especially disappointing, despite pockets of good practice. We think that the Home Office should have been clearer to define what the mutual role of the PCC and Panel should be, and that PCCs and Panels should take the opportunity now to come together and clarify where those mutual responsibilities and roles lie, and how different partners will work together to make this happen.
The second major risk is around conduct and complaints. Panels have a role in managing “informal” complaints against PCCs but this has proved difficult to make work effectively in many areas. With no clear way for the Panel or any other person or body to censure the PCC, or to remove him/her in extremis, there is a big standards and accountability risk. We think that Panels should be given a power to make “super-complaints” about PCCs to the Home Secretary about conduct; we are not sure if a full-blown public recall power is the right approach.
Above all, trust is critical. Trust is integral to all seven of the CSPL’s seven principles of public life, and the framework which will allow it to flourish in strategic policing needs to be strengthened. We have all learned that the setup of a wholly new governance framework is likely to be beset by teething difficulties. But this experience should highlight to policymakers the critical importance of thinking about trust, culture, behaviours and attitudes at the outset.
Ed Hammond, Head of Programmes, Local Accountability, is responsible for research projects on public scrutiny issues. Recent work includes research on community budgets, performance management, police and crime panels, work programming and the production and content of O&S annual reports. He is responsible for drafting CfPS's series of policy and skills briefings, and manages CfPS's team of research volunteers.