About This Blog

The public should know all we can about the business of the decision makers that affect our lives, our wallets and our democracy. This is a record of my efforts to try and improve the levels of transparency and accountability within Sheffield City Council and others. To shine a light on how decisions are made and where the money goes. If I can also help others to find their own voice and influence along the way, then that is a bonus.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Police & Crime Commissioners – Democratically Accountable Police Forces? - Well, Not Really.

Today I attended the Police & Crime Panel meeting in Rotherham. This is the grouping of Councillors and lay people responsible for holding the PCC (Police & Crime Commissioner) to account for the performance, funding and general approach to policing in South Yorkshire. An elected position that was voted for by less than 20% of the electorate.

The role of the PCC has never generated much public interest and I suspect most people won't recognise the incumbent, Dr Alan Billings, who holds the post until May following the ultimate resignation of the prior occupant of the post during the Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation crisis last year. The PCC however was sold to us, by the Home Secretary of the time as democratic accountability for the police forces. As it turns out of course, that isn't quite the whole story.

I attended to ask a question about the armed police on the streets over the Christmas period in City and town centres across the force area. Happily this is a webcast meeting and the full question is available here , with the PCC's reply and comments from other PCP members.

The impression left with me after the replies were as follows;
1 The PCC clearly has no control in operational matters like this and appears to provide little influence, having declined to offer an opinion when 'told' of the decision to deploy armed officers in this way.
2 This deployment was a 'reaction' to the Paris attacks, even though at the last City Council Cabinet meeting I was told there was no intelligence suggesting Sheffield was a target at the time.
3 There appears to be some level of reassurance provided by the deployment, which is in contrast to the significant level of unquiet expressed across social media that was my experience.

My conclusion? As a politician representing, in this instance, the Labour Party as well as the South Yorkshire public I wouldn't want the PCC to have direct control or indeed excessive influence on operational police matters. However, on a matter that so directly affects the public perception of policing in the region I would expect the PCC to have and to express his opinion to the Chief Constable. In particular I would have expected the PCC to make himself aware of any specific threat to the force area and comment on that on behalf of the public.

As a reassurance exercise I think the lack of any comment to either the PCC or the other politicians is a reflection of the lack of knowledge most people have about the PCC and his role. The level of comment I saw on social media suggests they need to look at the deployment in a more formal way to try and tease out a wider range of opinion on the matter, rather than those who volunteer a comment to them or indeed to social media.

Overall this seems to confirm the concerns expressed at the inception of the PCC position, that this was a means of passing the responsibility for failures within police forces away from the Home Secretary and the blame for service cuts away from the Chancellor's austerity measures, whilst giving neither the PCC nor the scrutiny committee (Police & Crime Panel) the powers to effectively deliver their roles.

City Region Elected Mayors anyone?


  1. If a move as radical as having police gunmen on the streets of a city where there were none, nor in response to any specific threat cannot be approved by someone in a post that has been sold as a move to 'local democracy' it's difficult to see what use the role has or how democratic it is. As an exercise in 'reassurance' one can point out that the national police force in France carry weapons as a matter of course and did not prevent the last attack, nor did they prevent 9/11 in a country where all police are armed or in any other numerous incidents throughout history.

  2. Interesting write up

    Thanks Nigel