Good morning and welcome. We will now hear oral evidence from the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, the Police Federation of England and Wales, and Unison. Before calling the first Member to ask a question, I remind all Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill and that we must stick to the timings in the programme order. The Committee has agreed that we have until 10.45 am for this session. Will the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record, starting with Ben Priestley?
Good morning. I would like to ask questions on four parts of the Bill, starting with part 3 on the police workforce. In your view, what issues are raised by what is proposed in the Bill, including potentially to arm directly employed and volunteer police community support officers with CS or PAVA spray ?
Steve White: We have some concerns in relation to mission creep to a degree and the current accountability in relation to community support officers, and certainly in relation to volunteers. The proposal raises a question of accountability and how that would work. There is absolutely no doubt that many volunteers who work with the police service up and down the country do excellent work. There also needs to be recognition that we have a fully regulated special constabulary, with all the powers and accountability that that responsibility comes with.
We have police community support officers with varying degrees of powers, depending on their deployments and chief constables. It is very important to recognise, for example, that the use of CS is at a lower point of the force continuum than Taser. Are we suggesting that perhaps Taser would also be given to PCSOs, because it is a lower use of force? I do not think that is being suggested, but putting PCSOs in positions where they would have to deploy CS was never envisaged as their primary role as community support officers. When it comes to the use of force, and the current accountability and powers that fully attested police officers have, there is a huge degree of accountability, training and experience that goes with the deployment of that kind of device.
It would be interesting to hear Unison’s point of view on what the PCSOs think of the proposal. I know that Unison has been doing some work around that, but I do not think the picture is particularly clear. We definitely have some reservations about that .
Ben Priestley: As Steve has mentioned, Unison has some concerns about this proposal. The major concern is that the Bill’s proposal around the arming of police community support officers with gas was not part of the Government’s consultation that preceded the Bill. That is surprising for such a major step in quite a different direction. Given that there has not been any public consultation or consultation with stakeholders, our view is that this particular element of the Bill—the proposals around CS gas and PAVA gas—should be removed from the Bill. We would argue strongly for that, because in the public interest there is clearly a need for consultation in respect of volunteers being issued with CS or PAVA spray.
That keys into a much bigger debate around the Government’s proposals to create in the Bill two new specific, designated, volunteer roles: community support volunteers and policing support volunteers. I am sure we will get on to that in the debate here, but Unison’s view is certainly that it is not appropriate, for a range of reasons, for volunteers to be granted through designation a whole range of policing powers that could extend, it seems from the way the Bill is currently drafted, to virtually every power currently available to a police officer, with the exception of the five or six reserved powers that the Bill sets out. That would be a real step change in the use of volunteers. Unison agrees that volunteers can be used proportionately within policing, but this is, as Steve has mentioned, a mission creep too far and we are certainly opposed to the vision for volunteers to be granted those powers.
We have limited time available. I intend to move on and, if there is time left at the end, to deal with any additional questions then. Before moving on to a different line of questioning, is there anything that any of the witnesses wants to add to what has already been said that is in any way different? Otherwise, I will move straight on to the next questioners.
Q Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen):
I want to focus on police complaints, if I may. I assume that everyone on the panel thinks it absolutely correct that police officers are held to account for their actions, regardless of whether they have chosen to leave the force. I am sure you are aware of the proposal in the Bill to close the loophole that removes people from that disciplinary procedure if they have retired or left the force. Do you think it appropriate that former officers should be held to account for allegations arising from their conduct in the force after they have left the force? If so, do you think a 12-month time limit is long enough for that to take place?
Chief Superintendent Curtis: I totally agree. It is absolutely right that officers are held to account for wrongdoing. We are as keen as anyone that bad officers are removed from the ranks of the police and, if appropriate, placed on a barred list.
We have to bear in mind proportionality. We are talking about employment issues around misconduct, not criminal events. If there is a criminal allegation, we can continue it right up to an officer’s death. An officer can be arrested and dealt with for any criminal allegations relating to when they were serving as a police officer. There are not many professions—or any that I am aware of—in which, beyond retirement or resignation, people can continue to be subject to disciplinary conduct.
On some occasions, that might be helpful for officers. When there are allegations against officers who have retired, they may want to come back and take the opportunity to defend themselves and to correct any situation they feel has been put across negatively. We must be careful not to hold people to account forever for something that took place in their employment.
We must think about the purpose of doing this. It is so that if there is serious misconduct, we can put someone on a barred list. We agree with the barred list and think it is a good idea. There are some issues about the five-year limit, which we may come back to, but in principle we think it right that people are held to account while they are in the job. There is a limit and 12 months is appropriate. If it is not 12 months, where do you draw the line? Do you take that limit up to two years, three years or four years? I think 12 months is an appropriate length of time in which to hold people to account for employment issues, as opposed to criminal issues.
Steve White: A couple of issues from us. We have some reservations in relation to keeping people to account after they have left the service. As a serving officer, there are significant restrictions on an individual’s private life—that is something that you sign up to when you become a police officer—but to continue to have restrictions after you have either decided to leave the service or moved on for whatever reason, I think, requires some careful thought.
I echo what Irene said in terms of this being about employment issues, as opposed to criminal matters. That is an important point to remember. We welcome the ability of people to be voluntarily put on the struck-off list—that makes perfect sense. What we need to be careful about is dealing with misconduct and complaints with serving officers, which generally takes far too long anyway—it goes on for years and, to a certain extent, that is because it is allowed to go on for years. It is not good for the public, for the police service or for the individuals who are subject to the complaints either. I do wonder if the 12-month period just means that if there is anything in the system prior to an officer leaving, it gives the professional standards department or the Independent Police Complaints Commission a little bit of breathing space and extra time, which I would say is not necessary.
These things need to be cleared up as quickly as possible. I am not talking about officers not being held to account at all; I am talking about an incentive to make sure that it happens in the shortest possible time for the benefit of the complainant, the service and the individual.
Q Jake Berry:
Mr White, one of the most important things about this change is upholding public confidence in the police force’s ability to deal with complaints. To be absolutely clear in terms of the question I asked, do you believe that 12 months is proportionate or would you like to see that reduced?
Steve White: Absolutely. I would like to see that, when police officers leave the service, everything is dealt with: they leave the service and they are able to move on with their lives. To continue with a degree of restriction because there is a 12-month period where they have got to wait and see if something comes out of the woodwork is unhelpful and I think it would be counterproductive, because you are just going to give the ability to the service or any kind of investigatory authority not to have to worry too much about it until day 364 and, all of a sudden, something appears—it happens all the time: you get to the time limit and something suddenly appears.
I absolutely agree with you that there has got to be public confidence in the service—of course there has. Sixty-nine per cent. of the public say that the police do a good or very good job, so it has to be kept in proportion. The vast majority of officers do a very difficult job under very difficult circumstances. The police service in England and Wales is not riddled with corrupt police officers.
Q Lyn Brown:
Do you believe that under a single employer arrangement the discrepancy between a firefighter’s right to strike and the ban on police officers taking strike action might be a source of friction? Secondly, there is a duty of collaboration in the first part of the Bill. Do you know of a situation where any of your colleagues have refused to collaborate under the current system?
Chief Superintendent Thomas: I will try to be as brief as I can—I will bear in mind the hint on the timescales. In terms of the first question, there are significant cultural differences between the fire service and the police service. You only have to see the learning on collaboration between forces, let alone with other emergency services—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has commented on it several times. We must not underestimate the power of cultural differences in this. There are dynamics of a heavily unionised service coming to join up with a service that is not unionised, particularly under the single employment model.
In answer to your second question, I am not necessarily sure about the language around refusing to collaborate. I have already articulated one reason for it and there are many other reasons as well, such as, for instance: single funding; annual funding, which does not give any longevity in terms of planning; and misaligned geography in terms of coterminosity. Two forces exist that are not coterminous to the Fire Brigades Union: Avon and Somerset constabulary and Devon and Cornwall police. You have a fire service that crosses over those two force areas. That does present some challenges itself .
Steve White : The police service and, indeed, my members—the 124,000 people who I represent—recognise and value the expertise that the fire service brings, and we work incredibly well together at the scenes of many, many incidents and operations; of that there is absolutely no doubt. Provided that that separation of professional responsibility remains, I do not necessarily think that there is an issue. We have sympathy with some of the issues in relation to the fire service. I am sure that they have similar concerns for issues that we have. I am sure we would continue to work very closely together, so I do not necessarily see it as a massive issue. Of course, when we had the police service escorting green goddesses—I experienced this through disputes years ago—it was because of strike action, but even so, I think the fire service recognised the limits and capabilities of the police service. We just have to be pragmatic, deal with it and be professional in dealing with it.
In relation to collaboration, let us be brutally frank: collaboration between police forces and other agencies is not working as efficiently as it should. It is absolutely true that that is the case. Sometimes it is cultural. Sometimes it is managerial. Sometimes it is about egos. Sometimes it is political. There needs to be a locus to ensure that collaboration within the police service and across other agencies happens as effectively and efficiently as possible. Indeed, there have been many instances where my members have been working within collaborative organisations and have seen the frustrations—why are there three different annual leave policies for three forces that are collaborating on specialist operations? They have to go to three different resource units to take time off. Our members can see that it is not working as well as it should.
I am not saying that people have refused to collaborate; I am just saying that from a cultural perspective, there is still quite a lot that needs to happen. There is an opportunity for a central locus to say, “No. You need to collaborate under this framework and get on with it.”
Ben Priestley: The issue of industrial action is maybe not as important as some might initially think. Forty per cent. of the police workforce can join a trade union. It is a reasonably unionised workforce. Over half the workforce is in a trade union, and there has not been a history or a tradition of industrial action. That, I think, is testimony to the good quality of employment relations and the negotiating machinery that we have. Whichever service we are thinking about, it is the quality of the industrial relations that determines whether there are industrial disputes or not. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango, and very often industrial disputes are an indication of a failure of the system, rather than any in-built problem with the fact that certain workers have a right to strike.
In relation to the broader concept within the Bill of a single employer, once we begin to unpack that, there is an awful lot in it that will have to be dealt with and that will involve police services, and potentially fire and rescue services, in a huge amount of work—for what end? It brings together four or five different negotiating bodies under one or maybe two or more employers. The Bill is unclear whether the police and crime commissioner will be the single employer, whether he or she can delegate to the chief constable and whether the chief constable can then delegate to another individual within his or her force. That part of the Bill hopefully can be examined properly in Committee, and we certainly would like to put evidence up at that stage to help the MPs on the Committee to understand some of the complexities around the single employer model.
In relation to the duty to collaborate, I think the Government supported the establishment of the emergency services collaboration working group, which reported last year. I am sure the Committee will want to have a look at its report, which said that in about 90% or 95% of cases, collaboration was already happening. It is difficult for us to say exactly what the quality of that collaboration was, but most of the respondents to that survey said they were entirely happy with the level of collaboration. The group showed and said in its report that the jury was out on whether collaboration was actually going to save money. The Government make some fairly steep claims in relation to what collaboration will or will not do in respect of saving money and efficiencies. There is no actual evidence at this stage that collaboration will save money. The Committee might want to gain further insight into that as part of its deliberations.
Chief Superintendent Thomas: I will add an observation and a couple of quick points. In my mind, ultimately the question is whether this is good for the public and whether it delivers a service to the public. There are definitely opportunities within this for efficiencies, in terms of coterminosity around estate, procurement and fleet requirements and HR functions, for instance. There are definitely opportunities for efficiencies there. There are already examples of that taking place in parts of the country, in force areas, with fire services.
I refer you to the HMIC report of July 2014 on meeting austerity. To reinforce my point about some of the challenges of this, that report referred particularly to the difficulties around collaboration. In preparation for this Committee hearing, I read Ken Knight’s review. That almost mirrored the language used, with there being exactly the same challenges within the fire service. We are overlaying another area of complexity on top of the challenges that Steve has just articulated, in terms of how we are trying to collaborate among ourselves. Ultimately, the terms “patchy” and “fragmented” are used in both reports. That demonstrates some significant challenges in terms of how we would actually make this happen .
Chief Superintendent Thomas: There have been benefits but, again, I refer back to my previous comment. To give you a slightly historic answer on this, going back to that report, HMIC recognised that collaboration in policing was patchy and fragmented, and in the way that we were approaching it at the moment it would not meet the demands of austerity. That is partly because there is a vacuum in terms of who makes that decision.
Chief Superintendent Thomas: There is patchiness across the country, but in terms of macro-efficiency and cost effectiveness, I would have difficulty. I could probably highlight individual examples where there has been good practice. However, one issue that HMIC also highlighted is that the service has not been good at picking up those good practices in one part of the country and then transposing them very quickly to another part of the country. Sharing that learning has not been quick enough. That is an internal issue for the service—
Steve White: There have been some benefits from collaboration, but it depends on what you are saying that the outcome of a collaboration is. Over the past four years, with resources having been taken out of the police service, a lot of our ability to continue to provide a service has come from collaboration. An example is our federation conference last year. We asked the Home Secretary to visit and so there was a big security issue, and bomb dogs were needed. There are no bomb dogs in Dorset, but we had a dog which came all the way from Cornwall. That is a long distance to travel, but it meant that although there was not a dog on duty in Dorset, because of that collaboration they were able to deal with that issue. There are some question marks over that in terms of whether it might have been easier to have had a dog locally but, anyway, that is what happened.
One example of collaboration which has always worked quite effectively and has been in place for quite some time is the central motorway police group within the West Midlands. That is a collaboration between a number of forces that has always been very effective, and has been in place for a number of years. To a degree, that is a model of something where collaboration can be effective and can improve efficiency and the service to the public. It depends on whether you are talking about collaboration as a way of improving the service to the public, or just keeping the wheel on.
Road safety partnerships are clear examples of significant collaboration between services. I am surprised that that was not given as a clear example, but that is helpful .
Q Jake Berry:
I have a question specifically on the points of collaboration mentioned by Chief Superintendent Thomas, who said that the sharing of good practice had been patchy and slow across the country. Do you think that increasing collaboration will increase or reduce the speed at which good practice is shared across the country?
Q Lyn Brown:
I have heard of decent collaboration between fire services and between fire services and police services. The one thing they all had in common is that they wanted to do it and they found ways to do it, locally, that had benefited them. I think that asking people to collaborate willingly is a better methodology than trying to force a structure upon a police service. Do you agree?
Chief Superintendent Thomas: I agree with that point. My only other observation goes back to what I said earlier; ultimately, this is for the public good. The public can have a different experience in different areas, as in the example you just gave: you can have two chief executives, of the police service and the fire service, coming together in an effective relationship and making collaboration work, yet just down the road, across the county boundary, that has not happened. Is that the type of service we want, in terms of it being that diverse, across England and Wales?
Chief Superintendent Thomas: To give an example, I quoted the HMIC report; as a result of that we were collectively involved in a piece of work about how to take it forward. That produced a report called “Reshaping policing for the public” and as a result of that there is now a board within policing trying to look at how we transform the service in terms of wider collaboration, looking at workforce specialist capabilities, the digitalising of the service, local policing and the business enablers that create collaboration effectively. So a lot of work is being done to share practice and ideas.
This is quite an important issue in the Bill and I want to make sure that anybody who wants to pursue a point, particularly on collaboration, has the opportunity to do so. Will anyone who wants to do that signify now to me?
Q Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney):
On collaboration, the police and the fire service are two distinct services. Although both require a high level of public trust, I suggest that the fire and rescue service is more of a humanitarian service. What are your thoughts on merging those two services? Do you think that would blur the distinction between the two?
Steve White: There has to be a clear distinction, in relation to the professionalism and the role, between the two organisations, if only for the benefit of the public; we need to make sure that they understand what service they can expect from the two services. I think that they do anyway. As for collaboration and making efficiency savings, I used to work in a police station, St George in Bristol, which was an old Victorian building. The front was a police station and the back was the old fire station. To an extent, this is not a new idea; it is what we did years ago. Provided there is that distinction, in terms of the professionalising of both services, of course, we will continue to work closely together; we already do, as I said.
Does it make sense to have one workshop working on fire engines and police cars? Of course it does, because that is clearly something that could be managed. However, do we think it is a good idea to have the fire service knocking on people’s doors and doing welfare checks? It is all very well until you have to do something else where you require a power. Most things in policing are not just straightforward. You cannot just say, “Go and knock on the door and make sure someone is okay” because the police have had a call about a concern for welfare. When there really is a concern, you need the resources that the police service has to deal with the issue. If someone answers the door and says, “No, I’m fine”, are we going to say, “Can we check your smoke alarms as well, since we’re here?”? I just think it is a dilution of the professionalism of the two services and we need to be careful about that mission creep, accepting that there are areas where we can come back. We have had joint emergency service control rooms in various parts of the country in the past, with varying degrees of success, to be fair.
Of course, when you compare the demand on the fire service with the demand on the police service, it really is significantly different. I think there are opportunities there but there need to be distinct arms of the fire service and the police service.
Ben Priestley: In response to that question, I want to raise a development that has taken place in Durham police, which in a sense contextualises what the Government are aiming to do in the Bill around emergency services collaboration. Durham police now employs—with some local government funding, I think—two or three police community support officers who are also first responders and, by virtue of their job descriptions, retained firefighters. What degree of split those individuals have in respect of those three roles is difficult to determine at this early stage.
However, reading the Bill, I am confused by the provision entitled
“Prohibition on employment of police in fire-fighting”.
I am confused about whether that means that once the Bill is enacted those PCSOs in Durham will have to stop their retained firefighting duties. Because it says very clearly,
“No member of a police force may be employed by a fire and rescue authority or a relevant chief constable for the purpose of—
(a) extinguishing fires”.
I think you can personify the issue with those roles that Durham has invested in—presumably on the basis that it is an innovative, collaborative project—and the provision in the Bill that appears to prevent that, for the good reason that Steve has just pointed out, which is that there needs to be clear demarcation between the roles of firefighters and those working in policing. The Bill seems to present an impediment to that. I pose that as a question that might be explored at Committee stage.
Q Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase):
I want to pick up on the point about the distinct roles. Nobody is suggesting that policemen should be fighting fires and firemen should be arresting criminals. I want to focus on the PCC responsibility for fire. Do you not agree that that will address some of the barriers that we have seen in some cases, where there has not been as much collaboration and integration between the two? The Bill still recognises the flexibility for that local case to be made, with different models within that. Finally—this is three questions in one—this also provides some direct accountability to the public from fire authorities to the PCCs.
Q Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd):
I have a very specific question, given that this part of the Bill applies only to England, and policing in Wales is not a devolved matter. Are there any implications for Wales and are there any cross-border implications of this proposal for collaboration?
Q Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley):
It pains me a little to hear words such as “there is no evidence” of collaboration work. I think it was mentioned “as we are approaching it at present”. We have seen examples from fire and ambulance services around the country, where they use first responders incredibly well, and it increases the level of service at little extra cost. Is this not cultural and an ethos? In fact, is it not empire building and something that you guys need to sort out, rather than our having to legislate for?
Chief Superintendent Thomas: I’ll have a go. In terms of efficiencies and accountability, I agree. Within the Bill at the moment there is a gap, which I think has been left open for consideration, around inspection and standards. At the moment, HMIC is the inspectorate body for the service. In terms of taking this forward, in my judgment it makes sense that if it comes under the arrangement of the PCC, both fire and police should come under the same inspectorate, to have the same standards and ultimately to have that transparency—that voice—for the public, which is what HMIC is, in terms of ensuring that the standards are maintained by both services. In my judgment, I urge the Committee to think about where that would place HMIC under that arrangement.
We have said already that there are efficiencies, and these are being demonstrated in areas of good practice across the country—in joint procurement, estate and so on. Ultimately, this is public money that we are trying to spend, so if we can get the best effect for the money we are spending to deliver services to the public, in my judgment that is good.
On your question about Wales and cross-border implications, there could potentially be some issues there. We have forces that border Welsh forces. My home force, Gloucestershire, neighbours Wales, but I cannot give you any specific examples that I can see of where there would be tensions. In terms of being professional, we would work through that on an everyday basis.
On first responders and culture, I agree with you. I said earlier that when you are talking about a big change, culture is always a key element, particularly in bringing two organisational cultures together to make things more effective. I think we are more open to new ideas. There was your example of first responders. There are examples outside this country where that has been done. Ireland has done some work on using that, and I think that was quoted in the consultation. We are open to that, but the point I was trying to make earlier is that the significant cultural issues within the two organisations should not be underestimated, and it would take some time to work through those if the arrangement came under a single PCC organisation.
Steve White: In relation to your first question, on accountability, in my 27 years of policing experience I have never seen working closely with the fire service as a particularly problematic issue. I have seen many issues with the police service trying very hard to collaborate with other agencies, such as social services and health. You could probably say that on a day-to-day basis we actually do more of that, and that is probably something that needs to be resolved on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to the accountability of the fire service and the police service. What about the way that we collaborate with social services? On a Friday at five o’clock, social services offices close their doors and then, all of a sudden, reports of missing people and children come in, and the police service has to deal with it. That is a much more important area of work, because we work very closely with the fire service. In terms of accountability, yes, of course there needs to be accountability around that.
I question whether a lot of PCCs actually have the physical ability to take on not just the work that they are doing in the police service, but the work with the fire service. I cannot answer that question, but much more thought and work needs to be done on other areas of collaboration that ought to work much more effectively. That is probably more important. To be fair, there is not an issue with the fire service—that is really what I am saying; we work really well together. There are the examples that I have mentioned about sharing some back-office functions, resources and workshops, and those will, of course, provide efficiencies. I am fairly relaxed about the other issue of first responders. We use the resources that we have and if we can have access to those resources and use them in a different way, I think that makes perfect sense.
On Welsh devolution, the position of the Police Federation of England and Wales is that the devolution of policing in Wales is a political decision, but that has to be taken in the round with the political context in Wales and what happens with further devolved powers for other areas there. I suggest that there needs to be some consistency, though, because again, the public can get awfully confused otherwise. There also needs to be a recognition that sometimes we require not just the police service, but the fire service, to deal with things outside their areas through some form of mutual aid, so it is important that we have consistency. Whoever is in charge of the fire service in Wales, or the fire service in England, we need to make sure that we have that consistency of standard and interoperability.
Ben Priestley: The Home Affairs Committee reviewed the progress that police and crime commissioners have made. When it published its report—albeit that was two years ago—the Committee said that it was too early to determine whether the introduction of police and crime commissioners had been a success. It said that even by 2016—this year—it would probably be too difficult to assess that and that it would need a further term. The Government are therefore pushing ahead on the PCC project very quickly. As Steve indicated, the question is whether the Bill is trying to fix a problem that does not actually exist. Given that collaboration is taking place and the current democratic structures appear to be working reasonably well, do police and crime commissioners have the capacity to take on this new role?
There is a bigger question about which roles the Government have decided to give to PCCs and which they have not. Two years ago the Government took the decision to break up the probation service in England and Wales and privatise most of it. That comes back to Steve’s point about which of the services the police service would partner with most naturally. Arguably, in terms of agency, the probation service is closer to the police service than the fire and rescue service is. Yet the Government made a clear decision to keep police and crime commissioners totally out of the procurement for the new contracts to provide probation services locally. They would not be given powers to commission services for the care and rehabilitation of offenders in communities, notwithstanding the close partnership between police and probation. We need to ask why the Government are doing this for the fire and rescue service when they did not do it for the probation service.
On democratic accountability, the Bill’s proposals about the future role of police and crime panels are not sketched out well. If the Government get their way on merging police and fire, there is no proposal in the Bill to rename the crime and policing panels. One would expect “fire” to at least appear in the title, if one were encouraging the public to understand what the new scrutiny body is doing. Perhaps we should even change the name of the police and crime commissioner; there is no mention of fire in his or her title.
However, I think that there is another issue about democracy that is more fundamental. It appears from the Bill that the Government, through the offices of the Secretary of State, will eventually be able to mandate merger in circumstances where a police and crime commissioner wants it, but where the fire and rescue authority does not. At the end of the day, the Government can mandate that. That is not good for democratic accountability, and it is certainly something that we, as a trade union, would want to challenge.
I have sat and listened for a considerable time to the answers to the questions. I know four of you very well, although I do not know Mr Priestley at all. We have talked outside this room and I have seen huge amounts of collaboration taking place. What amazes me is that, when my colleague asked a moment ago, “Give me an example of where collaboration has worked”, there was almost complete silence from the federation and the Police Superintendents Association, although your members are out there doing it. There is a brand new fire station in Winchester that is also a police station, with an armed response unit in the yard. If the witnesses were outside this room and not on the panel, I am sure they would agree—because they have said so to me before—that it is very difficult when there are areas that refuse to collaborate. The purpose of the Bill is to bring that forward. When you were giving evidence a few moments ago, why did you not say that there is a huge amount of collaboration but it is not across the force? What really worried me is that, when asked about the effect on Wales, Mr Thomas said that yes, there would be an effect, but he had no idea what it would be. That is an unbelievable thing to say. When you said that there would be an effect on Wales, but could not tell us what it would be, what did you mean? Perhaps you could elaborate on the areas where collaboration is taking place very well and those where it is not, which the panel and you and I know to exist?
Chief Superintendent Thomas: I will go back to what I said earlier. My overriding concern goes back to the comments on respecting previous collaboration arrangements and the experience of the citizen being different in different parts of the country, even in a neighbouring county—it goes back to the heart of the issue. The term “consistency” is used a lot in inspectorate reports at the moment. How do we get consistency? I am absolutely in favour of localism and local favour in delivering our services, but some of those services are absolutely critical to the safety of our fellow citizens, so getting a level of consistency across the country is a goal that we must achieve.
Going back to the point about Wales, the macro example is going to provide inconsistency because the Bill does not address that element with Wales and not England, so it does provide an element of inconsistency on that point. However, as Steve has just said, it is for the Welsh Assembly to make that decision .
Steve White: May I come back to the point on collaboration? I made the point that PFW’s position is that collaboration could still work a lot better. I gave some examples where it is working effectively, but that is not to say that everything is working perfectly. You are right, Minister, that we have had conversations outside these rooms about some of the frustrations that our members bring to us where collaboration does not work as well as it should. In one of my previous answers I said there are a number of reasons for that: some of it is ego; some of it is political pressure; some of it is just trying to get people to work together. In the current structure of 43 forces, with 43 chiefs and 43 PCCs, it is sometimes very challenging to get them to agree on what they are going to let go in terms of control and how it is going to work.
The culture of the service is beginning to change. Yes, there are examples of good collaboration out there, but I still think that there are many more opportunities where collaboration could be even more effective, up to the point of reducing the number of forces we have in England and Wales, to make that collaboration and the efficiencies and learning that can be gained from it. Why do we still have a service that does things, in the vast of majority of instances, 43 different ways? It makes no sense.
Chief Superintendent Thomas: May I make a quick observation on that? Steve has just made a good point. Under the current arrangements, as I said earlier, the decision is made within the police and crime commissioner arrangements. The power to make a national decision around consistency is not there at the moment—it is a vacuum.
Steve White: In my experience, we already work incredibly effectively, certainly in my own force of Avon and Somerset. The recent floods in Somerset are a prime example of where excellent work is done through collaboration. Whether or not it needs to be mandated through legislation is a matter for yourselves, I suppose. The police service is a can-do organisation; we make things work .
Chief Superintendent Curtis: There is absolutely no doubt that the police service needs an independent, effective organisation that can act on behalf of the public to ensure that police complaints are dealt with effectively. We and our members have had some concerns over many years around the quality of investigations from the IPCC and the timeliness of investigations. Those concerns have not been allayed in recent years. We have many meetings with senior members of the IPCC where these issues are raised, and we are still not satisfied that the IPCC is delivering a good service to members of the police service and, more importantly, to the public.
Steve White : In short, the answer is no. In terms of the faith that the service and our members have in the IPCC, there are significant concerns. There is a recognition, from a Police Federation of England and Wales perspective, that there is no room in the service for people who are corrupt and for officers who do not adhere to the standards of conduct; we have no interest in keeping those people within the service. However, we also have a significant interest in ensuring that there is an independent authority or commission with the appropriate powers to effectively investigate in a timely and professional manner the complaints made on a daily basis against our members, the vast majority of which are shown to be erroneous and unfounded.
I am reluctant to use the word “crisis”, but I cannot think of an alternative—I think there is a crisis of confidence in the IPCC within the police service. While we welcome some of the changes that the Bill proposes on that, there is still a fundamental issue around having a truly independent system of investigating complaints against the police service. I do not blame the public for sometimes being confused when they hear that neighbouring forces, or indeed forces themselves, are investigating the complaints being made to them.
The PFEW position has always been that a system similar to that of Northern Ireland, with an independent ombudsman, would be much more effective. There would be greater confidence in the service in that kind of system. Recent incidents have caused deep concerns among our members in terms of their ability to have faith in the IPCC to do such an important job and to do it effectively.
Ben Priestley: From Unison’s point of view, we agree with many of the points that colleagues have made. The timeliness issue is particularly brought home when our representatives represent members in IPCC proceedings. It is very difficult when those proceedings last longer than many would think they would.
The other problem within the police service—I acknowledge that the Government have been trying to address this—is that there is no single misconduct procedure for police staff across the forces in England and Wales. Anybody looking in at the police service from the outside would regard that as slightly strange. It is certainly something that the IPCC has been lobbying hard for. I think we are at one with the Government. We have had contact with Home Office officials who wish to put through, as part of the Home Secretary’s integrity programme, a single misconduct procedure for police staff, which would align in many respects with the one that relates to police officer colleagues. That is part of the bigger picture.
Chief Superintendent Curtis: Following on from Steve’s comment about a confidence issue, there is a huge issue around proportionality and the way in which officers are dealt with for conduct issues. In my six years as a national officer for this association, the blame culture in policing has got progressively worse, and it is having a huge impact on morale and the confidence of officers to do their job. I am talking about the fact that when things go wrong, the initial assessment of what went wrong should be defining whether someone has been very bad or naughty in their job, or whether they have been human and made a mistake. That boundary has gone now, and everything seems to be pushing towards more serious misconduct. If we look at the ratio of attrition and the outcomes for gross misconduct investigations, very few of them actually result in dismissal, which is the main sanction for gross misconduct hearings.
The IPCC has a key role to play in tackling the whole issue of the blame culture in the police service. If we look at how the aviation industry has changed the way it looks at mistakes made within aviation, it is all about learning from mistakes that are made and prevention for the future. I noticed that there was an announcement last week, in relation to the NHS, that doctors and nurses are going to be provided with immunity for admitting mistakes. We now have a situation in policing where people will not hold their hands up for very minor mistakes on the basis that they feel people will come down on them like a ton of bricks. We must get back that sense of proportionality in how we deal with conduct issues in policing. The IPCC has a key role to play in that, as do police forces, but the IPCC in particular.
May I use the Chair’s prerogative? There is an interesting dichotomy between, on one hand, someone who makes a misjudgment or human error and, on the other hand, someone who wilfully commits an act of misconduct. It is difficult to make a judgment about what was in their mind at the time when they took the action. How would you determine where that boundary is, or is it a matter of doing so case by case?
Chief Superintendent Curtis: That would come out in the investigation. Sometimes it is really clear. When dealing with corruption cases and so on, it is sometimes really clear that bad people are involved. That is where we should be focusing our efforts. Resources should go into taking bad and corrupt officers out of the service. We all want that to happen.
However, when people have made some sort of genuine error—we are all guilty of that and most of us have got away with it throughout our service when we have made mistakes—surely it is more important, particularly when a member of the public is concerned, that someone can hold their hand up, apologise and explain what happened and why they did it. We can learn from that, particularly when there are systemic issues for why the mistake happened. The service can learn from that and prevent it happening in future. We do not have that learning culture in the service because of the way the IPCC and, to be fair, forces conduct themselves. The initial assessment should make that much more clear.
If you look at the whole ethos behind the conduct regulations that were introduced in 2008, it was about making a much better distinction in the severity assessment phase. However, the severity assessment can be reviewed throughout the process, so as soon as it becomes clear from an investigation that the individual made a genuine mistake, the severity assessment should be reduced and the investigation should take a different tack.
Steve White: I think, first and foremost, that the public interest element, which I think is probably what you are talking about in terms of the way the federation operates, has always been there because the organisation has been about the welfare of our officers and the efficiency of the police service. Both those strands are in the public interest. If you have a happy, healthy and efficient police service, you will provide a better service to the public. That is effectively what it means. The point I am making is that we have always done that. We are now making it completely overt that that is what we feel the Police Federation contributes to policing in this country. I think it is right and proper to make that absolutely clear.
Q James Berry:
I just want to come back to the point that my namesake, Mr Berry, made with respect to the barred list and officers who have left the service. The purpose of police misconduct proceedings is to promote public confidence and protect members of the public and colleagues in the force. If a serious but non-criminal allegation came to light about an officer some years after they had left, do you think the College of Policing or senior officers should have the ability to put that officer on some form of barred list or somehow flag up the fact that the allegation has arisen, so that they cannot re-enter, even if they are not going through a full-blown disciplinary procedure?
Steve White: The barred list is a new thing and, as I said earlier, we welcome officers’ ability to put themselves on it voluntarily, if you like, to deal with an issue once and for all. I guess this boils down to my argument about how long you let it happen and what the ultimate sanction will be. We are talking about non-criminal matters, so the ultimate sanction would be for someone to lose their job. If they have been out of the service for three or four years and there was a finding against the individual that was so serious they would lose their job, they are not in the employ anyway, so I am not quite sure what the benefit would be .
Steve White: How would that process work? We would have an allegation, but we would not have the power to investigate or even interview the individual, so we would just have to put them on a barred list. Is that justifiable? I get what you are saying, but I am not quite sure how it could work in practice.
Steve White: Yes. Indeed, even if it does not go so far as a barred list, if such an individual did try to rejoin the service, one would hope that there would be something in place to indicate that there might have been a question mark somewhere. I don’t know, but I am not quite sure how it would work.
Chief Superintendent Curtis: I support Steve’s point about the opportunity for people to put themselves on to the list voluntarily. That would be a really useful inclusion. We need to look at proportionality here, and we need to think about how many cases in which these things come to light we are talking about. They are very few and far between, but there is an impact on individuals where it is a more minor case. How do you determine whether or not something is more serious? Should officers have this hanging over them? Remember that this is an employment issue, and we are not talking about a criminal issue. Should this be hanging over them for the rest of their life? I feel that that would be really unfair. We are trying to create something here to deal with a minority, but it could potentially impact on the majority. I think that that is disproportionate and unfair.
I would like to make a point regarding the five-year limit, or the publication for five years of the barred list. I wonder whether there could be some more flexibility around that. The point I raise is that there could be an officer with 26 years’ exemplary service who, due to circumstances that arise, ends up with a drink-driving conviction. They get dismissed from the service for gross misconduct and go on the barred list, and rightly so. Should that person be prevented from using the skills and experience that they gained over that 26 years, not as a police officer but in the wider policing family and supporting a policing role, because of a drink-driving conviction? I wonder whether it is a proportionate response to say that for five years that person can work in a whole range of organisations but, according to the Bill, not as a consultant for a private sector organisation that is working with the police force. There are a lot of limits on what that individual could do.
I wonder whether a solution to that might be for the independent chairs of panels, where we have them—that is a proposal that we as an association put forward—to make a recommendation in individual cases, in the light of the full facts of the circumstances, about the length of time someone should stay on a barred list. That would be instead of going for an absolute term of five years for everybody, no matter what the extent of the misconduct issue. There could be some flexibility around that, because it seems such a waste to the public of somebody’s skills and experience, and of those 26 years of exemplary service.
Q Jack Dromey:
May I just ask one final question in relation to police complaints? You said in your evidence just now that you accept the importance of a strong, independent investigator to hold the police to the highest standards. However, Steve, you spoke about something of a crisis of confidence in the existing arrangements, and you then spoke about the specific issue of the blame culture and proportionality. Do you think that those issues are adequately addressed in the Bill?
Chief Superintendent Curtis: I am not sure how the blame culture could be addressed through a Bill, although I would be interested to see how the NHS proposals are taken forward. I would ask that the Home Office look at those from a policing perspective to see whether that is something that could be considered for policing. That would help to address the blame culture issue in policing. I am not sure that giving the current IPCC further powers actually addresses the underlying issues of investigative skill levels and time limits, which are our association’s two major concerns.
Q Jack Dromey:
Can I ask a question on a different part of the Bill: part 4 on bail? In the debate on Second Reading, there was a strong view across the House, with the example of the Gambaccini case, about the legitimacy of some of the proposals in the Bill relating to people waiting for long periods of time for a decision to be made. My first question is, do you accept what is being proposed in the Bill?
Secondly, there is an issue not addressed in the Bill, which has come to be known as the Dhar clause, about what legitimate restrictions there might be to prevent people from absconding, particularly those who are accused of terrorism.
Steve White: On the pre-charge bail issue, we have a lot of empathy for people in that situation. However, in the increasingly complex world of policing and the kind of investigations that need to take place, particularly with significant and serious allegations, there needs to be a recognition that we must ensure that we get the investigation right.
We need to be able to investigate the offence appropriately, to find and access the evidence, and for the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies that need to be involved to be cognisant of timescales. Sometimes it is not the police’s decision or wish that the bail gets extended. Sometimes it is circumstances beyond our control, whether it be with the CPS or other agencies.
There needs to be a recognition that an arbitrary limit of however many days could result in people not answering to justice, because we are physically unable to make the case in that time period. Of course, there is also a significant resource issue, certainly for day-to-day district operations, regarding the physical capability of individual officers with relatively low-level cases being able to do the work they need to do in a timely manner, so that decisions can be made about charge.
This is not about the high-profile Paul Gambaccini cases; this is about the day-to-day cases, where someone has been arrested and the CPS says, “No, you need to bail them, because you now need to go out and get X, Y and Z.” For the officer, with all the other roles and responsibilities that they have got, to do that in a quick and timely manner is difficult. We have empathy; people should not be on bail for any longer than they have to be. I think the service can get better at it, but it is dangerous to have an arbitrary limit that could result in people not answering to justice.
Chief Superintendent Thomas: I will answer your second question first. I think it is legitimate to look at whether, in the Dhar case, certain conditions could be placed on individuals. It is right and proper to look at that.
I have a number of wider points I want to make around the proposals on this. I acknowledge the fact that in the consultation, 65% of respondents felt there was a need to look at how we change bail. The service has been undergoing a pilot, which is being peer reviewed as we speak. Certainly, from what we have seen, the use of bail in terms of managing it, has had quite an effect on the length of time for people on bail already.
This goes to the heart of transparency and accountability. Where I have a slight concern is, where the presumption is that we will not use bail, we will still be releasing people under two types of status. If you have been in custody and are released, there is no further action. We have done an investigation while you have been in custody and the matter is closed, and you move on. Or, you are released from custody, not on bail, but still subject to investigation. That is a whole new status that I am not clear on. It falls between any sort of legal identity in our current systems.
The service is going to have to look at putting some process around that, because not only are there people on bail, there are other people in this process as well: the victims, the witnesses and the public. Policing will have to put in some sort of process to manage this. The original rationale for this proposal was that you will still have people who are subject to investigation waiting for notification from the police as to, when that investigation is concluded, whether they are going to be proceeded against in court or not. Bail provided a framework of timescales for that. Absolutely, we want swifter investigations and swifter justice.
There is another, more personal point for the association, because the proposals are that a superintendent or above would be the rank that will extend bail beyond 28 days. Since 2010, the superintendent rank has had the largest decrease in numbers, by more than 26%, so there is going to be an extra demand on that. I looked slightly with tongue in cheek when I saw the options presented in the Bill. The first option was looking at extending bail through the courts and the Crown courts; the rationale for that being, I understand, that there was a capacity issue. I have not seen a lot of detail about what the capacity issue is for my colleagues undertaking this role within the service. I shall leave that for the Committee to consider.
Q Lyn Brown:
I will not ask you to answer me now, but if you will write to me, I shall disseminate to all colleagues your view of the clauses in the firearms section of the Bill. Do they go far enough and are they what you wanted to see?
I want to bring up the facility in the Bill for PCCs, police commissioners, to make their own decision as to whether they take on the receiving and recording of complaints. Do you have any problems with that?
We have three minutes left. I suggest that we take up Lyn Brown’s suggestion on firearms. It is so big a subject that we could not possibly cover it in the time available. If we could get some written evidence on that, it would be really helpful. Let us have some quick responses now on the other points.
Chief Superintendent Thomas: I shall address the question about rank. I am not wedded to the rank or the label; it is more the role and the responsibility that goes with it. As you are aware, there is a lot of work being undertaken in the service at the moment to come back with solid proposals around what that might look like.
Chief Superintendent Curtis: I covered the PCC issue earlier. The most important things are that the public have a point of contact to make a complaint to; that, where possible, that is dealt with as quickly as possible; where there is an apology to be made, that apology is made; and where an investigation needs to take place, it takes place efficiently, effectively and proportionately. We are not precious about who is the best person to do that. It is really a matter for you, but it is about making sure that, whatever is proposed, the public have that point of contact. The only question mark around that is that, if it is different in every force area, you end up with the public not quite knowing who to contact to make a complaint—is it the PCC or is it the force? I am sure that that can be resolved through process. Those are the most important issues for us: it is about the outcome we are looking for.
As there are no further questions, may I thank the witnesses for the clear and comprehensive way that they have answered a whole range of questions? We now need to move to the next panel. Thank you very much.