We will now hear oral evidence from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. There are several police and crime commissioners here. We have until 3.15 pm for this session. Several of the witnesses are probably known to many of us, but for the sake of the record, could they introduce themselves, starting with Winston Roddick ?
Q Jack Dromey:
May I ask you two related questions? First, the proposal to allow chief officers to designate powers on volunteers has been described by one of your number as an attempt to get “policing on the cheap”. In the light of the police funding and workforce reductions since 2010, do you have any concerns about that area of the Bill? Secondly, what issues are raised by the proposal to arm directly employed and volunteer PCSOs with CS spray?
Winston Roddick: On the first question, with regard to volunteers, I disagree strongly with the view that you have just repeated, which you heard from another person. The idea behind volunteers is not to buy policing on the cheap. It has one effect, which is bringing the people closer to the police and involving the public more in the police. Many members of the public feel that they want to contribute and have something worth while to contribute, and the police should not stand in the way of them volunteering to do so. I have empirical experience of meeting the people of north Wales on an almost daily basis with regard to their interests in policing, and many of them have expertise that they can share with the police.
Q Jack Dromey:
The point is very well made. There is a long and honourable tradition going back 150 years of special constables, and of excellent work done by neighbourhood watches and police and crime panels. The people are the police, and the police are the people. Therefore, the role of the citizen is key. Can I press you or any of your colleagues further? Is the proposal to arm volunteer PCSOs with CS spray appropriate?
Winston Roddick: I have serious reservations about it. I speak only personally; my colleagues will express whether they have reservations. I think that the proposal raises points of principle about arming members of the public to do something by the use of arms, which goes further than the common law principle of acting in reasonable self-defence. You have to be very careful before you extend the right of one person to attack another by the use of any means. If we introduced it, it would certainly need tight regulation and tight teaching about how such implements should be used.
David Lloyd: In Hertfordshire, we do not call them volunteers; we call them specials. In the fire service they have a different name for it. It is quite normal to have volunteers working alongside; the tradition of having special constables in the Met is just as old as the Met itself. That must be right. Surely it must be for the chief officer to decide whether or not those people are able to do it. In my home village of Flamstead, our policing, broadly, is done by specials. Everyone in Flamstead is perfectly happy about that. To suggest that such people are not able to have the same training would be to misunderstand the role. Provided that the right training is in place, there should be no problem whatsoever.
Clearly, if a special turns up once every three months—there are not many who do—you may well not wish them to have exactly the same capabilities, but otherwise the specials in my village are out every single night. They are doing exactly the same job as a regular.
David Jamieson: Mr Howarth, I do not think that there is a problem with specials. They have a fairly long history and a well-defined role. I think that what was being suggested is that volunteers should come in at other levels. I have volunteers; I have 20 youth commissioners who have volunteered to give part of their time, and they do excellent work helping me keep in touch with people under 30, for a start. Then there are other people who work in communities. I know that in Jack Dromey’s constituency we have some excellent people who work very closely with the police as volunteers, doing a lot of work to bring security to the streets. That sort of volunteering work is the essence of what good communities are all about, and the police should give it every support.
Where I would have a problem—this is where I would be listening very carefully to what my chief constable said—is if we were bringing in volunteers to help with complex negotiations and investigation. I would have some difficulty seeing how we could keep levels of professionalism and security of information going if volunteers were involved behind the scenes in the actual process of investigating crimes. That is much more difficult. If my chief constable was going down that road, I would be very interested to hear a convincing argument as to how that was the right way to use volunteers.
Vera Baird: May I suggest that it is better to park specials —about which there is probably not much argument—and to concentrate on the essence of the Bill, which is to give policing powers to volunteers who are not specials? We have lots of volunteers and they are excellent—from neighbourhood watch to court observers and people who scrutinise the way in which cases have been run, especially rape cases. If they have not succeeded, we try to make constructive commentary about it. We have speed watch and a lot of very welcome and serious contribution from volunteers, but they do not have police powers.
What is now proposed is to safeguard a core of police powers and to keep them for police and police only, but it is a very small core. It is about arrest and stop and search, and all the rest will be available to be allocated to anyone who comes into the ranks of volunteers on any basis decided by the chief officer.
I have to make one point very clear: at a time when there have been such significant cuts to policing—in Northumbria we have lost 1,000 members of staff, plus almost 800 officers—bringing in volunteers with police powers is not going to be adding value, which is what volunteers are usually for; it is going to be the substitution of volunteers for people who have historically been contracted to do the job.
They will be people who are not paid, who are not contracted, who have no disciplinary link over them, who have no processes to go through, who are supervised in what way we do not know, who will not be supervised or overseen by the IPCC, and yet who will be able to have every power except the core ones. For instance, they will be able to execute warrants on houses, which means they will be able to break into houses to execute a warrant. If this power is given, they will be able to detain people for 30 minutes, as PCSOs can do now, though they will merely be volunteers and not contracted. They may be able to caution people and to take down their first account of something they are accused of. Presumably they will be able to strip search people. They will be able to exercise the discretion that a police officer does now, to decide whether an offence may have occurred and whether it should be investigated and what should follow—all of this without any of the contractual supervisory power that there is over somebody who is employed.
I do not want to call it policing on the cheap. I think it has to be thought through very carefully and, if it is to proceed at all, it has to go extremely slowly and incrementally. It is not going to be the case that a chief officer will know each and every volunteer in order to give them appropriate powers. How would that work, anyway? The public need to know exactly what powers those who have authority over them have. It would be giving powers by the chief officer to a category of volunteers. The average volunteer in Northumbria did 19 hours a year in 2014, so these are not going to be people who are well known, yet if they are in a category they will be given powers.
There is pressure on chief officers now because of the loss of staff—there is no doubt about that. If you are in a position where you have to go out after Raul Moat and you have 10 half-trained volunteers or nobody, of course you are going to have to have resort to them. It is a shame that chief officers have been put in that position, but they have been, so I suggest a very careful and slow process to avoid substitution for really qualified contracted people whom we have lost .
Q James Cleverly (Braintree):
Can any of you see an opportunity—some of these issues were brought up by our previous witnesses—in areas that are very fast moving, particularly in the digital space, for example with social media, where there is a lot of activity that I and, I suspect, many warranted police officers find bewildering? For example, could subject-specific experts be brought in to volunteer alongside warranted officers and give the additional knowledge that it would be very difficult to have permanently embedded in a force area?
David Lloyd: Exactly that. In Hertfordshire only the other week I was at an awards evening, next to a special who had been brought in specifically because of his IT skills. He has far greater IT skills than anyone in the constabulary and does that for free. He sees that as giving something back to society. It is very helpful to have, and you can dip in and out and use those skills in a specialist way, because it is no longer the case that if you sign up as a special you have to go out on the streets arresting people; you can be there and working in those specialist areas.
I disagree with Vera. Clearly, things are very different in Hertfordshire from how they are in Northumberland—and we have not lost any police officers, either. One of the reasons it is different is because we think about other ways of using people and volunteers, too, so that we get a far more effective, efficient use of local people. That is the way to do it .
David Jamieson: I am giving a view from my perspective as a police and crime commissioner. I would be very worried if I did not have officers with sufficient capability to understand what those who were working in the force were actually doing. That applies to all levels of work, whatever sort of investigation was going on. There is a good example in forensics, where we bring in particularly scientific knowledge. Those in the force know what they are calling for and what they want out of the forensics team. Whether they have the high levels of scientific skills in those offices is a different matter. I think that you are getting to where I am. In the end, we have to have full-time, trained officers to do those jobs. Could we bring in specials and the others we have talked about with other skills, apart from those walking around the streets? Yes, of course we could. However, we have to be very careful if we are bringing people in to do highly complex work that involved cases and access to all the computer systems. We would need very close safeguards before we did that.
Vera Baird: Yes. We have got one guy now who is funded by his firm, which is a financial business, to come in one day a month and help in exactly that kind of way—how to deal with online fraud. The more expertise of that kind that can be brought in, the better. It does not require one to have police powers.
Q James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton):
I have worked as a barrister in independent practice for West Mercia, Northumbria and Hertfordshire police—all very fine constabularies, as is yours, Mr Roddick. I want to come back to a point Vera Baird made earlier. You gave a long list of things that these volunteers would be able to do without being supervised by the IPCC under the police misconduct regime. Would I be correct in assuming that you would not object to them having those roles if they were under that regime?
Q James Berry:
Fine. I will move on to something else. One of the other proposals in the Bill—an entirely different one—is to transfer some of the functions currently exercised by the chief constable to police and crime commissioners, under the police complaints system. Transferred functions could include hearing appeals where complaints have gone against the complainant, so you would be doing that, if you wished. Is that something you would support?
Vera Baird: I would be satisfied to do appeals from complaints. If appeals were rendered independent, then doing them would give me some oversight of how the complaints had been done internally, yet without requiring me to have a whole separate police force to do the complaints, as it were. I would welcome that, but I would need some more staff, so I would need some more budget, Mr Penning .
David Jamieson: For completeness, I agree with Vera on the point about dealing with some of the appeals that are currently dealt with by chief constable. That would give people greater confidence in the system. One of the problems we have at the moment is that people feel that the police investigate themselves. Whether they are right or wrong in making the assertion that that is not the right way of doing it, people feel that that is wrong.
For us to have the ability to do the appeals, if we go further and look at models 2 and 3, there really are some problems there. I think somebody called it statutory navel-gazing, in that we are trying to put so many statutory layers into the system that we are actually going to create a bigger problem. One issue is that if we took on the whole of the complaints, in some cases I would have to ask for an investigation to take place, but I have no powers to tell the chief of police to do the investigation. In effect, if an investigation needed to take place, I would have to look at it and say, “Yes, an investigation needs to happen. Chief constable, I am now giving it back for you to do.” So we would build in an extra layer, which I do not think would be very helpful to the public.
David Lloyd: I wonder whether or not we have got the complaints system right. I imagine that everyone in this room has received complaints from members of the public about policing. Very often, they have forgotten the complaint by the time we have managed to get back to them, and there needs to be more independence in the process. Frankly, we have to find a way of breaking the link between discipline and customer service. Because we have not really done this the process is perforce a very lengthy one, which means that very often someone who just wants an apology only gets it after 12 months. That is not the best way of doing it. There are lots of things we should be doing. In fact, Vera is leading the way on complaints, up in Northumberland, so she has—unusually—hidden her light under a bushel. Although this might happen, I think that this is a good starting point for us.
Q Lyn Brown:
I will ask three rapid questions about part 1 of the Bill. Where there is not a local agreement, the proposals allow the PCC unilaterally, in effect, to make the case for a takeover to the Home Secretary. Do you support the principle of hostile takeover? Given that the geographical areas of police forces and fire services are not coterminous, will that make reorganisations of these areas particularly challenging? Do you think that any of your members would be interested in raising revenue via the privatisation of front-line fire services ?
Q Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase):
Just picking up on various pieces of evidence and reviews, collaboration has been described as patchy, probably at best, although there are excellent examples of good practice. I am interested to understand your views on the duty to collaborate and, specifically, on looking to extend the powers of PCCs to include responsibility for fire and rescue, and whether that would address the barriers that you might have seen on getting collaboration between and integration of the two services.
Q Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen):
My question is specifically on volunteer police community support officers. In terms of pressure on budgets, do you think that the ability to use volunteer PCSOs more fully will remove pressure on budgets? Do you think that it is appropriate for police forces to use reserves to preserve the role of existing PCSOs, or should they be replaced with volunteers?
Winston Roddick: I will, because there is a Wales-specific question, to which I will come in a moment. On the use of the expression “takeover”, I do not think that this is anything like a takeover: it is a first-class example of highly necessary collaboration. The statutory duty of myself, the police service and all chief constables is to provide an effective and efficient police force, and value for money, and to reduce crime. The additional words for the fire service are to save lives. While we share those common objectives, it makes perfect sense to me to work in unison—with a small “u” this time—to achieve the objectives.
As far as Wales is concerned, the need for collaboration does not respect geographical boundaries; it does not respect political boundaries; and it has to follow the pattern of crime and the needs of the people. For example, I suppose the European countries and Switzerland collaborate with other European countries; the Americans collaborate with the Canadians; and I am sure Scotland collaborates with the north of England. Therefore, devolution does not stand in the way of collaboration, and the need for collaboration does not stand in the way of devolution. Devolution, and the different position of Wales, is not a sound reason for not putting effective collaboration into effect.
David Lloyd: I will not say anything about Wales—unusually. On collaboration, it is right and proper that we have a greater duty to collaborate. If anything, I would say that the Bill perhaps does not state its intention firmly enough. I was reflecting on the fact that only two people around this horseshoe are from counties that have a fire authority. Most are combined fire authorities. That duty to collaborate could be more firmly noted so the direction we are heading in is clear. It is difficult to convince local fire authorities that they should collaborate, so I think that if we firmed that up a little it would be better.
To answer your question directly, I am comfortable that a case for takeover can be made. If there is a way of getting better value for money for local taxpayers and a more efficient service for individuals, it is incumbent on us to do it. I am very comfortable about that. I note the difficulty with geographical areas. That is something that has to be worked through. If we start it in the areas where the two work perfectly well and worry about the other areas afterwards, that is a better starting place than worrying about the few where there is a difficulty.
David Jamieson: What has not been addressed in the Bill is this. There could be two reasons for a merger between police and fire. One is that there would be better governance—one assumes better governance of fire—but I have not yet heard a convincing case come out of the Home Office about whether the PCC role is a better way of handling a fire authority. When I hear that case, I will get much more excited about doing it.
The other thing is, would working together with the fire authority lead to benefits and savings? I would say that that depends on where you are in the country. The geographical differences make a lot of difference to what the benefits will be. We have begun to look at those benefits. In a large urban area such as mine—the second largest force in the country—they are much smaller than they would be in a large rural area, where there could be benefits from co-locating fire stations. The benefits in an area such as mine are very much smaller.
The issue of privatisation was raised. I suppose that that could happen anyway. That would be up to a PCC. Those are issues that Parliament has now delegated to PCCs to decide. I will not be going down that road, but there may be those who choose to do so. It will help PCCs during the passage of the Bill and when it becomes an Act for the Government to have the courage of their conviction. If they believe that PCCs are a better way of handling the fire governance, let them say so. I think it is wrong for PCCs to be able to make a unilateral decision in their area .
Vera Baird: I am in favour of the duty to collaborate. We already collaborate hugely with the fire service on day-to-day operations. The duty to collaborate will just mean that we all have to sit down. We have started a collaborative board in my area, which will have the fire chiefs, the chair of the fire authority, the portfolio holder from the county council that runs the other fire service—we have two forces—myself, the chief constable and the fire officers on it. We will have to go through our properties systematically to see what we can share. We already share some. We will go through things such as training and the great crime prevention work that the fire service already does through things such as the local intervention fire education course. It is out in areas where fires start and deprivation leads to crime. There are great opportunities for us to work collaboratively to provide a better services and make savings, and we will seize them with both hands.
Governance—takeover—is completely irrelevant until issues of governance actually arise. I think the Government have started at the wrong end in trying to press the change of governance, as David put it, without stating any rationale for it.
Order. I just tried to bring you to a halt because we have now reached 3.15 pm, which brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions of this group of witnesses. I am sure that your last comment will elicit some correspondence, but I am not sure that the whole Committee needs to hear it answered. I thank the witnesses for their wise evidence. If there is any disagreement between us, it is certainly conducted on a friendly basis.