Government to underfund Police and Crime Panels so what limited police accountability there is is to be done on the cheap
An exchange in the House of Lords this afternoon demonstrated that following the election of Police and Crime Commissioners public police accountability is to be done on the cheap.
Baroness Ruth Henig asked how much money was to be made available for Police and Crime Panels (these are the new bodies set up under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act to hold Police and Crime Commissioners to account and which will in effect be the only public forum in which policing decisions can be questioned). The answer was £53,300 per panel.
When I pointed out that this would be insufficient to employ more than one or two people to support busy local councillors fulfil their scrutiny role, I was told that perhaps I didn’t understand how local authorities work. This produced loud guffaws – not recorded in Hansard – as colleagues around the House seemed to think that my twenty-six years of experience in elected local and regional government might be rather more extensive than that of the Minister.
The full exchanges were as follows:
Police and Crime Panels
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much money they will make available to each police and crime panel to cover start-up and first-year running costs.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley):
My Lords, we are committed to funding police and crime panels to do the job set out for them in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. We will be providing annual funding of £53,300 per panel as well as an additional £920 per panel member per annum for expenses.
I thank the Minister very much for his response. One of the few things we all agreed on when the police and social responsibility Bill was before the House was the need for these panels to be strong and to operate as effectively as possible under the new governance arrangements for the policing landscape. Does the Minister not agree that these panels will want to meet regularly, probably at least once every other month; that they will have extensive legal and financial needs; that they will need good financial and legal advice; that they will certainly have extensive training requirements in the first year to enable them to operate effectively and cohesively; and that, therefore, the sums he mentioned are totally inadequate to get these panels operating as we would like in the first year?
My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness at all. As the Bill went through, we made the function of the panels quite clear: it should be that of a light-touch approach. We then announced how much money would be available for them, which was £38,300 per year each. We have reviewed that figure in the light of various amendments made to the Bill, particularly some that originated this House. The figure, as I have just announced, has been increased to £53,300. We think that that is enough for the panels to do their job. The noble Baroness ought to remember that these panels are not replacing police authorities; their job is to review the actions of police and crime commissioners.
In the light of those who have said that they will now put themselves forward as police and crime commissioners, are the Minister and the Government content that they will not bring party politics to bear on policing operational decisions?
My Lords, I am sure that politics will not come into this, but there will be some people who will stand under party colours. However, that does not mean they will necessarily bring politics into this matter. The noble Lord is going slightly wide of the Question, which is about the panels. The important point is to differentiate the job of the police and crime panels from that of the police and crime commissioner.
My Lords, even with a light touch, the panels will have to get to grips with a lot of paperwork and information, and undertake a lot of discussion in order to carry out their job of scrutiny properly. If the amount that is to be provided is insufficient, will members be expected to look to their own stretched local authorities for professional and technical back-up?
My Lords, as I said in answer to the first supplementary question, we have increased by some 40 per cent the amount available to the panels in the light of discussions and thoughts we have had following the passage of the Bill. We believe that it will be sufficient. If individual local authorities wish to spend more, it will be for those authorities to make that decision themselves.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath:
My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the police and crime panels are the only check and balance on the potential politicisation of our police forces through elected police commissioners. This is not wide of the Question. Will he respond to reports that Mr Kit Malthouse sought to interfere in the Metropolitan Police’s actions in investigating phone hacking? That is but one example of the risk to this new system, in which the police and crime panels are the only defence but the Government are not going to fund them properly.
My Lords, I have made it quite clear that we are going to fund the panels properly. I am not going to respond to the specific allegation made by the noble Lord, but if necessary—if I think it appropriate—I will write to him. What I am making clear is that we think we are providing appropriate funding for the panels to do the job that was set out in the police Bill last year. We think that they can do that because their job is to look at what the PCCs are doing.
Lord Harris of Haringey:
My Lords, the experience in London is that so far the only information to have emerged from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, which is a surrogate police and crime commissioner, is a series of listed decisions on the website. How on earth is a police and crime panel outside London going to get to grips with the detail underlying that and the issues determined by the police and crime commissioner, with money that is insufficient to employ more than one or two people in support of busy local authority councillors who will have many other roles in addition to that on the panel?
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord misunderstands—dare I say it?—how local authorities work. Obviously, the funding will be available to provide for some staffing to assist that panel, but within that local authority there will be other officers doing other jobs who will also be able to assist in that role. That does not require the extra funding that he described. However much money the Government offered, no doubt he and others would say that it was inadequate. We made an announcement on how much it would be. Having reviewed it, we have since increased it. We think that it will be sufficient.