Police and Crime Commissioners and High Hopes.

At the 1960 Democratic Convention in USA Frank Sinatra  sang  a variation of High Hopes for  JFK . I was 9 and  I still love the  original , but Frank sang  these words.

“Everyone’s voting for Jack

Cause he’s got what all the rest lack

Everyone wants to back-Jack

Jack is on the right track

‘Cause he’s got high hopes  etc etc !

The forthcoming  election of PCCs on November 15th seems a bit like that too , Certainly  there was that air of optimism at the briefing event I attended this week for about 150 hopeful PCCs.

So  high hopes and cynicism abound as we approach , what is regarded by some , as the biggest experiment in Policing in the democratic world. In 8 weeks time, on Nov 16th , we will awake to a new world in Policing when the responsibility for the  local Policing moves from a rather  low profile Police Authority to a high profile ,locally elected  PCC . The celebs have faded away, thank goodness and we are left with a large clutch of candidates from the main political parties and a whole swathe of independent candidates . The turnout is expected to be embarrassingly low with predictions of only 15% of electorate turning out to vote in the 41 elections on a wet and windy November day . As Michael White said this week in the Guardian ” PCCs have been imposed without any pilots ,let alone local referenda….it could be another flop or an unexpected success” . I think it is in our interest  to be proactive in contributing to them being successful ,not least the fact that they may be commissioning Trusts in the future .

The build up to the election has been very slow, though PCA and local Trusts have been engaging with the Police Authorities and Transition Boards for many months .But the pace is certainly hotting up now . As a new Tweeter I am struck by the huge amount of Twitter traffic ,or is it just who I’m following ?. Certainly the past 2 weeks have been dominated by PCC issues  and here I am writing my first ever blog about them ! We have a new Minister overseeing PCCs ,candidates  are being declared , a new Association of PCCs (APCC) is in place ,the Local Government Association and the Home Office seem to be vying as to who produce the definitive guidance on a range of issues, and the press have picked up on it locally and nationally . What does all this mean for Trusts ?

Judging from the briefing event for candidates in London  organised by APCC  this week I think  there is still much for Trusts to do and even more to play for. I muscled in on this event at short notice  thanks to Twitter . The draft agenda for the event seemed to be entirely focussed on the Policing and not much on the “and Crime” part of the title .  So having drawn this to the attention of the APCC I was delighted to be asked to  contribute to a workshop on the challenges, opportunities  and quick wins for  the PCC from a Probation perspective .. The final agenda was still rather dominated by Policing, counter terrorism and evidenced based policing .There was a good range of speakers ,including the first speech by the new Minister Damian Green but it took over 2 hours before any of them mentioned Probation and it was the Minister highlighting the “and Crime ” bit of the title and the role of the PCC in galvanising partners .  “Galvanising” was the word of the day .The Minister was clear that Probation were key strategic partners for the PCC .Baroness Newlove , the Victims Champion , whose husband was murdered tackling some young offenders, then spoke passionately about putting victims  at the heart of policing but  also mentioned Probation but in the sense of holding “Social Services and Probation to account”. There was a fascinating presentation from  Ashley Ames from Ipsos/Mori  with some messages  for PCCs and Police but relevant to Probation too .He said there is a distinction between  national and local crime concerns . The biggest national concern is over lenient punishment ( i.e. us and the Judges ) whereas top local concerns are ASB,Drugs and Alcohol and Young Offenders ( i.e. us ,too, in the main) . His top pointers  for PCCs resonate  from Probation too . Focus on what works and identify local priorities . The workshops were an opportunity to get close to a large group of prospective PCCs .The second most popular workshop was ” Opportunities for working with the CJS “,which was the one I was contributing to alongside the  CE of VSS and the Director of Partnerships from Revolving Doors . Although we all had our own points to make there was a remarkable unanimity about our messages about partnership work being key , possibilities for co-commissioning ,the importance of victims and links with Health and Well being Boards . Of the 60 or so  that attended the 2 workshops there was a really good engagement with the issues raised and a good understanding of the critical role of partnerships in reducing crime . There were  very informed questions about PBR and the Probation Review, including the split of OM !

I  write this blog back at the ranch  having just met with my second local PCC candidate and  about to meet with an ex colleague who I encouraged to apply (successfully)  to be an Independent member of our Police and Crime panel . I then need to finalise my presentation to the Police and Crime Panel next week about our contribution to the work of the PCC. Our local Police Authority have just appointed a Commissioning Development manager who is so keen on the NOMS Commissioning document that I have invited him to our Managers workshop next week .All in all I am personally feeling optimistic about the opportunities of working closely with whoever wins in Gloucestershire .

Of course nobody will know how the PCC “experiment ” will work out but from a Probation perspective there is certainly lots of work yet to do within local areas and I believe there are some real opportunities around co commissioning ,possible secondments to PCC teams ,sharing of information etc .The new PCA Reference Group  on PCCs meeting on October 10th will be a chance to develop our thinking more .  There are of course big challenges too but I have “high hopes” .

John Bensted .

Chief Executive,  Gloucestershire Probation Trust and PCA lead on PCCs

September 13 2012.

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