“Give us the tools to do the job.”
That was the message we heard from Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) at the launch of our report Driving criminal justice devolution, which explores how giving more powers to local leaders could help to build safer communities.
The findings, based on working with four PCCs, can been seen here. We hope they provoke a debate among criminal justice leaders locally and nationally as they grapple with shrinking budgets and the increasing complexity of managing offenders.
At our event, the consensus among PCCs themselves – even across the party political divide – was striking.
A few points.
Firstly, all the PCCs present agreed that the criminal justice system could not continue as it was. Julia Mulligan, the Conservative PCC for North Yorkshire, argued it wasn’t even a system. “It’s a vortex of different processes that people are subjected to whether you are an offender, a victim or a witness”. Katy Bourne described the current way that agencies co-operate (or don’t) as “criminal”.
Secondly, PCCs who seek to expand their remit beyond policing and victim services do so with their eyes open.
Asking for the Ministry of Justice to let her tackle re-offending in Avon and Somerset, Sue Mountstevens, said. “Let me take the flak for you”. Ron Hogg, Labour PCC for Durham, said he was keen to take on responsibility for probation, despite its current problems following the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. “We’re not asking for any more money”, he emphasised. “Just give it to us to sort out”.
This is the reason we think something genuinely exciting could happen at a local level. How often do politicians beg to be given thorny issues to deal with let alone on the condition they don’t get a bigger budget to do so ?
There’s clearly still a place for a national framework – around standards, IT and purchasing – and aspects of the justice system that should remain nationally run, such as the Crown Courts and the high secure prison estate. But with every community different, with court closures meaning much more to rural communities than some urban areas, with victim profiles and needs different across the country, there is an sense of urgency from PCCs to be allowed to do their job they were elected to do: cut crime.
Many PCCs are now in their second term – the role has matured and the problems and opportunities are more apparent. We hope our report, made possible thanks to the funding by the Hadley Trust, will help show the way to to seize this opportunity.
In the coming months, Crest will be continuing to work with PCCs and Mayors where the opportunities for devolution seem particularly strong, such as female offenders and young people. Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of this with us further.
One of the UK’s leading experts on crime and justice policy, Harvey brings a wealth of experience from a decade spent working in government, academia and parliament. Prior to joining Crest, Harvey spent four years advising on home affairs policy for the Labour Party and was a deputy director at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, where he led several major strategic reviews on behalf of a series of UK prime ministers affecting policy reform.