PCCs: what are they good for?
Jon Clements tells us how and why to engage with police and crime commissioners
Hi there, my name’s Jon Clements, I’m the Director of Communications at Crest Advisory and I’m going to talk to you a little bit today about police and crime commissioners – or ‘PCCs: what are they good for?’.
If you’re watching this, I guess you’re an organisation that sells products or services into policing or criminal justice; or you might be a charity or a campaign group or a think tank that wants to improve the criminal justice system or share your ideas; or you might be another part of the criminal justice system that’s trying to understand where PCCs are coming from and engage with them; or maybe you’re another bit of the public sector – because we know that criminal justice affects huge other areas of public service – and you want to understand a bit more about PCCs. If you’re not any of those people and you’re just really keen and interested in criminal justice governance, that’s fine too!
So, PCCs. The basics. We know they’re elected officials; we know they’re politician; we know that they’re sometimes high-profile; we know that they’re controversial. That, we’re not going to talk about today because that’s pretty obvious and not much use to you if you’ve got a plan and a programme and you want to get in there. What I am going to tell you about is three things that are often overlooked about police and crime commissioners, and another three things to bear in mind once you’ve decided to engage with them.
So, firstly, PCCs set the strategy through a police and crime plan.
I’ve underlined the ‘and’ because their plan isn’t just about the police. Yes, it sets out the priorities for the local police force, for example domestic violence, or antisocial behaviour, or mental health, or whatever, but actually that plan is not just about the police, it’s about crime as well. So it has a broader range than that and it’s quite a powerful tool. A lot of PCCs are beginning to realise that actually they can do quite a lot with this, because, by law, these organisations here [gestures to organisations listed under point 1] have to show that they have taken note of the objectives in this plan. So that means councils, the fire service, probation, even bits of the NHS – clinical commissioning groups – they have to take note of what’s in that plan and make sure they plan accordingly too. It’s quite an important thing so if you’re interested in those areas as well, this plan is quite an important thing for you. I’m talking to you now in October. Most PCCs are just beginning to publish their draft police and crime plans. They’ll be out for consultation for three-six months so now’s a really good time to try and influence them if you’ve got good ideas, good innovations; now’s the time to try and get in there and make that plan even better.
The second point about PCCs is that they are setting the agenda.
They’re not content with this [gestures to previous point], a lot of them are very ambitious: not without reason, they think that if one person was in charge of all these other services, to a varying degree at a local level, that would actually get better outcomes for people. So, the courts; the CPS; youth justice; probation; support for witnesses at court; right now PCCs are talking to the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice discussing which of those they could take responsibility for. So if you currently deliver services in that area or you have an interest in it, you’re going to want to get to know your PCCs sooner rather than later, because quite soon they could be a pretty important part of how you go about your business, your work, your charity, or whatever.
The final point which mustn’t be overlooked: PCCs – they sign the cheques. They hold the budgets these days.
Even in a police force, most PCCs won’t actually allow a chief constable to sign contracts anymore, so even if you’ve persuaded the chief constable that your idea is great and it’s going to really help them and it’s going to save money and drive efficiencies, they are still going to have to get their PCC to sign on the dotted line, so just bear that in mind all the time.
So what? What does that mean for you guys? Three things we think it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re going to engage with PCCs: firstly, look local and think local.
Police and crime commissioners have a mandate from their local community. They’ve been elected by them. The only people PCCs consider themselves to be answerable to are the people who elected them. So, while London’s still a little bit important, it’s not the be all and end all for PCCs. And so a lot of organisations come to us saying ‘can you advise us about PCCs; how do we engage?’, often because what they’ve found is that the little black book of MPs, ministers and special advisers that they’ve relied on before, it just doesn’t cut it with a PCC. It’s what matters to them locally. Local evidence, local data, local priorities. You really need to embrace that.
Second point: no PCC is the same.
Yes, they’ve got the same role and responsibilities largely, and they’re mostly from Conservatives or the Labour Party with a few independents, but they’re very different characters. Some PCCs are former beat bobbies, some of them are ex-cabinet ministers, some of them worked in the intelligence services, some of them were journalists. They’re very very different people from very different backgrounds, and of course they’ve got very different local priorities – they’ve been elected on their own manifestos, so you’re going to have to get to know them all individually; there’s no way round it and there’s no system for getting them together in one place and telling them everything at once. That’s not going to cut it. You need to get to know them individually.
And the final point is you must get your message right.
PCCs are busy people; it’s a six day a week job; their calendars are difficult to get into, so if you do get a chance to talk to them, you need to really explain to them how you can help them deliver their vision of a safer community. So really think about your messaging. They don’t want to be talked at, they want to have a conversation, they want to have a discussion, they want to hear your ideas, they want to talk about theirs, and they’re going to want to reach some kind of common points. So really think about your messaging.
An important point to make now: we don’t do introductions at Crest Advisory. Yes, we have worked for some PCCs, we’ve done a lot of work for organisations that work with PCCs, but we think it’s much better for you if you approach them yourselves and you do your messaging with our support, but that approach comes from you. It’s much better for you; much more credible. If you do want some help, though, understanding your PCC or doing your messaging, please do give us a call. We would be delighted to help you. We’ve got some good case studies on our website of work that we’ve done with PCCs or for organisations working with and alongside PCCs, and if you like what you see, then please do get in touch. We’d be really pleased to hear from you.