When the Government first introduced the idea of Police and Crime Commissioners, it was a clear attempt to pull together all of the organisational elements of the Criminal Justice System under the political leadership of one person who would in turn be accountable to local people. That is why the person holding the office is known and the Police and Crime Commissioner, and not simply the Police Commissioner. In so far as that plan has been fulfilled, whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the 43 PCCs, the fact is that the probation reform took place with the PCCs as interested bystanders only. The administration of the Courts Service is no more accountable to the PCC than it was before the 15th November 2012. Indeed the Courts Board that I chaired prior to 2009 which was responsible for the administration of the courts service in Surrey and Sussex offered far more accountability than we have now. The Prison Service is untouched following the election of the PCCs. This job is hardly begun and without the Government agreeing to take the next steps it will remain incomplete.
Meanwhile the Government now seems to want to refocus the PCC role into a blue light commissioner role, with an emphasis on emergency call rooms. A perfectly reasonable approach to bring Fire, Ambulance and Police blue light services under a common political vehicle, but this is a very different model to what the PCC is intended to do. It raises a number of issues. In Sussex for instance, there are two fire and rescue services, that despite all common sense were prevented from a recently proposed merger by the Conservative controlled West Sussex County Council who did not wish to lose their role. The South East Ambulance Service meanwhile is organised over a much bigger geography. Bringing together these agencies will take time and consume large amounts of political capital. The tragedy is that the work by all three services to share back offices is already well developed. It would certainly be helpful to give this approach a strong lead, but there are many other partners that could also be included in this mix. For a number of years I was a member of a group called SPACES that brought together the three emergency services along with local government, voluntary sector and other Government agencies such as Job Centre Plus in East Sussex. Persuading all of these agencies to work together demands a much more flexible approach than to limit issues simply to blue light activity. There is also a risk of losing focus on all of the work of the best PCCs such as working with the voluntary sector agencies which are related to the criminal justice system. This work risks becoming less important to the success of the PCC if Fire and Rescue and Ambulance amalgamation is a key part of the PCC role.
It is vital that the PCCs be allowed to finish one job, before being considered for additional roles.