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Policy Exchange - Give ‘Super’ PCCs power to hire and fire local prison governors and probation chiefs


Ten ‘Super’ Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) – including London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime -  should be handed additional criminal justice and crime prevention responsibilities including the power to appoint and dismiss prison governors and local probation chiefs, order inspections of criminal justice agencies and take over youth justice budgets.

A report, Power Down: A plan to for cheaper, more effective justice, by Policy Exchange – the think tank that first proposed the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners –  argues that the election of the first 41 PCCs last November presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the balance of power in a criminal justice system currently almost bereft of local control, financial responsibility or democratic accountability.

But the report says there is not yet any clarity within Government about the importance to attach to the PCC role, nor how the position should evolve over time. It argues that government departments have so far struggled to engage meaningfully with PCCs and that central government must offer PCCs greater involvement in policymaking and other key decisions.  

The report says that the government should run pilots across the country with ten existing PCCs who would volunteer to take on substantial additional powers, effectively acting as local Ministers for Policing and Crime. The changes should be overseen by a newly created PCC Strategy Board, made up of Directors in the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, a Treasury Director, a Cabinet Office Director, a number of PCCs and a small number of outside experts.

New responsibilities would include:

  • The power to appoint and dismiss local prison governors, courts and tribunals area managers and local probation chiefs.
  • Inspection powers over local prisons, police forces, and probation services.
  • Responsibility for the performance and outcomes of local criminal justice agencies’ activities.
  • Decisions over procurement deals including the ability to opt-out of national contracts
  • Responsibility for youth justice budgets to ensure that local areas feel the costs of failure to prevent crime and reoffending more directly.
  • The ability to raise more money to fight crime locally by removing the Police Precept cap (currently included in people’s council tax bills).

At the forefront should be the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) in London, which is by far the most mature infrastructure for police governance and criminal justice coordination in existence, by virtue of the Mayor of London’s more established role in holding the Metropolitan Police Service to account.

Max Chambers, author of the report, “Over the next two years, all major political parties will be considering their approaches to police accountability and criminal justice reform ahead of the next election. When it comes to PCCs, policymakers can either choose to reverse, stand still or go forward.

“Currently PCCs are operating with one arm tied behind their back. They must be able to hold local criminal justice agencies to account. That includes the ability to appoint the right people as well as set the local strategy and hold criminal justice leaders to account for performance.

“Our ambition is for a system where, instead of local criminal justice leaders looking upwards and inwards to Whitehall for direction and validation, they increasingly look outwards to each other and downwards to the citizens they serve. It will mean cheaper, more effective justice in a system that desperately needs an injection of dynamism and it’s the best way of making sure that PCCs fulfill their potential and meet the promises they made to the electorate.”

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