Police and Crime Commissioners are letting light into policing. Photo: Getty
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If Labour scraps Police and Crime Commissioners, it will be rowing back on democracy

The Labour Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Northumbria calls on Labour to retain PCCs, or a variant of the position, to allow transparency in policing.

Almost two years since the election of the first Police and Crime Commissioners, it’s a role that has continued to develop and evolve.

Labour has vowed to reform the system following Lord Stevens’ 2013 review of policing. However, there are currently 13 Labour commissioners, in office, with power and budgets, working to deliver services for the benefit of their communities, whose hands-on experience can inform policy development.

Commissioners are the elected voice of the people. Their duty is to consult communities to ascertain what they want from the police, shaping those priorities into a police and crime plan which gives strategic direction to the force. Our control of the local policing budget and our democratic leverage ensures that what the people want does happen. This represents a significant shift of power towards the public. Our "and crime" responsibilities empower us to coordinate local community safety work and elements of the criminal justice process. We will shortly be responsible for commissioning victims' services and we are developing local restorative solutions.

We have renewed focus on neighbourhood policing. These popular teams of police and community support officers, dedicated to serving a specific community, are the bedrock of modern policing, well defined as such by Lord Stevens. They work with the public and with partners to solve problems before they develop into crime or disorder, looking for longer term resolutions that help stability and community safety.

Neighbourhood policing has not only been overwhelmingly positive for communities, but it has helped to model a new kind of police officer. Remote from hierarchical management, they are directly accountable to the local communities with whom they work. They become committed to the public as well as to the police force and the trust they evoke contrasts with the distrust with which the national policing hierarchy is regarded for being too often steeped in their own sectional self-interest. The Hillsborough and Orgreave issues and contemporary concerns such as apparent inaccuracies around the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and Mark Duggan have done immeasurable damage to public trust. Now local police are, for the first time being overseen intrusively at command level by an elected figure and any tendency to put force self-interest over public well-being can be challenged, so that it becomes, at least more difficult for these kind of events to recur.

In the same vein, police complaints have often been dealt with through a prism of institutional defensiveness, which exacerbates grievances and loses the police friends as surely as national scandals do. Labour Commissioners are tackling this with the aim of getting police to admit minor bad behaviour where it has occurred and to trust the public to understand. In Northumbria, 36 per cent of police complaints are resolved within 48 hours by a customer focussed telephone team, based in the Commissioner’s office which has a 96 per cent satisfaction rate. Public involvement, emanating from an elected Commissioner, is breaking down barriers between the police and the communities they serve and restoring trust.

All of this is taking place amidst shrinking budgets and there are further challenges ahead. Police numbers are critically low. Last December saw extra reductions to police budgets to boost the Independent Police Complaints Commission without, so far, any transfer of work. Splitting the probation service to sell part of it off could undermine crime reduction by unsettling Integrated Offender Management. Harsh reductions in legal aid will mean fewer defence lawyers, perhaps heralding a matching return to police officer prosecutions.

In a time of upheaval as well as innovation, Labour Police and Crime Commissioners will continue to navigate pathways to improve policing in their local communities. Whether the role remains or a variant takes over, the current Labour Commissioners are letting light into policing and agree with Lord Stevens that the next Labour government should not row back on democracy.

Vera Baird is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria

Vera Baird QC MP is the Solicitor General
Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.