Policing and Crime Bill: Questions raised over practicalities of policing reforms

Dods Monitoring’s Sabine Tyldesley details the most contentious proposals in the Policing and Crime Bill.

With the £23 million Home Office funding for police-led transformation projects announced, one more step has been made toward reforming policing; a process relatively untouched by the reshuffle turmoil and new leadership in the department.

Theresa May’s legacy as longest serving Home Secretary in a hundred years was a firm commitment to making policing more accountable. Part of that was accountability to the public through elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and reforms to inspections, as well as complaints and discipline.

This legacy of reform culminates in the Policing and Crime Bill currently making its way through the House of Lords. The Bill puts forward many changes that will increase transparency and streamline services, but also includes some contentious points, including a ‘merger’ for policing and blue light services as well as proposals regarding vulnerable groups.

One of more welcomed proposals in the Bill is the move to stop children and young people experiencing mental health crises from being detained in custody and restricts the circumstances where adults can be taken to police stations. These steps have been broadly applauded by campaigners, but there are fears of unintended or adverse consequences for service users or mental health providers. Questions also remain when it comes to the implementation of such proposals. In addition, some have resisted the implication that the police should be shouldering all the responsibility for vulnerable people without any greater resources to reduce custody deaths and provide better places of safety.

However, the greatest point of contention in the Bill is the proposed statutory duty for police, fire and ambulance services to collaborate to improve efficiency and effectiveness, which would enable PCCs to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services. It would also bring fire and rescue services in London under the direct responsibility of the Mayor of London by abolishing the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority – similar changes would take place in other areas with Metro Mayors.

This has caused concern over PCC’s capabilities to take responsibility for service on a practical level, with significant performance gaps between areas, as well as fears that a merger with the police would undermine the ability of Fire and Rescue Authorities (FRAs) to collaborate more widely, including with the health service. There are also fears that such a move would allow a PCC to make governance changes without any local mandate from elected members or the public. However, not all PCCs are against the idea of taking over fire services, with the likes of Katy Bourne and Roger Hirst having expressed support.

The Bill will next be debated in the House of Lords on the 14 September. The first amendments have already been tabled and further amendments will be considered right up until the start of debate. Dods Monitoring has prepared a briefing in preparation for the next stage outlining background information and next steps on the Bill.