Rewriting the rule book
Forty-one elected police commissioners are set to take charge of the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour in England and Wales. Lydia Stockdale finds out how landlords can become a key part of the new regime
Haven’t given the idea of police and crime commissioners a second thought? Frankly, if you’re a housing provider and you’ve ignored the changes that are about to sweep through policing in England and Wales, that’s criminal behaviour.
Feeling guilty? Well, you’re entitled to one caution, and this is it.
Later this year the thin blue line will be redrawn across England and Wales, when 41 individuals are elected in each police force area. By the end of the year PCCs will assume most of the responsibilities currently held by all police authorities outside London. These include community safety, youth justice and safeguarding vulnerable people.
Introduced under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, which came into force on 25 April, these chosen individuals will be at the vanguard of the government’s crime and policing reforms, which aim to decentralise control, giving more power to local people.
By 2013/14 they’ll be responsible for all commissioning and funding of policing and community safety activity in their areas, many of which will be huge regions, such as the west midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester.
The ‘New Bill’ will be in charge of appointing chief constables and holding them to account and will also set out five-year police and crime plans, developed in consultation with communities.
Most importantly for landlords, however, they will also have control of the purse strings. That means they will be responsible for awarding grants to any organisations they consider will support their community safety priorities. So, they’ll be keen to take down the particulars of organisations like housing associations and housing-related charities that provide services to tackle anti-social behaviour, provide victim and witness support, or give floating support.
Still happy to ignore PCCs? Thought not.
Time to act
It’s not too soon to start taking action. Many of those who want to become PCCs will already have expressed an interest in the role. The first PCC elections will take place on 15 November. If they plan to represent a national political party, they may have been added to an official shortlist. Next, party members will vote for their chosen candidate, who will then represent them in the public poll.
The PCC has accountability to local people, and tackling anti-social behaviour is likely to be a key debating issue in many areas. ‘ASB is more of a general problem than a crime, which tends to be more of an individual problem,’ explains Chris Grose, ASB advisor at the Chartered Institute of Housing, who urges social landlords to get in there early and ‘explain what you have to offer to PCCs’.
Social landlords know their communities, and most have a wealth of information about who is living in their homes - all of which is going to be useful to potential PCCs when they’re electioneering.
The Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group has been telling its members about the importance of PCCs for months. This has nothing to do with ‘banging the drum for housing’, it is to do with helping to ensure the PCCs introduce ‘the best structure and systems that work most effectively on the ground’, says Eamon Lynch, managing director of the SLCNG. ‘We need to present them with a truthful and accurate picture,’ he states.
But let’s not forget there’s money involved here. Individual PCCs will be able to award funding to whichever organisations they think will help them achieve their aims. So it’s in social landlords’ business interests to ensure the positive outcomes of the services they’re already running are known.
‘They’re called police and crime commissioners and the accent is on commissioning,’ sums up Mr Lynch.
Organisations could end up bidding for funding against their current partners. They may also find themselves up against private sector companies.
Bob Jones, a Wolverhampton councillor who has been shortlisted to become the Labour candidate for the west midlands PCC job, explains that in some areas, the new system ‘could potentially change the relationships of partners at the moment’.
‘Instead of everyone being incentivised to work together, they’ll be incentivised to compete,’ he explains.
Social landlords interested in pursuing funding need to be on the ball. ‘Lots of statutory and non-statutory organisations will be putting together their ideas for bids, so landlords need to be at the forefront on this one,’ warns Mr Grose.
However, things aren’t looking good for social landlords - in its information booklet entitled What Partners Need to Know, issued in January, the Home Office fails to make a single mention of housing.
Mr Lynch says he was ‘surprised and frustrated’ that housing did not feature. But there’s no time to dwell on this. The moment has come to start making plans.
‘We conducted some research over a year ago and found that not many landlords had started strategically planning for PCCs,’ says the CIH’s Mr Grose. ‘That has started to change now, but I don’t think it has altered dramatically.’
Pete Levy, a Liberal Democrat on Bristol Council, who has expressed an interest in becoming a PCC - and is currently a member of the Avon and Somerset Police Authority, which it will replace - expects that ‘hundreds of people are going to be coming to PCCs with problems’.
‘It would be more productive if they came forward with what they’ve been doing to solve them - and an idea of the funding they need to continue,’ he adds.
Speaking hypothetically and in a personal capacity, he adds: ‘If it were me [who was a PPC candidate], I’d be looking at who else is tackling problems, and I’d find out how they are doing it. I wouldn’t be waiting until the election in November to engage with the champions in any given area.’
Mr Lynch believes there’s no time like the present to begin contacting potential PCC candidates. ‘I would think it highly appropriate to contact them. It would be a missed opportunity not to.’
It’s perhaps helpful to point out that once they’re elected PCCs will need to hit the ground running. They’ll assume office on 22 November, a week after their public goes to the polls, and just four months after that - in March 2013 - they’ll be expected to come up with plans for huge regional areas. ‘They’ll cover very big areas in terms of population, as well as a multitude of communities with diverse needs,’ says Mr Lynch.
Forewarned is forearmed, so to speak, and PCC candidates will appreciate any approaches that bring useful information they can build
‘They’ll respond to the information and data that is accessible and available,’ agrees Mr Lynch. He points out that PCCs will be tempted to rely on data provided by the police, but as the Stop the rot report, published by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in September 2010, showed, the police often don’t deal with ASB the way they should.
Mr Grose suggests social landlords could use the community harm statement designed by the CIH to make it easier to demonstrate the impact of ASB on communities, and then provide evidence showing how they’ve investigated and successfully tackled ASB cases.
But ASB is not the only area many social landlords will be able to prove they’ve excelled in. From 2013/14 PCCs will also have the power to begin awarding funding to services that may have suffered as a result to cuts to Supporting People funding.
Donna Jones, a Conservative councillor for Portsmouth, who has been shortlisted as one of her party’s potential PCC candidates for Hampshire and Isle of Wight, says one area she will focus on is domestic violence services.
As an article published in Inside Housing last week showed, housing associations including Peabody and Gentoo are already training staff to help gather data that can help them identify cases of domestic abuse (Inside Housing, 4 May).
‘The difference between a good policy and an excellent policy is all about information,’ says Ms Jones. ‘I want to hear from organisations if they have the facts to help us start to profile where to put police resources so we can prevent crime,’ she says.
Clive Grunshaw, a Lancashire councillor and a shortlisted potential PCC candidate for Labour explains, the key for PCCs will be to identify issues that are most in the public’s consciousness. ‘In Lancashire an area of concern for the public has consistently been violent crime and crime that impacts on the most vulnerable,’ he says. ‘We have among the highest incidents of violent crime, sexual exploitation and domestic violence in the country. In the last year alone we have had more than 28,000 incidents of domestic violence.’
Mr Grunshaw will therefore prioritise protecting children who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, supporting victims of domestic violence and abuse through multi-agency partnerships and tackling hate crime. He’ll be interested in hearing from organisations that can provide the services that will help him make improvements in these areas.
The potential Lancashire PCC is particularly interested in organisations that can demonstrate they are happy to be solely accountable. ‘I have a real concern that working with other partners can lead to a situation of “pass the parcel” when it comes to dealing with difficult cases. In a difficult financial climate, few agencies seem willing to accept their responsibility - at least not if they can deflect it elsewhere.’
PCCs’ approach to established partnerships will ‘vary from place to place according to who’s elected’, explains the west midlands’ Mr Jones. Some will decide that competition is needed to maximise efficiency, while others will want to keep existing partnerships where they work well at a local level, he says.
Even established community safety partnerships - which usually include representatives from local authorities, the police, health, probation and the fire and rescue service - may not be held sacred.
Councils that have retained their housing stock or formed arm’s-length management organisations will be included in these partnerships, but housing associations are classed as non-statutory co-operating bodies. In some areas they’ll have strong relationships with CSPs, but in others they won’t ‘neatly fit into the liaison structures that have been established’, explains SLCNG’s Mr Lynch.
‘PCCs will have the power to reform CSPs on a regional basis,’ he explains. ‘When landlords have links with CSPs, they should make sure they exploit those links, as PCCs will work with CSPs to build up a picture - but when they have not, it’s even more important they make their presence felt.’
One way social landlords can do this is to highlight the fact that they have established ways to communicate with community members through their tenant panels, scrutiny panels or resident organisations. ‘Some are already discussing this with their tenant panels, trying to raise awareness about PCCs,’ says Mr Lynch.
Housing providers are therefore able to find out important information about the issues potential voters - their tenants - want PCCs to prioritise. The candidates themselves are likely to view this as highly valuable.
There are no guarantees, but housing providers should certainly try to make the most of the introduction of PCCs. ‘Social landlords have sometimes found building relationships with other local organisations to be “very challenging”,’ concludes Mr Grose. ‘I’m not saying PCCs will help - but they’re at least something new.’
Where to start with police and crime commissioners
- Talk to the lead community safety partnership in your region and find out what priorities it has agreed when planning for police and crime commissioners, and whether there might be shared benefits for you from engagement.
- Work closely at the neighbourhood level with other social housing providers and neighbourhood policing teams to develop a shared understanding of anti-social behaviour issues and potentially more effective resource planning to deliver solutions.
- Review the robustness of the information you have and be clear about what you can report to your residents and the PCC.
- Whatever you decide to do, the established ways of working with partners will end soon after PCCs come into force and social housing landlords will need to be alive to the shifts in power and responsibility to continue to deliver effective ASB services to their residents
Source: Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group