Today I went to Lancashire County Council's annual Scrutiny session for Crime and Disorder. For the past two years I've had the chance to fire questions at the assembled partners, but I'm no longer on the committee, so had to make do with a view from the sidelines. One Borough Councillor had made the effort to attend from Wyre, but none of the other PCC candidates for Lancashire were there.
The session began at 10.30, and the Crime and Disorder item was over by 11.50, but do not be deceived – we didn't get to luxuriate in a whole hour and twenty minutes to consider all the crime and disorder issues in Lancashire. No, instead we had 24 minutes of a briefing on PCCs (the Councillors have already had access to a number of PCC briefings separately), and roughly 5 minutes each of briefings on Domestic Violence and 'Community Safety Projects', then 15 minutes of discussion and questions about the PCC (which is what the other briefings were for). For those of you keeping track, that left 10 minutes for questions on the Domestic Violence report, and 21 minutes for questions on 'Community Safety Projects' before the annual session was over. Half an hour of actual scrutiny, on topics chosen by the officers, and no time at all for anything else.
It may be that people are thinking the scrutiny is being done elsewhere – on the Police Authority perhaps. I've been to the Police Authority meetings to check. The Labour candidate does attend these – of course he is paid to, but again, I've not been falling over queues of other candidates, and again, I'm left without a feeling of much in-depth scrutiny.
That's a shame because in a short time today the scrutiny process drew out some important admissions, such as-
- There has been a 43% increase in domestic violence reports over 5 years, seen as a good thing, because it means people are coming forward. The police rep said “While we are getting more and more reports of domestic violence, violent crime is decreasing, so the proportion of violent crime that is domestic violence is increasing”. This is a statistical effect, but looks like rising violent crime. More on this another time!
- There is next to no cash for certain Domestic Violence services. For years short-term grant funding that was supposed to pump-prime the development of ideas and initiatives has been used as if it was mainstream funding, leaving services exposed when it goes. As one officer said today, “We've all got to put our hands in our pockets and contribute”, though it seems that two “agencies related to the courts” are having a harder time finding their pockets, even though the services under threat are Independent Domestic Violence Advocates who help victims through the court processes!
- This was followed by “Not to say it's anybody's fault, but we should have been underpinning with mainstream funding”. Funny that irresponsible and unsustainable spending is never anyone's fault.
- Criminal Damage is down 53%, and is seen as a proxy indicator for ASB, where Lancashire have recently been praised by HMIC. This is true. Their practice is already excellent and improving according to HMIC, yet looked at another way, and not mentioned today, Lancashire has relatively high levels of ASB and satisfaction rates are not what they could be, but this puzzle was not explored.
Frankly this is inadequate, but not because of the Councillors or the Committee. One morning once a year is about as much as anybody gets around the country, and it is impossible to scrutinise all of crime and disorder effectively in that paltry amount of time, which is perhaps why the major points raised in the meetings for the last two years do not appear to have resulted in any action by those 'scrutinised'.
It will be interesting to see whether different PCCs see themselves as playing Council Leader to the Chief Constable's performance as Chief Executive, or whether some will adopt the role of Grand Inquisitor, leading a super-charged Scrutiny effort on a full-time basis. If they do the latter then cops, partners and criminal justice agencies are in for a bit of a shock because, in scrutiny terms, they have been getting away with murder up to now.