On Wednesday, a very useful Westminster Hall debate was had at Parliament about Police and Crime Commissioners and the future of ACPO, and I felt it was important to address some of the issues raised by MPs during the course of the debate.
ACPO’s future was the subject of a recent independent report, conducted by the highly-respected General Sir Nick Parker and delivered to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.
General Parker made some very insightful and interesting recommendations about ACPO, including looking at the future of our national units and how they are administered, and also in relation to ACPO’s role as the voice of operational police leadership.
While I have every respect for the work of those MPs who work tirelessly on the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) to ensure that, among many other things, our police service is run efficiently and accountably, I fear that some of those HASC members who took part in Wednesday’s debate are somewhat mistaken about the current lie of the policing landscape.
The College of Policing has been set up to provide a vital and valuable service to the police family in terms of policy, standards, ethics and training, and as a home for our national policing business area leads who formulate policy through the College’s Professional Committee.
But the business areas also have a home within ACPO, when the focus is on operational matters requiring leadership and decision making; in particular, discussing and shaping how to deliver solution most effectively so as to maximise the safety of our communities.
One contributor to Wednesday’s debate noted General Parker’s view that “it would be wrong to assume that there is a clear dividing line between policy and practice” and they were right to do so. There is certainly a relationship of mutual benefit between the operational expertise of ACPO and the evidence-based policy and education output of the college.
General Parker was very clear – chiefs still need a forum to pool knowledge and expertise and inform the service’s operational activities, and he commended the work of Chief Constables’ Council (which I have the pleasure to chair) in this sense. He also commended ACPO central office as providing value for money and said its £1.2m budget was a good starting point, funding-wise.
ACPO is not a vast, unwieldy organisation – our central office, which runs the work of the association, has fewer than 20 staff, who work tirelessly to provide the necessary support to our work – giving programme and member support to more than 300 members, making our finances meet the task set as a major professional organisation and keeping us accountable through FOI disclosure, running a communications office that manages a vast workload with very few staff, and I have a two-person Presidential team who help me in my work and represent me in many different arenas.
Our national units – the National Wildlife Unit, the National Ballistics Intelligence Service, the ACPO Criminal Records Office and FOI Referral Unit – do receive an amount of public money but are run separately, under our banner but not the direct control of central office, and, for cost-efficiency, have host force arrangements with Police Scotland/Greater Manchester Police, West Midlands Police and Hampshire Constabulary respectively.
Like the College of Policing, we are a company limited by guarantee, something that was essential to allow us to hire and second staff and secure office accommodation. I do not support the indefinite continuation of our status as a limited company – I believe we have a role to play in the statutory environment and I welcome that arrangement being created.
There has been some confusion as to what being a company limited by guarantee means. Some fear we are not accountable and not compelled to comply with Freedom of Information requests. It's important to reassure those who rightly question us that, being a regulated body, we voluntarily responded to Freedom of Information requests before 2011 and we handle and reply to all FOI requests.
Visibility, openness and accountability is something I passionately believe in and something I encourage in all areas.
Part of the accountability in policing project nationwide has been the introduction of PCCs, and chief constables across England and Wales work closely with their local commissioners and have welcomed the chance to engage with them.
I believe in democratic accountability – our parliamentary democracy is the bedrock of our society after all – but the calls for elected officials to sit on every governing committee throughout the service must be handled carefully. It is absolutely correct that the service should be held to account for the work that it does, and that it accounts for itself fully, frankly and to the representatives of the people we keep safe.
But there is a very clear difference between our service being made democratically accountable and being subjected to party-political interference.
Therefore I believe – as does General Sir Nick Parker, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Policing Minister – that police chiefs need a forum to share thinking and make decisions on how our operational service can best serve the country.
Change is inevitable in all things, and I look forward to working as part of the Transitional Board, along with the Association of PCCs, the Home Office, the College of Policing and others, to find a way in which ACPO can continue to serve – openly, honestly, actively and positively – so that, in tandem with the college, we have the greatest breadth of workable, evidence-based ideas, operational expertise and accountable structure available to us, and, in turn, the public can rely on a confident, transparent and professional police service.
Sir Hugh Orde, OBE QPM,
President of the Association of Chief Police Officers