A year ago Anthony Stansfeld was elected as Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley. How’s he done?
I think these are the 5 key questions to ask:
- Has he cut crime?
Not so far. This question really breaks down into two parts: 1) Has crime fallen or risen? 2) Is that because of his actions? To come to any judgment about this after just a year is too soon. After all, he only published his crime plan in April and a great many other factors affect crime levels. Nonetheless here is a comparison of numbers of reported offences from September 2013 (the latest figures available) with September 2012:
|Sept 2012||Sept 2013|
So mixed news.
One more important health warning about the statistics. Changes in reporting of crime can make as much difference as changes in the actual crime levels. Across the country, for example, there has been a big increase in reporting of sexual offences. I don’t think this as a result of a rise in sexual offending but because victims feel more confident reporting these crimes. On the other hand I suspect that there has been a huge increase in internet fraud which mostly goes unreported.
- Has he increased accountability?
Don’t forget, this was meant to be the whole justification for introducing Police and Crime Commissioners in the first place! Whoever was elected this was going to be a challenge, partly because of the huge area that Thames Valley covers (2.2 million people across Bucks, Berks, Oxfordshire and Milton Keynes) and partly because of the fiasco of the elections with a depressing 13.5% turnout. But Stansfeld hasn’t done much to turn this around. His public meetings have been in council chambers and stuffed with Tory councillors. I’d like to have seen him out and about: talking to the public outside supermarkets and schools, in youth clubs, in churches, mosques and other places of worship, on twitter and Facebook.
In addition, his decision to immediately increase the precept by 2% (the part of your council tax that goes to Thames Valley Police) without first putting this in his manifesto was deeply undemocratic.
- Has he brought new ideas and reforms to Thames Valley Police?
No. There has been a complete lack of innovation. This is disappointing because, again, this was part of the justification for PCCs: to bring in new ideas, fresh ways of doing things. If they’re not going to change anything, what’s the point of them?
- Has he ensured a fair distribution of resources between rural and urban areas?
He is responsible for a big shift in funding from urban to rural areas in relation to Community Safety Partnerships. Reading will lose 16.6% of its funding next year and Slough 11.4% whilst his home district of West Berkshire will see a cut of just 0.27%. Meanwhile, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham will see no cuts at all. What’s more, his original proposals would have seen Slough and Reading’s budgets slashed by 30-40%.
What about police numbers? Stansfeld has not changed the formula as to the distribution of officers between different Local Authority Areas. However, the question remains as to whether his focus on tackling rural crime has diverted attention within those areas from urban to rural crime. After all, most Local Authority Areas (such as Chiltern) include both towns and countryside. If more officers are stopping tractors being stolen in the villages, will there be fewer officers tackling drug dealing in the towns?
- How well has he managed the finances?
Stansfeld inherited a strong financial situation and that, so far, has stayed the case. Whilst I have criticised the lack of accountability around his decision to increase the police precept by 2% I think it was necessary. The real test come the next election (2016) will be whether he has found ways to deliver a more efficient, cost effective force.
So that’s my take so far…What are your thoughts? Am I asking the right questions? Do you agree with the answers? Perhaps more importantly, should the next Labour government persist with Police Commissioners or get rid of them?