Clarification from Home Office on political proportionality for PCPs
The Home Office have provided some clarification on political proportionality on PCPs - an issue which I know has taken up a lot of time at the roadshows over the last couple of months. Here it is...
“The Police and Social Responsibility Act specifies that Police and Crime Panels must be balanced in terms of geography, politics, and the skills, knowledge and experience of panel members. Clarification on the specific legal position, and what this means for local partners in making their decisions on panel membership is set out below.
Ministers have been clear that the best panel arrangements will be those which are locally determined. In many cases achieving balance will be challenging, especially where perceived inequalities cannot be redressed through additional co-option of elected members. In recognition of this, the Act specifically states that the balanced appointment objective must be secured “as far as is practicable”. However, local authorities will need a robust rationale for their final membership and be able to justify their decision to the public and their peers.
• Geographical balance - “represent all parts of the relevant police area”
• Councillor membership of the panel should reflect the geography and population size of the force area. In the first instance, the legislation seeks to achieve this by having every local authority in the area represented on the panel.
• Political balance - “represent the political make-up of the relevant local authorities (when taken together)”
• Councillor membership of the panel, when taken together, should reflect the political balance of the force area. Local authorities could look to achieve this, in the first instance, by considering the proportion of councillors from each political party across the force area. This approach is the closest to the spirit of the legislation and reflects the approach taken to police authority membership.
• Skills, knowledge and experience
• All appointments to the panel, of both councillors and independents, should be made in the context of ensuring that the panel has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to discharge its functions.
The Local Government Association is developing an advice note for local authorities which explores in greater detail the options available in making decisions on panel membership and balance.”
This guidance is obviously helpful up to a point but is still rather coy about whether the HO will be happy with either approach. You’ll see that there is a relatively strong injunction to use the total number of councillors as the means to decide membership. I am not sure that I am reading too much into the section where the Home Office say that this option should be considered “in the first instance” as meaning that, unless there are strong policy reasons to actively decide to discard this option, it should be the one adopted – a semantic issue maybe, but one to consider in your own authorities. The point about needing a “robust rationale for [the] final membership” and the fact that authorities must “be able to justify their decision to the public and their peers” is also relevant here. I am biased but I would still argue that it would be difficult to support a majority-parties-only panel – I have not yet had a convinced public policy explanation given to me as to why this is preferable to a whole-council approach. But make of it what you will.
Research and Information Manager, CfPS