Following the election of a Conservative/Liberal coalition Government in May, in the context of drastic financial reductions to all sectors of public action, radical changes in the way community safety is managed in the UK are being implemented. On October the 20th, a Comprehensive Spending Review will be issued. The Police may lose 25% of their budget. Grant Ardern, Policy Officer of the National Community Safety Network (NCSN) comments on these new developments.
A Whole New World (in the UK)
“Tackling Crime Together” is the title of the 5th chapter of the Coalition Governments strategy paper ‘Policing in the 21st Century’. It sets out how partnerships are to be part of the most radical change to policing in 50 years. Within the chapter there is recognition that over the last 13 years Community Safety Partnerships and other local partnerships have played a strong role in preventing crime, which is very nice, and then there is a fundamental section which outlines:
‘the removal of unnecessary central prescription around local partnerships that operate at different geographical levels but have some overlap in roles and remits, causing confusion about respective roles and bureaucracy that restricts their ability to work together effectively’
How would this work? The NCSN board of directors went to find out when they recently took part in consultation on the paper, which will form part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to be introduced this autumn.
What will emerge from the consultation will not be revealed until after a Comprehensive Spending Review as all Government department plans need to be joined together. However, NCSN did gather a broad understanding of the strategic direction of future plans which were actually described as being ‘a whole new world’.
So this is what the future will look like for Community Safety Partnerships in the UK. Practitioners are already used to an environment where key words or a new acronym take on a significant new meaning, in that respect reassuringly nothing has changed. The new word is ‘Transition’ and it will be with us for the next 30 months. This time period covers the two years it will take for the new Police & Crime Commissioners to be selected and to come into office. The target date is 2012, plus a further six months to support the Commissioners as they settle into their new roles, which by my calculation takes us into 2013. Legislation can be expected this autumn outlining exactly how the Commissioners will work with local communities, but it is likely to follow this model.
The Police & Crime Commissioners are the key to the government’s plans for Communities and for Community Safety Partnerships. The Commissioners will work at the local police force level; they will have a small support team and will rely on local police & crime panels to do checks and balances across agencies. Through this method local partnerships and agencies will be held to account by the communities they serve, not central government.
There will be a transitional offer document released later in the year to provide greater detail on this.
To take this a stage further, the government recognises that local communities are best served by agencies working together in partnership, as this is an effective way of maintaining services and delivering efficiencies at a local level. To support Community Safety Partnerships within the model of the ‘Big Society’, the intention is to promote this approach by ‘decluttering’ the landscape. This will be done by deregulation and removing unnecessary overlapping bureaucracy, all this of course with the underlying objective of deficit reduction.
So what does this all mean? In reality it is going to be a huge culture shock for many practitioners in the UK used to being force fed by prescriptive central government requirements. It will result in a complete reversal of the top down approach, producing greater opportunities to be action orientated as a consequence of there being not only less restrictive time consuming barriers, fewer, if any, targets and less guidance, but also most likely no funding or other central government support.
NCSN has advised the Government that to move away from enforced regulation and restrictive Central Government control too quickly will cause confusion, misinterpretation and disparity. The network has therefore offered to support Community Safety Partnerships, disseminate Government direction and provide feedback responses, which will enable partnerships to adapt during the transitional period to maximise the opportunities created from local freedom and greater flexibility.
The Network already supports Community Safety Partnerships by providing highly rated training packages, delivered by experienced practitioners. It is therefore ideally placed to help the Government achieve its further objectives of encouraging partnerships to be more action orientated, improve information exchange and disseminate good practice based on what works at local level. This will enable Community Safety Partnerships to benefit from the freedom to set local priorities with the community.
This means reducing duplication, delivering local clarity and encouraging the use of section 17 and 115 of the Crime & Disorder Act. In short this means every agency working together and exchanging data to reduce crime and disorder. The Government also believes that Community Safety Partnerships and Criminal Justice Agencies can work together, in partnership, more effectively and efficiently.
NCSN has proposed that local clarity can be delivered by Community Safety Partnerships becoming the hub of the more flexible local structures providing a link to all including the Police & Crime Commissioners.
The Network through its members also has the powerbase to deliver consistent support, training, mentoring, twining, advice and feedback to transform to the new world. This will be achieved through the delivery of National Community Safety by the facilitation of best practice on a common sense basis, throughout this transitional period and beyond.
Policy Officer, NCSN