May the 5th be with you!
Thursday 5 May will see England and Wales holding, for only the second time, ordinary elections for the 41 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). The office of PCC was created just over 3 and a half years ago and it is widely agreed that voter numbers for the inaugural PCC elections back in November 2012 were abysmal, with national turnout at just 15.1% of the electorate.
With political parties and the media already focused on voting in the BREXIT referendum (to be held in June) it remains to be seen whether this time round public awareness, engagement and support for PCC candidates will be greater. Given the huge significance of the PCCs powers and duties, we would certainly hope so.
With the 2016 elections rapidly approaching, in a series of articles over the coming weeks we will take a look at the roles of the PCC and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) and highlight some of the key legal considerations for both in the coming months and beyond.
What next for the newly elected PCCs and their OPCC Incumbents?
On Thursday 12 May, just seven days after the elections, the newly elected PCCs will take up office. For those who are re-elected, it may feel like business as usual. For those who are new into post, it will be a time for rapid induction and assimilation. All will have their different priorities and all will no doubt be keen to action their manifesto promises. At such a time it will be important for the OPCC Chief Executives and senior management team to ensure that no-one loses sight the legal obligations which will immediately apply to the PCCs. These include the formalities of preparing and submitting their election spending return and signing the declaration of acceptance of office. A failure to sign the declaration within the strict two month time limit would result in their position being declared vacant and a bye-election needing to be held.
In a time of heightened interest following the publication of the 'Panama papers', there will no doubt also be increased public scrutiny of PCCs and their financial affairs. It will be vital to ensure openness and transparency from the start, with strict compliance with the requirements to complete the register of interests and declarations regarding paid office or employment and pecuniary interests.
The PCC's primary function is to hold their police force to account. High on the agenda for the early days will be the need for the PCC to establish a working relationship with their respective Chief Constable. Relationships will also have to be fostered with their oversight body the Police and Crime Panel.
For some PCCs, a priority may be to reform their OPCC staffing and governance arrangements. Each PCC will want to ensure they have the right team around them to support them in their new role. In addition to statutory requirements to have a Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer, a PCC has the power to appoint such other staff within their respective OPCC as they think appropriate. Any restructuring of staff or changes in existing governance arrangements will need to be handled carefully and lawfully to avoid potentially time consuming and costly legal challenges.
Significantly, a PCC also has the power to appoint a Deputy PCC. Unlike all other OPCC staff, the Deputy PCC post is not politically restricted and appointment does not have to be made on merit. By all accounts there are fewer independent candidates running this time than in the 2012 elections. This raises the potential for a higher number of PCCs and thereby their appointed Deputies holding party political views. While some candidates have already declared their intended Deputy in order that voters can make a more informed choice, others may not have even considered the need or otherwise of the role, let alone the legislative requirements which are associated with it.
Collectively, the PCCs are responsible for a combined police force area budget of £8billion. Focus in the coming months will therefore rapidly turn to the PCCs responsibilities to develop and publish a Police and Crime Plan. Careful consideration will need to be given to the existing plan; what the PCC has pledged during their campaign and what the requirements will be for publishing a new plan. Any substantial changes in focus or spending priorities may have implications for existing contracted services and subsequent commissioning plans.
Looking further ahead, on the horizon for PCCs are some potentially momentous events, particularly given the current political appetite to legislate to increase their responsibilities to cover other services, such as local fire and rescue services – where a local case is made.
In our next article we will focus on some key legal issues for PCCs.