Living and Breathing Devolution (again)

Back in May I wrote a brief article setting out what I see as the need to “live and breathe devolution” rather than sitting on the sidelines and watching to see how the argument develops. Now that other candidates have come forward and had a chance to give their views, I think it is time to say some more.

Winston Roddick (One of the other candidates for North Wales Police & Crime Commissioner) says “Devolution is a matter for central and devolved governments and not a matter for the Commissioner” while the other candidates have remained silent.

In contrast, I believe that the four people elected as Police & Crime Commissioners in Wales have an important role to play in how this debate develops.

The Coalition Agreement between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats promised “to make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual, who will be subject to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives”. Whether the police will be more accountable will depend on those elected – because the final legislation lamentably failed to deliver the second half of that sentence, despite clear warnings from experts, Labour and Plaid Cymru MPs and Lords from across the political spectrum and the fact that the National Assembly of Wales refused to delegate authority on this issue to the UK Government.

This is a very complex corner of the devolution settlement: because local government is devolved, the UK Government recognised that they needed the Assembly’s permission to create a new local government body calleed the Police & Crime Panel. Sadly the UK Government simply found a mechanism around this and created Police & Crime Panels as bodies without an official status. It was a disgrace and blatantly undermined the constitutional settlement in Wales – something to remember when they claim to be committed to devolution.

As the then Chief Executive of North Wales Police Authority, I drafted an amendment to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill on behalf of the Police Authorities of Wales which would have transferred responsibility for the checks and balances by locally elected representatives to be determined by the National Assembly of Wales. This amendment was tabled by Lord Dafydd Elystan-Morgan (cross-bencher), Lord Dafydd Wigley (Plaid Cymru), Lord John Morris and Baroness Eluned Morgan (Labour) – four members we had discussed the issue with and who had agreed to work together on a cross-party basis. You can read the debate here.

Although the amendment was rejected by the Government, as Dafydd Elystan Morgan said in closing the debate

Dyfal donc a dyr y garreg”, which means: it takes many a patient knock to break the rock.

I am sure that most people in North Wales would have more confidence in the future governance of policing being determined in Cardiff Bay than in Westminster.

In the meantime, Commissioners need to be actively engaged. The police cannot solve crime on their own – there are many other public services which have an impact on policing and which policing impacts upon – whether it be the health service, fire service or local government. There are opportunities and threats: the Welsh Government has provided support to counter the threat of organised crime by funding Tarian (the joint serious and organised crime unit for the southern Welsh forces) and has funded an additional 500 community support officers across Wales. Collaboration between public services is essential: the alternative is that each service ends up costing the others more as they try and reduce their own spend. In North Wales we have a Regional Leadership Board, involving the six county councils, health, police and fire services and the Welsh Government to provide joint leadership.

An all Wales Policing Board involving the four Commissioners, four Chief Constables, Welsh Government and representatives from local government could play a useful co-ordinating role for policing and policing related activity.

But do I think we need to create an additional bureaucracy in Cardiff Bay which replicates some of the work of the Home Office? No. I don’t think that is the right priority in the current economic climate. And if criminal justice were to be devolved, I would want more than a buying budget – I would want the capital investment to enable us to develop our own facilities. Otherwise we could find ourselves being stitched up and forced to pay higher prices for the same facilities (especially prisons) we currently rely on just because they are based in England.

But do I think that if Welsh Police & Crime Commissioners, the Welsh Government and Welsh Local Government are agreed as to how we should move forward on an issue, the Home Office should impose a different solution? Certainly not.

But if elected, I will also work closely with the Police & Crime Commissioners in England – and in particular the North West of England. Criminals operate across borders and so must policing.

The lack of a prison in North Wales continues to be a serious problem. The UK Government needs to set out what it will do to fulfil its responsibilities responsibilities in this area. Its proposals for Regional Pay would be a disaster for the Welsh economy – so we need to continue with the national pay and terms and conditions bargaining arrangements, and ensure that there is a Welsh seat at the negotiating table.

Silence really isn’t an option!


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