Global progressive policing

100 days to the PCC elections: Candidates, here’s how you win…

Simon Bullock identifies factors that will distinguish successful candidates (and future PCCs) from the unsuccessful

Today marks 100 days to the PCC elections on Thursday, May 5th.

A little over three years since their introduction, in the eyes of the voting public the role of PCC is still unproven. As with the majority of political roles, public appetite for information about their PCC is minimal until there is a hint of a scandal, wrongdoing or gaffe. This has meant that the current PCCs have been more commonly been associated with stories of excessive cost, short sightedness and impropriety than ones of value for money, strategic vision and insightful decision making.

Have you drawn up a manifesto, or at least outlined your commitments and made it straightforward for the public to find out where you stand on the issues? Are these based on expert views, feasible and appropriate, are they fair and unbiased? Have you spoken to other PCCs, your Chief Constable, police officers, staff and volunteers, statutory and voluntary partners, providers and co-commissioners? Do you really understand what the role of PCC encompasses, not just the ‘police’ bit but as importantly the ‘and crime’ and ‘commissioner’ elements? Do you know have a plan, and are you realistically confident of delivering it?

Although the barriers to entry for PCC candidates are low (aged at least 18, British or eligible Commonwealth citizen, registered voter, never convicted of an imprisonable offence, not employed by police or other disqualified organisations), tasks such as getting on a mainstream party ticket or gathering adequate grassroots support to stand as a credible independent (100 signatures), having a spare £5000 for the election deposit, and being able to park your personal and work life for the duration of the campaign are things that few can manage, and therefore the traditional stereotypes of pale, male and stale politicians have persisted. Whilst there has been much debate about the diversity of police officers given the importance of forces representing the public they serve, there has not been a parallel debate about the diversity of PCCs, who are starkly homogenous.

Successful candidates vs successful PCCs

I have argued for some time that the skills needed to mount a successful election campaign are markedly different for those needed to be effective in the role. The first time around there were a number of skilled political operators, who relied on their local, national and parliamentary experience to get elected. For the first time in any UK mainstream elections, independent candidates fared successfully, many standing on a ticket of keeping politics of out policing, and point made by a number of candidates from the established parties who were keen to highlight that they were not career politicians, but men and women of the people.

It is somewhat ironic that with all the debates about professionalising the police, and the strict standards, requirements and guidelines already in place covering every aspect of the role, that there are no such requirements for the role of PCC. Compare the requirements of becoming a PCC listed above with those for becoming a police officer – initial recruitment, fitness and medical tests, plus substantial knowledge requirements tested through examinations as officers pass through the ranks.

A better comparison might be with direct entry Superintendents, however whilst there are no specific academic or educational qualifications required in order to apply, there is of course an 18 month training programme before the person can formally take up a command role.

The equivalent for PCC candidates is the campaign process, and many liken this to a job interview lasting several months. As voters, this means that we are their interviewers and the responsibility to determine whether they are right for the role falls to us. So, let us take the next 100 days to consider whether candidates have the background, the temperament and the passion needed to perform in the role, and whether the kinds of changes they want to bring about are aligned to what we think are best for our particular police force.

But first, let us address the candidates directly, and start with the obvious interview questions.

“Why do you want to be a PCC?”

You will believe that you are the best person for the role. Of course, but that is only part of the story. You will need to put your ego aside and do what is best for the people within your police force area irrespective of whether or not that tallies with your personal belief or that of your party. Sometimes you will fail to deliver the things you said you would. Are you going to take the easy way out and cite the failures of the previous Commissioner, the Government who have not allocated sufficient funds, or the legislative or administrative framework which you have to operate within? Or are you going to acknowledge your weaknesses, recognise that you need to do better, and work hard to overcome any limitations?

If you have had a successful career and now want a more relaxed position where you can give back to your community, please think carefully. This is not a board level advisory or non-executive role. Speak to any PCC and they will tell you that this is most definitely a full-time role, and you will regularly be working between 50 and 60 hours a week, sometimes more.

If you are a serial political candidate and you regard the PCC role as another avenue to achieve your long term political ambitions, please stop now.

If you think this is an easy job, or a non-job, think again. Whilst it is true that some PCCs may choose to set the bar quite low, I consider it fair for us to expect our PCCs to make the same sacrifices that our police officers do. Can you commit to putting your personal life on hold for four years? Speak to a police officer about the everyday family life they have missed over the years, all the dinners, the holidays and the celebrations. All the times their annual leave got cancelled. And just how much their job strains their relationships. Think whether you are comfortable working standard office hours whilst officers regularly work 12 hour shifts (if they are lucky), miss breaks and come in on leave days.

“How are you going to represent the views of the public?”

Are you a big picture thinker? Do you want to work with your Chief Constable to cut crime and improve public confidence, and are you prepared to spend months and years working through strategic change management programmes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your force?

Or do you want your Chief Constable could sort out dog fouling, fly tipping, nuisance off-street bikers and speeding through rural villages as these are the things that residents complain to you most about and you want to show that you are listening and making a difference.

Will you tell the public what they want to hear, or will you tackle the structural, systemic issues that drive police and other public sector demand?

Are you going to be a candidate for your entire police force area, not just the bit of it you live in? Will you serve everyone without fear or favour? Will you engage with all, working across political affiliations, communities and organisational barriers? Will your office and your force reflect the population of your area, bringing in a range of experience from different backgrounds?

Will you actively raise the level of the debate, and have tough conversations with both the police and its partners and resource and activity, and with the public about collaboration, about efficiency, about demand reduction, and ultimately most likely about increasing thresholds for callouts and emergency responses?

“How will you make a difference?”

Are you committed to the role of PCC, or are you just running to make up the numbers and offer an alternative to the incumbent? Will your actions during the campaign mobilise the 85% of the electorate who chose not cast a vote first time around? Will you take proactive steps to listen to people whose voices are not often heard, not just those who shout the loudest?

Will you build relationships with your partners and colleagues or will you seek to protect your own interests? Will you earn their trust by working on cross-cutting issues that affect the greater good, and not get bogged down by issues of organisational boundaries or budgets? Will you manage your reducing budget by looking internally or externally? Will you and your partners shrink apart or shrink together? Are you prepared to work hand in hand with your partners to tackle differences in local governance arrangements and build more efficient and innovative alternatives?

Or will you retreat and entrench into your policing silo, and concentrate on lobbying the Home Office for more money, arguing that achieving a better deal for your local force is the best way of doing well by your residents?

What is your ambition? Your acceptable level of risk? Will you spend time developing and testing thoughtful, considered and intelligent solutions that take best practice from across the public and private sector, or will you stick with tried and tested traditional ideas that are easier to deliver, and will work but might not necessarily deliver all of the outcomes you need.

Are you prepared to make tough decisions – to close police stations, to lay off staff, to collaborate or outsource functions, to tell the public that officers are no longer available to attend certain incidents? What will you say about rising crime levels, or falling public assurance levels?

Are you prepared to be the advocate for a fiercely loyal workforce who have been battered and bruised by the public, the media and successive Governments?

Hard questions

In the end, I expect that you have already considered these issues. If not, take a long hard look at yourself and ask yourself honestly are you wanting to do this for all the right reasons. Will you learn to love this job, even when the vast majority of the public appear to be against it? Are you prepared to give your all to help others, even when those people appear to not want your help? Are you prepared to be criticised by people who have no idea what you do, but who all think they know better than you?

And as you start to campaign, will you start as you mean to go on and share details about your campaign – particularly your team and whether you expect to appoint any of them should you become Commissioner? Will you disclose where you have received campaign contributions from?

Have you drawn up a manifesto, or at least outlined your commitments and made it straightforward for the public to find out where you stand on the issues? Are these based on expert views, feasible and appropriate, are they fair and unbiased? Have you spoken to other PCCs, your Chief Constable, police officers, staff and volunteers, statutory and voluntary partners, providers and co-commissioners? Do you really understand what the role of PCC encompasses, not just the ‘police’ bit but as importantly the ‘and crime’ and ‘commissioner’ elements? Do you know have a plan, and are you realistically confident of delivering it?

If after a period of introspection, you believe that your motivation to help and your desire to be part of the police family is true, then thank you, we need more people like you. The best of luck with your campaign. If not, then I thank you for your consideration and respectfully ask you to look elsewhere.

Simon has been involved in policing governance for over 15 years. He is an evidence based specialist – improving and implementing processes and gaining support for policing objectives from across the wider public sector, all whilst being accountable to the public purse.

His initial involvement in policing was as a community safety partnership analyst, before spending several years in a number of research and policy roles within the Home Office, including Head of Localism Policy where he helped shape the legislative reform that bought about Police and Crime Commissioners. Immediately following the first elections he joined the first Bedfordshire PCC, where he led on strategic policy and supported governance in the dual role of Director of Policy and Deputy Chief of Staff.

Simon is the interim Chief Executive for the Dorset PCC and the interim Adviser to the current Bedfordshire PCC leading on a project to support the frontline and deliver better working conditions for officers and staff.

3 Responses to “100 days to the PCC elections: Candidates, here’s how you win…”

  1. Barrie Sheldon says:

    Excellent article Simon which certainly resonates with me.

  2. Peter Mc says:

    I echo the view above, really excellent piece. I just wish it might be read more widely, so many more people need to understand the role and this article is a great expose. Balanced, informative and challenging.

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