Q794: Can you tell me about Police and Crime Panels?
The Police and Crime Panel is a scrutiny body, acting as a critical friend to commissioners. However, it does have some important, if limited, decision making powers in that it can veto the precept and the chief constable appointment. These are powers that the Police and Crime Panel can use as a last resort. It is anticipated that the relationship between the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Police and Crime Panel will be one of support and challenge.
Role of Police and Crime Panel
The role of the Police and Crime Panel is to advise and scrutinise the work of the Police and Crime Commissioner, with a view to supporting the effective exercise of the functions of the police and crime commissioner.
The local authority or authorities in a police area in England are to establish and maintain the police and crime panel, which is to be a committee of the authority or authorities.
A Police and crime panel must make its own rules of procedure. Regardless of these, there are certain functions which may only be exercised by the panel as whole, and not by a sub-committee of the panel. These are the functions of scrutinising the police and crime plan, the annual report, the precept and the appointment of a chief constable, deputy police and crime commissioner, chief executive, or chief finance officer. All members of a panel may vote in its proceedings.
A police and crime panel must -
(a) review or scrutinise decisions made, or other action taken, by the relevant police and crime commissioner in connection with the discharge of the commissioner's functions; and
(b) make reports or recommendations to the relevant police and crime commissioner with respect to the discharge of the commissioner's functions
Make up of the panel
Police and Crime Panels will comprise of one elected representative (councillors and, where relevant, elected mayors) from each local authority within the force area and two independent members or co-optees . There must be a minimum of ten elected representatives therefore in those areas that have fewer than ten local authorities, each authority will be required to send one member with the remaining seats to be negotiated locally and filled by the member authorities. Both top-tier and district councils will need to be represented on the Police and Crime Panel. It will be the first time district councils have formal involvement in policing governance. Independent members could, for example, be experts in their field, or representatives of community organisations (e.g. the voluntary sector), or appointed on the basis of other relevant knowledge and skills. The intention is to allow Police and Crime Panels and member councils to decide what membership works best for their force area, taking into account the legislative framework and the balanced appointment objective. The balanced appointment objective states that in appointing panel members local authorities must as far as is practicable consider the make-up of the local areas, including the political make-up, and the required skills, knowledge and experience for the panel to function effectively. Once established, panels will be free to co-opt further members, both elected and independent, where required, up to a maximum panel size of twenty.
Councillors and the panel
Being a councillor is what makes the person eligible for appointment to a Police and Crime Panel, but the person does not act in their capacity as councillor when serving on the Police and Crime Panel. Serving on the Police and Crime Panel is not part of their local authority duties, any more than if they were appointed to any other public office in tandem with being a councillor. Any legal liability of a member of a Police and Crime Panel arising from the exercise of the Police and Crime Panel's functions is borne by the Home Secretary and not the member.
Political conflict between local authority and PCC
Local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners both have the same overarching aim which is to respond to the needs of their local communities. With this principle in mind it should be possible for both parties to work together to address any perceived areas of conflict.
Disagreement between local authority and PCC
The Home Secretary will have powers (to be exercised as a last resort) to intervene where local authorities have failed to nominate members to the Police and Crime Panel, or have collectively failed to establish a Police and Crime Panel. It is not expected that these powers will be needed, but the Police and Crime Panel is a critical part of the model and so it is considered important to ensure that arrangements are in place should the Police and Crime Panel fail to form.
Local authority budget
Local authorities are free to use their own budgets to resource the Police and Crime Panel as they see fit, although central funding is being provided to deliver the function described in legislation. It is up to local areas to work out how they want their Police and Crime Panel to function although the legislation sets out a framework for this. Police and Crime Panels are not replacement police authorities. They do not have the same powers or responsibilities. They will be a critical friend to the Police and Crime Commissioner, providing as much support as challenge, so when considering how to develop their local Police and Crime Panel, areas should consider examples of scrutiny good practice.
The Home Office will provide funding to help panels to do the job required of them under the legislation. This funding will be a total of £53,300 for support and running costs. In addition they will make available up to £920 per member of the panel (including additional co-optees ) to fund necessary expenses.
The Police and Crime Commissioner is tasked with gathering the views of the local community on policing and crime and incorporating these into their police and crime plan. Police and Crime Panels will have a role in reviewing that plan and ensuring that local priorities have been considered.