If the London model for Police Commissioners is the answer, what is the question?


By Jenny Jones AM, leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly

In the lead up to the election for police and crime commissioners, home secretary Theresa May told the country to look to London and Boris Johnson as an example of how well the policy was working in practice.

Old-school-copperHowever, a year after the abolition of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) and the installation of the mayor as the Police and Crime Commissioner for London, there is less transparency and accountability over the Metropolitan Police than before, and at a time when confidence in the police has taken a real hit.

Stephen Greenhalgh was appointed in June 2012 as a deputy mayor, to head up the mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). He didn’t get off to the best of starts at his first appearance before the Police and Crime Committee, the official body tasked in legislation with scrutinising MOPAC and holding it to account.

His performance has become a bit of a national joke: in a spirit of awe inspiring confidence he told the Met Commissioner he didn’t think it necessary for the commissioner to attend the meeting as planned, and then struggled to answer almost every question put to him.

In quite a short time, and in spite of a considerable amount of initial goodwill on the part of ex-MPA members who understood the difficulties of his post, he managed to alienate most of the Assembly and in addition, within a month, he had lost his two most senior policing advisors.

It’s not easy understanding MOPAC. The Assembly’s police and crime committee are the main people holding MOPAC to account, but they have yet to be told how many committees there are within MOPAC or who sits on them. I received one FoI response from MOPAC informing me it had no committees and all decisions were taken by the Deputy Mayor.

Having questioned this with various senior City Hall types I then received a ‘clarification’ the next day saying MOPAC did in fact have a joint panel with the Met.

Four non-executive advisors have been appointed to MOPAC but the Assembly – who was informed by text message of this – is still not clear what they or the deputy mayor’s principal advisor do. If all of MOPAC’s decisions are made by the deputy mayor and it has no formal decision making structures, then where is the transparency?

In the days of the MPA its committees met in public, papers were available in advance of the meetings and transcripts of what were discussed were available once the meetings were complete. Members of the public could even attend and speak on occasions.

In contrast, MOPAC held five Challenge Board meetings and launched the official consultation on the Police and Crime Plan before it sent a single email to the 781 members of the public who had signed up on their website to receive updates. Had any of the 781 been resident in Southwark or Lambeth then they may have missed their all important, one hour consultation event. Londoners deserve better than this.

Last week, when MOPAC sent out an email confirming registration to for a series of public events, they may have breached the Data Protection Act by including the names and addresses in the ‘To’ field, meaning each recipient could see the names and addresses of all the others. Since then some recipients have complained about subsequently receiving unsolicited emails and now the Information Commissioner’s Office plans to make further enquiries into this incident.

Meanwhile, Assembly Members face persistent problems in getting information or even responses to letters. MOPAC has a self set target to respond to enquiries within 20 working days and yet hasn’t been keeping a record of when they reply to letters.

I drew their attention to the fact a large majority of my letters or questions (85%) have taken more than 20 working days to get a response. In fact 57% of my letters or questions have taken more than 70 working days to get a response. This is despite my emailing the deputy mayor three times to express my concern about his office’s failure to reply to letters.

So a year after Boris Johnson was put in charge of the Met Police, Londoners have disengaged mayor, and a blunder-prone deputy mayor, who has yet to master his brief and who is incapable of replying to a letter within his own target timeframe.

London adopted the police and crime commissioner system months before the rest of the country, and the Assembly has far more power and resources for scrutiny than other police and crime panels will have, yet a year after its establishment we are still struggling to get simple information about MOPAC. All this at a time when the Met must find £500 million of savings by 2016.

It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

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