Government to make combined authority mayors, Mayor of London and Police and Crime Commissioner elections ‘first past the post’, look to mandate transfer of fire and rescue functions to PCCs

The Government is to change the voting system for all Combined Authority Mayors, the Mayor of London and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to ‘First Past the Post’, the Home Secretary has announced this week.

Priti Patel claimed the move, which will require primary legislation, was in line with the Government’s manifesto and reflected the rejection of transferable voting systems in the 2011 referendum.

The proposed change to voting was contained in a written ministerial statement given by the Home Secretary on proposals to make PCCs more accountable to the communities they serve. These arose after completion of part 1 of a review of the PCC role ahead of the May 2021 elections. Part 2 will take place after those elections.

These proposals also include:

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  • Amendment of the Specified Information Order to require PCCs to provide a narrative on their force’s performance against the Government’s crime measures, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) force performance reports.
  • Work with the College of Policing, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and National Police Chiefs’ Council to build on the Accountability Guidance already in place, “including in relation to the performance management of Chief Constables, to help to promote and embed a positive relationship between Chief Constables and PCCs”.
  • Consultation on potential changes to the Policing Protocol Order 2011 “to provide a ‘brighter-line’ on the boundaries of operational independence and reflect changes in the relationship between the parties to the Protocol which have taken place over time”.
  • Amendment of Section 38 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, “to make the Chief Constable dismissal process more rigorous and transparent”.
  • Addressing of the HMICFRS recommendations included in its ‘Leading Lights’ (September 2019) report, looking into the role of the College of Policing in the senior recruitment process.
  • “To improve scrutiny”, work with the Local Government Association (LGA) to develop a good governance training package for Police and Crime Panels.

The first part of the review concluded that more should be done to ensure that all PCCs adopt best practice. The Home Secretary made further recommendations on improving the resilience of the Office of the PCC including:

  • Development of a comprehensive set of non-statutory guidance on the core elements of the PCC role.
  • The bringing forward of legislation to mandate that each PCC must appoint a Deputy. In the interim guidance will be issued requesting Commissioners to put in a place a formal succession plan to deal with vacancy and incapacitation.
  • Consultation in part 2 of the review on giving PCCs a general power of competence, “to potentially help PCCs with the role they play in the wider crime and criminal justice landscape, and will consider partnership arrangements more fully.”

In relation to fire and rescue services, Patel said the review findings “signalled strong support for a directly elected individual taking on fire functions to help simplify and strengthen the governance of fire and rescue services across England”.

The Home Office will accordingly launch a consultative White Paper on fire reform later this year, which will explore the review proposals on fire governance including:

  • Consulting on whether to mandate the transfer of fire and rescue functions to the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner model across England where boundaries are coterminous, unless there is an option to transfer fire governance directly to an elected Mayor.
  • Consulting on how to address coterminosity challenges, including in the South West.
  • Legislating to create operational independence for Chief Fire Officers and to clearly separate and delineate strategic and operational planning for fire and rescue.
  • Considering options to clarify the legal entities within the PFCC model.

With regard to mayoral devolution, the Home Secretary said the review had cemented the Government’s view that the join up of public safety functions under a combined authority mayor had the potential to offer wider levers to prevent crime.

She said the Government would take steps to remove barriers to more mayors taking on these functions and would work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to develop the forthcoming Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper with that longer-term trajectory in mind.

Patel said part two of the review will focus on longer-term reforms and the potential for wider efficiencies to be made, with a view to implementation ahead of the 2024 elections.

The Home Secretary said: “Police and Crime Commissioners play a crucial role as the elected voice of the people for crime and policing, which is why I am committed to ensuring they are accountable to the communities they serve and are strong, visible leaders in the fight against crime.

“These recommendations, once implemented, will strengthen and potentially extend the role of PCCs and help them deliver the safer streets that the British public deserve.”

Responding to the Home Secretary's announcement, Cllr Ian Stephens, chair of the LGA’s Fire Services Management Committee, said: “We are disappointed that the Government is looking to mandate transfers of fire governance to Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), but we are glad to have an opportunity to feed into the consultation on transferring governance to PCCs.

“Local areas are best placed to make decisions on how they are governed and councillors who sit on English fire and rescue authorities do a tremendous job. The LGA believes there is no pressing need to change this status. The fire and rescue service is one of the best and most trusted public services that we have, and one we should cherish.

"We do not believe that new legislation is needed to introduce operational independence for Chief Fire Officers. However, we recognise that both officers and councillors have distinct and complementary roles to play in delivering services to their communities. We look forward to working with the Government to feed into the White Paper as it progresses.”

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