Sir Graham Bright reflects on two years in office

November 2012 saw the first elections of Police and Crime Commissioners in England as part of the Government’s drive towards increasing local control and accountability.

Sir Graham Bright, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire, reflects on his two years in office and looks ahead to the challenges facing modern policing in the years ahead.

A NEW START

Taking a step into the unknown is always daunting. This is particularly true when taking on a new, high profile, role that did not previously exist.

I found myself in such a position in November 2012 as I became Cambridgeshire’s first Police and Crime Commissioner. Much has been made of the poor turnout at the Police and Crime Commissioner elections and I still feel that the elections were at the wrong time (November instead of the traditional May alongside local elections) and were not properly promoted.

However, I was pleased to be elected and set about getting on with it.

So what does a Police and Crime Commissioner do? I see my role as having two broad areas.

Firstly to represent the public, ensuring the voice of the people is heard and that the police are accountable to the public. I often have to remind people that I am not a police officer. I am a member of the public, but also accountable to the public. I need to understand the views of the public and ensure the police respond accordingly. I pledged to be the voice of the people and it is still a mantra I repeat at every opportunity.

Secondly, I am here to support and challenge the Chief Constable to provide effective and efficient policing services for the county. I do this by setting local police and crime objectives and publishing a Police and Crime Plan. I am responsible for the policing budget and agree with the Chief Constable how the budget will be spent. I then hold the Chief Constable to account for the delivery of the Police and Crime Plan within the budget I have set.

On taking up my new role I quickly discovered that I was fortunate to have an excellent Chief Constable in Simon Parr. In turn, he is supported by a strong management team resulting in a professional and well-motivated organisation. We were immediately able to work together to meet the challenges that lay ahead. This has not been the case in every part of the country and the reputation of Police and Crime Commissioners has suffered as a result.

As I am not part of the police and I felt it important that I did not base myself and my team at the Constabulary’s HQ in Huntingdon. This is why I am based in Cambourne. This enables me to keep a suitable separation between my office and the Constabulary and yet still maintain a good working relationship.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

One of the great advantages of Police and Crime Commissioners is the ability to make decisions and take quick action. Not having to make decisions by committee means that I can drive things forward quickly. My experience in government, particularly when managing then Prime Minister John Major’s office at No 10, has helped me in making decisions and pulling people together. Obviously, to begin with there was a steep learning curve and I took plenty of advice. Now, as my knowledge has grown, I am able to move forward in a number of areas that are important to me, important to the Constabulary and important to the people we serve.

When meeting people I am asked what difference have you made? I am always happy to explain and I hope people go away with a much higher opinion of me and the office I hold! Below are just some of the areas of work I am particularly proud of.

Victim’s support

Both the Chief Constable and I want to put victims of crime at the heart of policing. When the provision of victim support services moved from national to local delivery I was able to not only integrate the provision of services, but also to enhance them. This has been done by setting up a Victims’ Hub, run by the Constabulary rather than through a national contract. This is staffed by local people with local knowledge who understand the support services available and develop local solutions for victims.  Victim Care Co-ordinators assess victims of crime to determine the level of support they need and then help them in the most appropriate way, bringing in specialist services as required.

The services available for victims of domestic and serious sexual offences have also been boosted through grants I have given to Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid. Young victims will be able to access enhanced support through two new Young Person Independent Sexual Violence Advocates and a new post within the Sexual Assault Referral Centre will support the families of children who have been sexually assaulted.

The bereaved families of those killed on the county’s roads in fatal road traffic collisions are being supported by a local charity I have funded. The work of the charity’s volunteers not only saves Officer time but professionalises the support offered to families in what are often traumatic circumstances.

Mental health

I am particularly concerned for the welfare of those with mental health problems. When I first became Commissioner I was horrified that people with mental health problems sometimes ended up in the cells for the night when they should have been in hospital. We now have agreements in place between the Constabulary and health care professionals to ensure those with mental health issues are assessed and dealt with in the appropriate way.

On 3 November 2014 we went one step further with the signing of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat Declaration. This landmark agreement sets out how agencies that deal with people with mental health problems will work together to support those experiencing mental health crisis. Improved information sharing and partnership working, prevention and early intervention were just some of the commitments made. This is an agreement I am very proud of and was achieved in partnership with Maureen Donnelly, Chair of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The Victims’ Hub hosts Community Psychiatric Nurses known as Mental Health Pathfinder Case Workers to support those victims who appear to have significant mental health problems, and specialist support for exploited migrant workers.

Engagement

As part of my role in representing the public I am constantly gathering the views of the people and responding to their concerns. I receive a large number of telephone calls, e-mails and written correspondence. In the last two years I have received around 3000 pieces of correspondence. All correspondence is followed up and the individuals responded to. Topics are extremely varied and come from individual citizens as well as partners, government departments and other stakeholders.

I offer 1-2-1 meetings with anyone who wishes to speak to me at monthly surgeries and I also hold “street surgeries” where I visit towns and cities and speak to people on the street. My Outreach Worker extends my ability to engage with local groups, gathering opinions and feeding the intelligence back to me. Also, there is a high demand for my opinion from the media which I am pleased to do as it allows me to share the good work that is going on rather than just respond to criticisms of the police.

Supporting young people

I would like all young people get the best possible start in life and so have supported various initiatives that help divert young people away from a life of crime.

School forums – My Outreach Worker is running a series of forums in schools across Peterborough and Fenland which give students an opportunity to have their say on policing and crime. Sessions are held across Years 7, 10 and 11 discussing topics such as policing priorities, reporting crime, anti-social behaviour, hate crime and relationships with the police. Peterborough Rape Crisis are also delivering a session to determine young people’s understanding and perspectives of sexual violence. These sessions are not so much to educate as to listen to what young people have to say.

Although the majority of students involved do trust the police, it will often depend on the Police Officer and how they engage with each other. Many students feel they are treated differently, in a negative way, just because they are younger.

Police cadets – Cambridgeshire’s first Police Cadets scheme started in Peterborough in November 2014. The scheme promotes a practical understanding of policing among young people and encourages a spirit of adventure and good citizenship through volunteering in the community. The cadets meet once a week for two hours to take part in a mix of structured learning and physical activities based on nationally approved training.  In addition to the weekly meetings Cadets are expected to complete three hours of volunteering each month perhaps by supporting crime prevention initiatives or attending community events. This can count towards formal qualifications and evidencing voluntary work for the Princes Trust/ Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Each unit is supported by a team of volunteer leaders who are responsible for the cadet group and their weekly activities.

Youth fund – I set up a Youth Fund to engage young people in positive activities in their community in line with my Pledge in the Police and Crime Plan to ‘support work with young people to divert them away from a life of crime’. Charities and community groups can bid for grants of up to £2,000 through the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation. The projects must be related to activities that have the potential to reduce youth crime. www.cambscf.org.uk/pcc.html

Neighbourhood Alert system

Cambridgeshire is one of the areas that have adopted theNeighbourhood Alertsystem. This is an online, secure community messaging system that allows authorised administrators to log in and send messages to registered people in the community, members of Neighbourhood Watch and other schemes.   Launched in September 2013 it has had great success in growing its membership and joining up communications between the Constabulary and Neighbourhood Watch. Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s E-copsmessaging system, which uses the Alert platform, now has 12,000 subscribers who receive tailored updates on crime in their area.

Partnership working

The Constabulary continue to work with other agencies to keep people safe and tackle crime and disorder. Sharing information between organisations is vital to providing a coordinated response to those we deal with, particularly some individuals or families that have a number of issues. That is why I championed use of the ECINs system which allows partners to share information and task across agencies on a range of issues, including anti-social behaviour. Access is restricted to a small number of agencies but by using the system it is possible to identify occasions where a number of different agencies and working with the same individuals. They can then coordinate support for greater impact and greater efficiency.

Maintaining the front line

As part of the governments rebalancing of the economy the police have had to absorb their share of budget cuts. These cuts are likely to continue and the ambition is to protect the front line as much as possible. I am pleased that so far front line numbers have been maintained and cost reductions achieved through back office savings, the use of technology and through collaborating with other forces. However, the scale of future reductions needed means that nothing can be guaranteed.

 

THE FUTURE OF POLICING

There are many achievements I am proud of over the last two years. But the biggest challenges still lay ahead. These centre around the budget reductions faced across the public sector, including the police, which will have an impact on local policing in the future.

In 1829 Sir Robert Peel established the first full time, professional police force in London.

There are now 43 forces across the country which still adhere to the ethical principles established by Peel all those years ago which are referred to as “policing by consent”. Police officers are civilians in uniform. They exercise their powers to police other citizens with the consent of those citizens.

Policing by consent gives the police the legitimacy they need to do their job. It requires transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.

As Police and Crime Commissioner I focus on the same principles that Sir Robert Peel identified: legitimacy, transparency, integrity, accountability.

When I speak to people and ask them what is important to them, the most common theme is that they would like to see more visible policing. “There aren’t as many Police Officers around today as there used to be”. A lot of people have a nostalgic view of policing, influenced by television, with the classic view is of the “bobby on the beat” from the 1950’s and 60’s, the jovial policeman on his bicycle, “Dixon of Dock Green”.

Whether this was ever a reality is open to debate. However, the perception is certainly there. Today we find ourselves in a different time with different issues.

We are all familiar with terms such as “age of austerity” and “rebalancing the economy”.

We are expected to “do more with less”. In business terms we need to balance the books of the UK economy. We need to make sure that our expenditure does not exceed our income.

This requires cost reduction across the public sector and policing is no exception.

Police budgets have taken a big hit over the last few years and will continue to do so in the next few. I am currently working with the Chief Constable to save £21 million over the next four years.

Meeting these financial challenges requires strong leadership from my office and from the Constabulary.

We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. Achieving savings of this magnitude cannot be done by make small changes to current ways of working. It requires tough decisions to be made. It requires transformational change. It requires innovative thinking.

We could ask the people of Cambridgeshire to pay more in their Council Tax in order to plug some of the shortfall. However, I have made a Pledge not to add an additional burden onto the hard pressed people of Cambridgeshire and I intend to maintain that Pledge.

So how do we save £21 million and still maintain a police force people have confidence in?

One way is the adoption of new technology to improve efficiency. If I can use technology to maintain police numbers then I will.

In Cambridgeshire the Constabulary plans to fully embrace the new technologies available and is currently equipping every Officer with a computer tablet and smart phone. The programme has secured Home Office Innovation Fund money to roll the programme out to collaboration partners Hertfordshire Constabulary and Bedfordshire Police.

This is not just issuing new equipment. It is a root and branch redesign of all of the Constabulary’s systems, processes and structures which focuses on utilising technology to release Police Officers’ time, allowing them to spend more hours out in their communities. The direction of travel is to reduce the need for Officers to return to fixed bases, increasing their availability through the effective use of technology including mobile data devices.

The ultimate aim is to allow the public easier contact with the Police, at the same time enabling the Constabulary to become paperless allowing more efficient sharing of information across the criminal justice system. The Constabulary will be fully utilising the capabilities of tablet and smart phone technology.

Test results so far have shown that Officers can spend up to 25% more time out in the community rather than in an office filling in paperwork.

These changes allow us to reassess the buildings we need as there will be less demand for permanent bases for Officers to return to. The size, location and purpose of individual police buildings is being reviewed to ensure our infrastructure is both appropriate and affordable.

We are also reviewing the various ways that the public contact the police. We are constantly monitoring the 101 call service to improve its effectiveness. I am aware that some people experience delays with the service and we are looking at several ways of improving it. Many people prefer to contact the police online at a time convenient to them. Online facilities are being improved. And we are also trialling police “contact points”, having a regular, advertised police presence in places like supermarkets where people can go and talk to local Officers.

Another critical area of work, and one that will provide considerable efficiencies and, consequently, cost savings is our collaboration with Bedfordshire Police and Hertfordshire Constabulary. The three of us have committed to collaborating across a range of functions. We are already working together in areas such as Joint Protective Services which includes Roads Policing and the Armed Policing Unit, and Professional Standards. No area is off limits and we are looking at other areas where we could work together for greater efficiency.

Collaborating with other forces and sharing resources is the only realistic way of achieving the savings required without compromising the quality of the service provided.

This is also true of many of the specialist services provided which are shared across many counties. So, as well as uniformed officers there are large numbers of non-uniformed officers working across the region, keeping people safe. The Special Operations Unit focusses on tackling organised crime with regional, national and international connections. Tackling extremism, counter terrorism, organised crime gangs, drugs trafficking, modern day slavery are some of the areas targeted. The recent growth in Computer Enabled Crime, or cyber-crime, is also now coordinated centrally through a new unit at the Special Operations Unit.

MY COMMITMENT

The debate about the pros and cons of Police and Crime Commissioners will continue as we move towards the General Election in May 2015. Whatever the outcome, my commitment remains to do the job to the best of my ability and to serving the people of Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.

There remain tough times ahead with difficult decisions to be made as policing adapts to new ways of working. But readers can be assured that there is a professional and capable team in place to ensure we continue to deliver effective policing that the public can have confidence in. We will do this with integrity, transparency and will remain accountable to you, the public.

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Profile of Sir Graham Bright

Sir Graham Bright lives in Fordham, Cambridgeshire. He is married and has one son.

He was Parliamentary and Public Affairs Advisor to Safeway (Morrisons) for ten years until 1997 and in Local Government as a borough councillor for 14 years in Thurrock.  He also spent four years on Essex County Council.

Sir Graham was elected to Parliament in 1979 until 1997. During this time he won an award for “Most Motivated MP”.

Sir Graham became the longest serving Parliamentary Private Secretary having served in the Home Office, Department of the Environment, the Treasury and the Foreign Office. He became Parliamentary Private Secretary to Rt Hon Sir John Major, Prime Minister 1990 – 1994, during which time he accompanied the Prime Minister on trips to meet heads of state in China, Russia, India and Saudi Arabia. He attended all Cabinet meetings and organised the political operations in 10, Downing Street.

He has co-authored books on Small Businesses, Education and the future of Aviation and British Airports.

Sir Graham was knighted in 1994 and became Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party 1994-1997.

He is President of many charitable organisations in Luton including Mencap and the Choral Society.  He is a long-time member of the Scouts Association and a former Scout Leader as well as an Ambassador for the Girl Guides Association.

He Enjoys gardening, golf and public speaking.

 


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