Furious police chiefs in the West mounted a fightback last night against a major report into the future of policing, with one local commissioner branding it “outdated”.
A political row blew up over the way the police forces in the West should be run in the future, in the wake of a report by Lord Stevens, the former head of the Metropolitan Police, which called for the scrapping of local constabularies, a national police force and a return to bobbies on the beat.
The sweeping reforms recommended by Lord Stevens’ Independent Police Commission, which was set up two years ago by the Labour Party, also included the scrapping of the Police Commissioners, who were only elected a year ago.
Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed the report, and said it would form the blueprint for a future Labour Government, although he said he couldn’t back the abolition of the 40-plus different county constabularies.
But those police commissioners in the West led the counter attack against Lord Stevens’ report, with one claiming it ‘lacked fizz’ and was disappointing, while another said Lord Stevens himself was essentially ‘yesterday’s man’.
Angus MacPherson, the Conservative politician elected as Wiltshire’s police commissioner, criticised Lord Stevens’ report.
“He was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police under the Labour government when crime rates were much higher than they are today,” he said.
“Though there may be merit in some of his suggestions, the report reflects the police service as it was several years ago, and so the recommendations are outdated.
“The expressed aim of the Stevens report is to create a police service that is democratically accountable.
“But he then proposes to remove all effective democratic accountability.
“Very few people were aware of their local police authority. Fewer still would have any awareness of the mish-mash of accountability proposed in this report.
“The possibility of a state police service is raised by Lord Stevens,” he added.
“I think the police should serve the people – not the state. Commissioners are already making large efficiency gains by sharing systems, processes and resources across the region.
“I am also doing the same thing with local authority partners within Wiltshire.
“We do not need a national or regional force. That is very much yesterday’s agenda,” he said.
Dorset’s police commissioner Martyn Underhill also said he was disappointed by the Stevens report.
“The threat to the future of Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, highlighted in a report by former Met Commissioner Lord Stevens, is of ‘acute concern’,” he said.
“After just one year, the system has hardly had time to bed in and needs more time to stabilise.
“The alternative proposals in the report are a throwback to the era of police authorities. PCCs are a game changer in that they are directly elected politicians responsible for overseeing policing. Any alternative model must embrace that principle and continue to give the public a voice.
“I disagree with Lord Stevens in that the model is systematically flawed.
“Where is the evidence? PCCs across the country are making a difference.
“We are more accountable, more visible and are making huge strides in changing the Criminal Justice landscape.
“Lord Stevens has missed the most important opportunity of our generation to re-shape policing for the better.
“The report recommends numerous initiatives which have been implemented, or are in the process of being implemented.
“This long-awaited report lacks any fizz and is clearly not the vintage that many were expecting,” he added.
Lord Stevens said that despite some doing good work “the current PCC model appears to be failing to deliver”.
He added: “Over the past year there have been well-documented problems with how the PCCs have appointed their staff, how they handle their relationships with chief officers.”