Police commissioners: Role called to account by MPs

Sir Clive Loader talks to residents
Image caption Sir Clive Loader says people are starting to understand more about the PCC job role

Inside a community hall on the St Matthews Estate in inner city Leicester, the local police commissioner Sir Clive Loader was given some tough home truths.

"There's a bit of a phobia about the police here," he was told.

"The police are regarded as the enemy. The public enemy."

Those comments came from a female teacher from a part of the city with predominantly Muslim residents.

Sir Clive is Leicestershire's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and he's embarked on a charm offensive of the inner city to change those perceptions.

"I was amazed at the level of mistrust between the youth and the police," said the former RAF commander.

Role challenges

Seven months after the PCCs were elected, Sir Clive still feels there's much to do to explain the new role.

"But as I talk to communities, interest groups and so on, I think they now get it and understand what PCCs could, should and will do for them to make our communities safer," he told me.

"It's about creating confidence in the police and the ability of police commissioners to deliver."

It matters, because at Westminster some MPs aren't so sure every commissioner has got what it takes to do the job.

The Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Leicester East's Keith Vaz, has published an initial report on some of the teething problems faced in some police areas.

"Lincolnshire's been a particular concern. But also in Yorkshire, Northamptonshire and Kent. The problem is that what these PCCs actually do is still a mystery," he said.

His committee exposed the shambolic turn of events in Lincolnshire.

The new commissioner Alan Hardwick fell out with his chief constable and suspended him.

It ended in high court action, the reinstatement of the chief, the resignation of the head of the county's police scrutiny board and huge costs which the Lincolnshire's PCC office will have to pick up.

The police commissioners were elected on the lowest national turn-out on record last November. Keith Vaz is now asking if the role is making any impact on the people the commissioners are supposed to serve.

Also the Home Office is now floating the idea of devolving more powers to the commissioners, such as control over the 999 emergency services. In effect, to bring local fire, ambulance and police under the remit of a single directly-elected commissioner.

Image caption MP Keith Vaz has questioned the importance of the PCC role

But Sir Clive Loader for one, isn't so keen. It's not his priority.

"At the moment, I've got my hands full. I've been asked to do this job on behalf of the people who live in this area and it's a full-on job," he said.

"I've got to deliver on some hard and stretching targets. What's important is to concentrate on making sure this job works and not to constantly tweak it."

To the relief of Sir Clive, Leicestershire isn't in the basket case of PCCs being investigated by Keith Vaz's committee.

"Where there are problems, why should the electorate have to wait another three years before it can be sorted out at the ballot box," added Mr Vaz.

"There has to more robust local scrutiny and Home Office ministers have to be more prepared to answer questions in the Commons about the PCCs rather than evade them."

Mr Vaz is to raise the issue in a special Commons debate and confront the Home Office.

A second report is on its way from the Home Affairs Select Committee. Expect more recommendations from the committee to ensure greater commissioner accountability.