In the same week that Devon and Cornwall Police’s Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer went public with threats to take legal action against local NHS bodies over their chronic shortage of beds for mental health patients, our Police Commissioner’s failure to deliver a viable updated Policing plan slips by almost unnoticed. The Chief Constable ought to know better than to get stuck into the huge political argument over NHS under-funding and their lack of resources, and he should get on doing what he does best; delivering the most effective policing he can. But raising and addressing with government and other public authorities the threats that constrain our ability to cut crime and keep our people safe is exactly what our new Police Commissioner Alison Hernandez should be focused on.
Instead at last week’s Police and Crime Panel meeting, the Chair was forced to describe Ms Hernandez’s submission on her updated Policing Plan as a damp squib, and about “as much use as David Cameron’s re-negotiated UK relationship with the EU”. She presented 48 pages of waffle which much disappointed the assembled Councillors. With barely a mention any findings of the critically important Peninsula Strategic Assessment and other Community Safety Partnership work, Ms Hernandez appeared to expect the event to be more “rubber-stamping” than scrutiny.
By any standards, the “formal consultation process” at the heart of her proposals was dismal. An on-line survey was made available on the PCC website and promoted by Facebook advertising that generated only 1360 responses. There were focus groups too; seven meetings attended by around 10 people, and 18 written submissions. Touching less than 0.1% of our population, this is hardly the way to demonstrate that this Police Commissioner can keep people safe by “Better Connecting Communities and Policing” which is now Ms Hernandez’s mantra. Spending over £31,000 on her PCC election expenses one could be forgiven for feeling that her allocation of only £4800 to this consultation is paltry in the extreme. Let’s not forget that we have elected Ms Hernandez to guide the expenditure of over £900m on policing over her 4 year tenure.
As the Labour candidate in last May’s election for a new Police Commissioner, I am well aware of the complexity of this role and that the nature of policing is changing. That’s why I was able to publish a proper manifesto setting out Labour’s approach to this vital role, not just a few vague pledges. Our PCC needs to be prepared to take brave decisions about the future of policing in Devon and Cornwall, because of the huge cuts to funding that the Tory government has imposed. Ms Hernandez, elected to serve the people of Devon and Cornwall, must now set out clearly what services she will prioritise and how she will hold the Chief Constable to account for his part of the bargain.