Getting It Right for Victims of Crime

Professor John W. Raine

In January the Coalition Government announced its proposal to transfer funding of Victim Support, the national charity that provides support to victims of crime, to the soon-to-be-elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) for each force area of England and Wales.  The idea of ‘local commissioning’, of course, fits well with the wider ‘localism’ agenda but has raised fears of inconsistency in service provision (especially if PCCs choose to spend their money on more electorally attractive issues), of lower professional standards (through fragmentation of training) and increased administrative costs (with forty two local management structures rather than one national one).  Unsurprisingly, Victim Support is strongly opposed to the proposals.

However, there is a strong case to be made for a mix of both national and local commissioning.  National commissioning by the Ministry of Justice (of a universal support service for victims and witnesses) is vital to the maintenance of existing high standards.  In this respect, Victim Support is best placed to provide the service – having all the experience and the systems infrastructure in place for receiving referrals from the police of all reported crimes and making contact to offer support.  But there is much to be gained by also empowering local Police and Crime Commissioners to ‘top up’ this national base-line service by procuring services at the local level tailored to area-specific needs, for example, in crime hot-spots, and in localities beset by certain offences, such hate crime.

Most important, it is to be born in mind that a significant proportion of crime goes unreported to the police and therefore there are many victims of crime who se contact details are not known to Victim Support yet who would benefit from receiving support.  Domestic violence is particularly relevant here.  A recent ‘MumsNet’ poll of 1,600 users revealed that 83 per cent of women who had been victims of rape or serious sexual assault had not reported their victimisation to the police.

For this reason, ‘out-reach’ work in local communities needs to form a vital element of any comprehensive strategy for supporting victims, alongside national police referral systems to Victim Support.  Local commissioning by PCCs could help identify and meet particular local needs for support among victims who do not report to the police for whatever reason.

Recently, INLOGOV undertook evaluative research for Victim Support on a series of such ‘out-reach’ projects, some involving the establishment of community ‘drop-in centres’ (where no prior reporting or appointments are needed), and others deploying specialist workers in domestic violence and hate crime and operating in particularly disadvantaged neighbourhoods[1].  A key lesson from the research is that local commissioning of such community-based victim support services can usefully complement the national framework of provision from Victim Support in ‘getting it right for victims of crime’.

John Raine is Professor of Management in Criminal Justice at INLOGOV, University of Birmingham.  He has been involved in criminal justice research, consultancy and teaching at Birmingham for some twenty-five years and has a strong track record of commissions for the Home Office, Lord Chancellor’s Department/Department for Constitutional Affairs/Ministry of Justice on aspects of policy and practice within the criminal (and civil) justice sectors).


[1] The findings from this research are summarised in Raine JW, Merriam M, Beech A, and A Sanders (2012) ‘Reaching Out: Improving Access for Victims of Crime’, London: Victim Support.

Hilary Benn – not always so brilliant, or even believable

Chris Game

“Later, I heard that Hilary Benn had been appointed [as a Minister for International Development in a 2003 Blair reshuffle]. Lucky old Hilary. That’s the second time he’s stepped into my shoes, but I can’t complain. He’s brilliant.”

Deliverer of this unusually effusive politician’s compliment was the actor playing Chris Mullin, the former Sunderland Labour MP and junior minister, whose well-received diaries were recently adapted into one of the more surprising of recent London theatre hits, A Walk On Part: The Fall of New Labour.

Well, with due respect to Mr Mullin, his hero hasn’t been so brilliant – or even, apparently, honest – in his attempts to spin this year’s council tax figures to his party’s advantage.

On April 16, Mr Benn, Labour’s Communities and Local Government Spokesperson, posted a news items on Labour’s official website, headed ‘New figures reveal residents in Labour areas pay less council tax than in Tory or Lib Dem areas’.

Nothing remarkable there, I agree.  It could have been an early April headline from pretty well any year since Labour decided that tax-raising was an embarrassing activity for a social democratic party to be engaged in.  Still, I did wonder where the ‘new figures’ came from, as the only ones I knew of that analysed by political control were those helpfully produced by Matthew Keep in the House of Commons Library (Council Tax 2012/13 – Standard Note: SN/SG/6276).

As a politician, Mr Benn sees no need to source his ‘new figures’ or the ‘research’ that produced them, but they are at such variance with those of the Commons Library – as in the table reproduced below – that they are worth comparing, or contrasting, more closely.  It may be, of course, that Mr Benn’s data are somehow more complete than those in the table, or maybe differently calculated – in which case it’s a particular shame that we weren’t informed.

Benn: ‘In Labour local authorities, the Band D council tax rate is £81 lower than in Tory areas and £42 lower than in Lib Dem areas’.
Commons Library: Wrong.  In ALL Labour authorities – all types and therefore all collectively – average Band D council tax is HIGHER than in Conservative authorities and, higher too than in Lib Dem authorities, with the exception of London borough, of which they control just two.

Benn: ‘Households in Labour-controlled authorities pay on average £220 less per year than those in Tory areas and £101 less than those in Lib Dem areas’.

Commons Library: Partly wrong. Households in Labour-controlled London and metropolitan boroughs and unitaries do pay less on average than those in Conservative areas, but the difference is much less than £220 p.a., and in shire areas those in Labour-controlled districts pay slightly more. Comparisons with Lib Dem authorities vary more by type of authority.

None of this, it should be emphasised, is surprising.  Indeed, the surprise would be if the picture painted by Mr Benn’s figures really were true. The truth, however, is that this is one of the more irritating ritual arguments in which the major parties engage every year in the period between council tax-setting and the local elections. It has become an inevitable by-product of the way in which our unreformed tax system works – as I sought to explain in this space last April.

The tax base for council tax is a ratio system centred around Band D: Band A paying 6/9 (2/3) of Band D; Band B 7/9, and so on up to Band H paying 18/9 (2x) of Band D. Councils calculate their tax base by weighting the number of dwellings in each band to Band D, and report their budget headlines in terms of ‘Council tax for council services (Band D)’.

Band D has thus become a benchmark for comparative purposes, and it is therefore perfectly reasonable that the Conservatives tend to use it – as they could with this year’s Commons Library figures – to claim that average Band D tax rates are normally lower in Conservative than in Labour or most Liberal Democrat areas.

Reasonable, but disingenuous. Not so much because only a small minority of properties (15% in England) are actually in Band D, but because, exacerbated by the absence of any revaluation since 1991, the mix of property bands across authorities and regions nowadays varies starkly. In my own authority of Birmingham 56% of properties are in Bands A and B, and just 14% in Bands E to H combined. Neighbouring Solihull has 19% A and Bs and 41% E to Hs. In the North East there are 56% Band As, in the South East 9%, in London 3%.

All of which obviously means that, to raise a certain tax income in an authority with mainly Band A to C properties requires a significantly higher Band D tax than in one comprising many E to H properties. The average bills paid by tax payers will vary similarly – being generally higher than the Band D figure in affluent and Conservative-inclined areas, and lower in poorer or Labour-inclined ones.

Hence Labour’s equally disingenuous preference for using average tax bill figures as their political comparators.  North East: Average Band D council tax £1,525; average tax bill per household £1,072. South East: Average Band D council tax £1,475; average bill per household £1,381. As the anthropomorphic Russian meercat, Alexsandr Orlov, would confirm: simples!

Mr Benn, though, wasn’t finished. His ‘research’ had also revealed that more Conservative than Labour councils had rejected the Government’s one-off grant in exchange for freezing or reducing their council tax in 2012/13. “16 Tory councils have increased council tax this year, as opposed to 15 Labour councils”.

This really is foolishness, on several different levels. First, is Benn really suggesting the 15 Labour councils were wrong: that they should have cravenly fallen in with the Government’s capping policy and accepted the one-off grant, even if they judged it detrimental to their residents’ longer-term interests? If so, it’s interesting that we didn’t hear more about it at the time, when Eric Pickles and his fellow Ministers were positively bullying Conservative councils into obedience.

Second, aren’t the numbers of councils controlled by the respective parties just a tiny bit relevant here?  The Conservatives have roughly two-and-a-half times as many as Labour, which makes the 16-15 comparison look a bit lame.

Third, if Benn really is following Pickles’ line – that it was councillors’ moral duty in these austere times to freeze council taxes – it’s presumably worth taking account of the percentage increases imposed by the respective groups of offending councils, and how close they came to exceeding the 3.5% that would have triggered a referendum.

The full list was published by the Local Government Chronicle on March 21, and, by my calculation, the average Conservative council increase was under 3%, while Labour’s average – with 8 of their 15 going for the full 3.5% – was 3.27%.

Mr Benn’s brilliance, it would seem, is more in the field of international relations than local government finance.

Chris is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political  leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

Standards Codes: A Case of Motherhood and Apple Pie

Philip Whiteman

Whilst giving a lecture to a group of councillors at a summer school last year, I explained how the Localism Bill could result in some authorities abandoning their codes of conduct for reasons of despair with the standards regime.  The response from councillors was enthusiastic and comments included ‘expensive, time consuming and irrelevant’.  Some predictably expressed the view that the ultimate judgement of what constituted poor behaviour would be subject to the ballot box.

Walk on stage, Baron Bichard of Nailsworth who took a very different view when introducing an amendment to the Bill in order to save the code.

“At a time when the public’s trust in politicians is at a low ebb, it is important that all public bodies have explicit standards of conduct, which make transparent how they will carry out their business and provide benchmarks against which they can be held to account.”

Bichard’s intervention and proposal was timely albeit rather late during the Bill’s progress through Parliament.  Without his amendment, local government would have made a backward step of forty years.  Quite why the government objected to the code is unclear but they clearly had a very short memory span.   The code was introduced following the Poulson corruption scandal of the early 1970s and eventually became a statutory requirement. It is true that the code did not rule out further scandals whether they be Donnygate, Shirley Porter orWalsall, but it has given existing councillors a handle on what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour – a situation further reinforced through the standards regime and most recently, the inclusion of the Nolan Principles into statute.

The Act is quite original in that it is probably the first piece of legislation that lists the Nolan principles, which must be adopted by each authority. However, the rest of the code has to be determined by each authority in the spirit of localism.  This is particularly problematic for authorities not willing to ever make a decision without receiving central government guidance, many of whom will have been waiting for some months by now.

So, from stage left and four months after the Act becoming statute, welcome the Local Government Association and Department for Communities and Local Government along with their new illustrative codes of conduct. Both of their anticipated documents arrived during April and within a week of each other.  This may be coincidental but it did rather resemble a rather unsightly race of one-upmanship or desperation between the two institutions.

Unfortunately, neither code is likely to generate much excitement and seem to be rather ‘motherhood and apple pie’ and lacking in substance – probably a result of disagreement and a rush to publish.

When comparing both documents, one could easily question whether the institutions are addressing the same legislation.  Just taking three examples:

  • CLG’s illustrative code fails to list the Nolan principles (remember that was a requirement under the Act).
  • The LGA acknowledges that others should be treated with respect but the CLG code does not.
  • CLG incorporates narrative on the new Disclosable Pecuniary Interest – but this totally ignored within by the LGA

And the list could go on.

Monitoring Officers and their councillors have gained a tremendous experience over the past few years from the work in developing standards codes.  They will know what works and what does not.  True, existing codes will need to change and reflect the legislative requirements but my recommendation is that they reconsider the own existing codes rather than unquestioningly adopt the vagaries of either the CLG or LGA models.

Returning to my discussion with the group of councillors and their opposition to codes of conduct.   When challenged on how they would determine a breach of standards and how they would tackle an errant councillor, there was quick realisation that a code of conduct provides an essential framework for assessing poor standards and breaches of acceptable behaviour.  Unfortunately, I think those councillors will be sorely disappointed with the LGA or CLG examples.

Philip Whiteman is a Lecturer at the Institute of Local Government Studies.  He has research interests in the impact of central government and regulators on the role, service delivery and performance of local government and other local bodies.  He is currently looking at developing a case for researching how guidance is an important instrument for steering local government over and above legislative instruments.  He is also Editor of the journal Local Government Studies.

If Ministers want us to vote for mayors, why make it so hard?

Chris Game

Even allowing for all the undecideds and the “ooh-I’ve-not-heard-anything-about-it”s, opinion polls suggest that several, perhaps even most, of the ten referendums on May 3rd could produce Yes majorities for elected mayors. None suggest, though, that there isn’t everything still to play for. Why, then, are Government Ministers, who claim to want this potentially momentous change, making life so difficult for the Yes campaigners?

Two issues come up at every mayoral meeting: What additional ‘hard’ powers would a mayor in my city have? and How do we kick out one who’s no good? With the Localism Act offering little help, and Ministers even less, this blog attempts to provide some at least partial answers.

Powers were intended to be easy. In the original Bill, undefined additional powers – transferred ‘local public service functions’ – would go to mayoral authorities only. They were the bribe to get us to vote for the mayors that only false consciousness had prevented us realising we really wanted all along.

But the Lords crucially amended this bit of the Bill, enabling functions to be transferred to any ‘permitted authority’, provided the transfer “would promote economic development … or increase local accountability”.  The mayoral bribe had gone – replaced only by a thinly disguised code.

December’s Cabinet Office prospectus, Unlocking Growth in Cities, stated that cities wanting significant new powers and funding would “need to demonstrate strong, visible and accountable leadership and effective decision-making structures” –universally interpreted as having an elected mayor.

This document launched the Government’s policy of ‘City Deals’ – bespoke packages of new powers, projects and funding sources, negotiated with the leaders of individual cities, in exchange for an agreement to work with the Government, the private sector and other agencies to unlock these cities’ “full growth potential”.

It sounds encouragingly localist – until you realise the Catch-22.  Ministers want to negotiate individual city deals with elected mayors; they can’t say what any specific deal will comprise without knowing who they’ll be negotiating with; but voters, unless they know the likely content of their deal, are much less likely to opt for mayors.

Though inconvenient, this logic might just be acceptable, had Ministers themselves not completely ignored it in publicising early deals with one city still to elect a mayor and another outspokenly opposed to the whole idea.

Ministers could yet decide, as was hinted at before the Budget, to reveal some meaningful detail about the discussions already held with the leaderships of other referendum cities, but it now seems unlikely.  Yes campaigners, therefore, must make the most of the Liverpool and Greater Manchester deals that we do know about – by no means, as it turns out, too discouraging a task.

Liverpool’s city deal was announced on February 7th – the same day as the Labour Council, bypassing its electorate, took the decision itself to have an elected mayor who, once elected on May 3rd, would lead its implementation.

All involved insisted, however, that the deal was not dependent on the city having a mayor – which means that any city whose electors have actually voted for a mayor will surely expect to negotiate a deal worth proportionately at least as much as Liverpool’s.

Liverpool Council’s website headlines the deal’s additional economic development money as initially £130 million – “including £75 million of new money from government” – with the potential to grow to between £500 million and £1 billion.

Other goodies include: an Environmental Technology Zone, with the resulting growth in business rate income going to the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and five Mayoral Development Zones; a Mayoral Investment Board to oversee the city’s economic and housing strategy; and a Secondary School Investment Plan to build 12 new secondary schools.

Sceptics will, entirely reasonably, note the big questions here barely even addressed. How much of all of this is genuinely new money, as opposed to money that would have come to Liverpool anyway from existing or abolished funding sources?  How much of this city deal has to be shared with the city-region LEP? How much freedom of action will the Mayor have to do things that Ministers don’t like? And, of course, the perennial question of additional revenue-raising, as opposed to capital-raising, powers.

However, even to Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool FC, £500 million-plus is hardly loose change. Moreover, most of what relatively little criticism there has been of the package came, significantly, only after the announcement of Greater Manchester’s deal, whose ‘earn back’ tax provision – the first allowing local government to take directly a slice of national taxes – was rightly acknowledged as a genuinely ground-breaking policy innovation.

Importantly, Manchester’s is not a deal with the City Council, but with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) – the strategic authority for all ten Manchester boroughs, whose statutory city region status is clearly accepted by Ministers as having at least the strength and accountability of a city mayor.

Under the deal the GMCA will invest £1.2 billion in infrastructure to promote economic growth, and – the headline bit – will be able to earn back up to £30 million of the extra growth-generated tax revenues to reinvest in a revolving infrastructure fund, in which the money is returned on a payment-by-results basis.

The whole deal aims to create and protect a total of over 6,000 jobs, with other provisions – including devolution of the Northern Rail franchise, 6,000 more apprenticeships, a low carbon hub, and up to 7,000 new homes through a Housing Investment Board – detailed on the DCLG website.

Its total potential impact on the city and regional economy is huge, and, exceptional as the GMCA may be, this publicised deal has to be seen as a massive precedent, and, surely, a major addition to the Yes campaigners’ armoury.

Removal of mayors should also have been settled by now. In its Impact Assessment in January 2011, the Government asserted (p.9) that, if mayors were going to exercise additional powers and freedoms, the accountability regime should include a recall mechanism – to be introduced “at a later date … having considered the issue alongside proposals for recall for other public officials.”

It would have been useful had Ministers reminded voters of this pledge and given some vague hint of when the “later date” might arrive. Still, it remains Government policy, and the answer, therefore, to the question: “If we’re going to directly elect a mayor, how can we directly unelect a rubbish one?” is that, by the time the possibility arises, some recall mechanism should, as promised, be in place.

But what kind of mechanism?  The Warwick Commission Report on Elected Mayors seems to suggest that “an appropriate recall process”, enabling the removal of a mayor “in extremis”, might be one exercised through a no confidence vote by the full council (pp. 10,34). Which is not dissimilar to the Government’s current attempt to introduce a recall mechanism for MPs, controlled by other MPs, rather than by voters – and rapidly unravelling as a consequence, which probably explains why Ministers are keeping so stum about recall for mayors.

In what is supposed to be a major extension of direct democracy, “an appropriate recall process” would seem logically to be one in which voters are the key players. A set percentage of a disgruntled electorate sign a petition, and thereby trigger a recall vote in which those same electors are asked if they want their mayor to be recalled, with a Yes vote triggering in turn a by-election.

Finally, there is the in extremis issue. The Recall of Elected Representatives Bill – the one introduced, regrettably, not by the Government, but as a Private Member’s Bill by Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith – proposes that recall should kick into action not in extremis, but in any circumstances in which representatives lose the confidence of their electorate: if, say, they’ve acted financially dishonestly or disreputably, intentionally misled the body to which they’ve been elected, broken promises made in an election address, or behaved in a way likely to bring their office into disrepute (Clause 1(2b).

It’s almost certainly not what Ministers have in mind, but I bet it wouldn’t half boost the Yes vote on May 3rd and maybe even the turnout.

Chris is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political  leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

Elected Mayors: Prospects for Change

Ian Briggs

The imperfections in our local democratic systems have for seemingly ever been a source of attention and fascination for researchers though the popular attention given to the abandonment of the old committee system and the introduction of a cabinet form of local governance has rarely sparked the imagination of the average citizen. Until now perhaps – with the advent of the powerful local mayor, he or she may provide an individualised loci of attention for local people, businesses and other metropolitan institutions.

The recent Warwick Report does introduce a few more interesting and potentially problematic issues to the ones that are aired in the popular media – the assumed acceleration of inward investment, questions around the role of the necessary ‘close political advisers’ that mayors need and not least the risk of opening the door to single issue or extreme perspectives. This latter point puts me in mind of some years ago the popular support for the executive mayor in Oslo being elected on an anti Gypsy platform.

The pragmatic part of me says that we are likely to resist this given the relative power of our two/three party system. However, the question of are we to have elected mayors or not seems to overshadow the more important question of what do we as citizens want our elected mayors to do? So far there has been little debate on this perspective – here I might suggest a list of things that should occupy them from the start;

1. The drought – we used to call them the ‘water rates’; in that we paid them as a local tax much like the rates on our properties but with shift towards the ‘consumer or customer citizen’ we pay a consumer charge to what is often a non UK based company that returns a healthy profit. True, some of the profit is returned to the country as tax but the business strategy of the provider company is their own concern and they set priorities as they see fit. Could a powerful elected mayor make life so uncomfortable for these ‘businesses’ that they change their operating mechanisms and place more emphasis upon infrastructure renewal and prevent the leakages of supply? Perhaps the mayor could set an example by only showering every other day too?

2. Winter weather – could a powerful mayor reduce to an absolute minimum the gritting and salting of urban roads? Certainly there will be a knock on effect in increased minor (slow speed) traffic accidents and  for many slower journeys to work and the shops. Could they then redirect the gritting to the pavements making it easier for people to walk? A&E departments live in dread of icy and snow covered pavements where especially older residents slip and fall and cost the country untold millions in hip replacements and that is without considering the pain and suffering caused being reduced.

3. Co-production – I have to admit I am a fan of this and I would like to see powerful mayors set an example – they are going to be very busy people so despite having huge pressures on their diaries I would want to elect a powerful mayor who makes the commitment to only work in the role for four days a week – the other two (for they should only have one day off over the week end) they should don overalls and go litter picking and undertake graffiti removal from our underpasses and urban streets. The second day they should apply their culinary skills and help feed the needy and disadvantaged who live below the line. This would really set an example – and here’s the clever bit – when they seek re election we judge them on their co production performance and not on some spooked up external performance measure.

Somehow I feel that we are replacing one imperfect system with another – it won’t be many months into a new breed of metropolitan mayors taking office before we see them falling into all old systems of operating and the perpetuation of the media, academics and politicians of all hues pointing out what they are doing wrong and calling yet again for a change for the better in the way that we citizens are represented.

Ian Briggs is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Local Government Studies.  He has research interests in the development and assessment of leadership, performance coaching, organisational development and change, and the establishment of shared service provision.