Crime on the high street goes missing

John Raine

For almost two decades now the statistics for recorded crime in England and Wales have been falling.  And even though there has always been a difference, of some magnitude, between the numbers gathered through the British Crime Survey – a large-scale sample of the public’s experiences of crime victimisation – and the (persistently smaller) statistics compiled by the police, there has been broad agreement at least in the downward trend.

No doubt this has given much cause for encouragement within government, particularly in these recent years of economic recession when most criminologists had been predicting a reversal in the trend – at least for acquisitive crime.   The official statistics suggest this has simply not happened.  But have we been seeing the whole picture, it must be asked?

Probably not, would be one conclusion to be drawn from a recent report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) – a report that draws attention to the considerable scale and growth of crime on our High Streets.  The statistics (annually collected by BRC) and were based on surveys of just thirty retailing organisations.  But they were among the largest such enterprises, together accounting for just over half of national retail turnover.  They show 2012/13 to have experienced among the highest levels of shop-theft for nine years, with a total of more than 631,000 such incidents recorded, and at a cost to the retail industry of around £511 million last year.

But then come the most surprising revelations – that just 9 per cent of these crime incidents were ever reported to the police, and that the reporting rate here was 12 per cent lower than in the preceding year, 2011-12.  Here then, appears to be a very different perspective on crime in Britain in a recessionary period.  Certainly the low reporting rate to the police indicates that the official crime statistics miss a significant proportion of acquisitive crime, and the suggestion in the report is that the main reason lies in diminishing confidence in the police to respond.

This latter point, of course, is hardly new – the British Crime Survey has consistently found high levels of non-reporting of petty crime to be due to lack of public confidence in the police to respond, still less to be able to apprehend the offender and recover any lost property.  For most people, we are told, the main value in reporting property crime to the police is to obtain a crime number to assist with an insurance claim.

But what of the situation on the High Street?  As well as arguing for improvements in the reporting and recording of shop-thefts and other retail crime, and for better law enforcement (from reporting through to prosecution), the BRC report presses the case for a more concerted focus on business crime by local police forces.  In this respect it is interesting to note from our own research here at the University of Birmingham that an analysis of the Police and Crime Plans – the statutory strategy documents produced last year by each Police and Crime Commissioner, and which establish the priorities for policing locally over a five year period – revealed that, while almost all included generalised commitments towards the reduction and prevention of crime, specific reference to High Street crime, or to initiatives to address the problems identified in the BRC report, were few and far between. Similarly, it was notable that, while around one in three of the Plans established the improvement of public confidence in policing as a priority to be addressed, very few references were to be found to the extremely low level of confidence in police responsiveness among retailers.

In light of this report, perhaps some further reflection is called for, both on our perspectives about crime trends and on the priorities for policing.

john raine

John Raine is Professor of Management in Criminal Justice at INLOGOV. 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.

Building public trust in policing? The contribution of Police and Crime Commissioners, one year on

John Raine

The ‘Plebgate’ saga, which has now drawn apologies to Andrew Mitchell from three chief constables, has once again raised questions about police integrity and dented public trust and confidence in policing more generally. Building such trust was, of course, one of the Coalition Government’s arguments for introducing Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) – and, as the first anniversary of those elections is now close upon us; it seems timely to consider what difference PCCs have so far made.

It was, we all remember, an inauspicious start; with an embarrassingly low electoral turn-out (averaging less than 12 per cent) because of poor advance publicity on the new PCC role; failure to provide most voters with candidate election leaflets, and choice of a November polling date when no other local or national elections were taking place. Moreover, matters seemed to get worse in subsequent months with critical media headlines concerning the appointment of deputy commissioners and youth commissioners; reports of disagreements and discord with chief constables, and discontent over policy priorities and budget decisions.

But one year on, with PCCs becoming established in their roles, the picture has begun to look rather more settled. It is, for sure, too soon to assess the impacts – beneficial and otherwise – of the new police governance framework. But a recent round of ‘stock-take’ interviews with a small sample of PCCs (including Conservative, Labour and Independent office holders), has highlighted at least two key respects in which the directly-elected model of governance already seems distinctly different from the previous regime of Police Authorities.

First: the new PCCs are giving much more priority to public engagement – they are out and about on a near daily basis, presenting themselves and taking feedback at council meetings, in open public meetings, and indeed, in shopping precincts and market squares around their (very large) patches. They are also all actively exploiting the potential of Facebook, Twitter and other social media in reaching-out and communicating and handling considerably more direct correspondence (email and post) and telephone calls from citizens. Their public profile is already much higher than that of Police Authorities.

Second: there is a stronger sense of ‘local leadership’ to their work. The Home Office has admirably resisted the temptation to try to drive the new system and impose its own perspectives and priorities on PCCs. Although cuts in all police budgets have been driven by reductions in Home Office grants, Westminster and Whitehall have generally allowed PCCs to get on with the job locally as each considers best. As a result, there is more diversity between the PCCs with regard to their approach and priorities in the role than was previously apparent with Police Authorities.

Relationships and accountabilities with chief constables and with other criminal justice and local governance agencies are intriguingly variable, as each PCC brings their own personality and preferred style to the role. Indeed, it is clear that the different career backgrounds and experiences of each PCC are colouring and shaping their approach to the role and their priorities.

By the time of the next PCC elections – scheduled for May 2016 – it will be interesting to gauge the significance and durability of these early signs of change towards stronger democratic engagement and local accountability, and to see what, if any, are the implications for public trust and confidence in policing. At least a more lively public debate and much higher turn-out are surely to be expected next time.


John Raine is Professor of Management in Criminal Justice at INLOGOV. 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.

Elected Councillors: How much influence and power are they able to exercise?

John Raine

What might we expect of the county councillors we elected yesterday? Will those elected be able to implement the various initiatives they have pledged in their campaigns? In this respect, we might reasonably be a tad sceptical for a number of reasons.

First, councils no longer occupy the core local policy-making role of previous times. Nowadays there is more emphasis on multi-agency partnering in local public policy-making so that key matters are often decided in conjunction with other local public, voluntary and private sector organisations. While this may be beneficial in ensuring more ‘joined up’ public services, without doubt it has weakened the power and influence of elected councillors.

Second, the ‘cabinet’ model, introduced a decade ago, under which an elite group of councillors lead on policy-making, has also disempowered other councillors. While some can be influential internally on scrutiny committees reviewing policy and holding the cabinet members to account, many others act mostly as ward representatives and without much opportunity at all to contribute to decision-making.

Third, many of the services are now provided as ‘shared services’ with neighbouring councils and other local public organisations; others have been contracted out or are tied up in long-term public-private-partnership arrangements. While this may have reduced costs, it has also become more difficult for individual councillors to be influential in relation to those services since any proposed changes have to be re-negotiated with other partners and may involve complex contractual issues that are expensive-to-unpick.

Fourth, the move by councils to establish front-line, multi-service, ‘customer contact centres’ and public websites that not only provide information but also allow the public to interact directly, e.g. reporting maintenance and other problems, has diluted the role of the councillor as conduit to getting matters remedied. Indeed, in the digital era of sophisticated telephony and CRM systems, the elected councillor may well be last to learn about the problems that previously they might have championed on behalf of the public.

Fifth, the on-going austere financial climate facing councils means that there are generally less resources for new initiatives unless there is the prospect of efficiency improvements and financial savings in return. Moreover, lack of money provides a convenient excuse for the political leadership and officers to say ‘no’ to other councillors whose ideas happen not to find favour.

Overall, then, one might conclude that, despite all the rhetoric from government about ‘localism’ and about the empowerment of councillors as community leaders, the power and influence of those we eleced yesterday to make a significant difference will unfortunately seem quite limited. But candidates for councillorship should not be deterred; ‘where there is a will there is a way’! And for those elected and with sufficient commitment and determination to confront the obstacles and to press their cases for change effectively, there is certainly much to be done to make councils work better and more for the benefit of those they represent.


John Raine is Professor of Management in Criminal Justice at INLOGOV. 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.

Horse-meat in beefburgers? Who says we are over-regulated?

John Raine

A recurrent theme of the political rhetoric from successive governments in recent times has been ‘deregulation’, ‘cutting bureaucracy and red-tape’.  Indeed the notions of ‘Smaller Government’ and of ‘curbing the nanny state’ have been key elements in the present Coalition Government’s programme since the outset in 2010.  But while perhaps politically canny to talk of ‘bonfires of regulations’ and sounding off about freeing individuals and businesses from the maize of red-tape and state bureaucracy, the reality, of course, is that governments mostly augment, rather than diminish, the ‘regulatory mountain’.  And why not?  After all, most of us would expect government to be acting in our collective interests to protect our health and wellbeing and to minimise our exposure to exploitation and harm.  The making and enforcement of regulations is something government must surely do in fulfilling its legitimate and important ‘guardian’ role.

The last few days have brought shocking reminders of the consequences of regulatory failure.  First the revelations of extraordinary lapses in public sector patient care and an awful catalogue of avoidable loss of life at Stafford hospital.  Now an unfolding saga of trading standards breaches and food safety concerns in the wake of the discovery of horse meat in some of our supposed beef products.  Exactly how long such fraud has been going on, and how widespread is the extent of contamination, remains to be seen.  But, understandably, questions are already being asked about the role of the regulators – in health care, trading standards and food safety, and both at national and local levels.  Could and should the malpractices have been identified earlier?  Are the inspection processes sufficiently robust and reliable?  At Stafford, we now know for sure that they were absolutely not; with the horsemeat scandal, we can presently only speculate, but given a scaling-down year-on-year in the intensity of regulatory inspection work generally, we might realistically suspect a similarly inadequate verdict.

That scaling-down trend – affecting both national regulatory bodies (e.g. the Health and Safety Executive, the Food Standards Agency and the Environment Agency), and local authority regulatory departments (e.g. for Trading Standards and Environmental Health) alike, has inevitably been fuelled by financial austerity and public sector budgetary parsimony.  But it has also been justified (at least internally by the regulatory organisations themselves) by developments in risk assessment that have claimed legitimacy for more targeted inspection programmes.  In essence, they have supported a shift from universally-applied regimes to approaches that focus on those particular activities and businesses where the consequences of serious harm (when things to go wrong) are greatest and/or where the track-record of compliance has been least impressive.

Rational-sounding though the idea of such risk-based regulation might sound, the recent scandals clearly bring into question their reliability in providing the level of public protection we might expect.  Indeed, because of the scaling-down of inspection regimes, increasingly it seems, regulatory interventions depend less on the watchful eye of the inspector and much more on public reporting of problems or whistle-blowing. More and more, they follow, rather than anticipate, the harms that the regulatory regimes were originally instituted to prevent.

And there is a growing body of research to evidence and substantiate all this.  Our own research (Raine and Lloyd, 2013), for example, conducted over the past three years on regulatory processes in local authorities of England and Wales, revealed a considerable transformation away from generally frequent, intensive and more or less universal inspection visits to local businesses to a regime that, for the vast majority of firms, is now characterised by infrequency, light-touch and selectivity.  Indeed, our research also identified a significant shift from ‘inspection visits’ as the prime mode of regulatory oversight to ‘self-assessment/self-regulation’ – something that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the business sector in the UK has long advocated.  Now, rather than the routine six-monthly, annual or biennial inspection, the typical business might perhaps expect to receive an occasional ‘self-completion/self-assessment questionnaire’ probably less frequently than annually – the value of which, in any case, would leave much to the conscientiousness and integrity of the respondent.

Even such ‘paper-based’ approaches to regulatory oversight seem, according to our research findings to be on the wane because of budgetary pressures.  In the case, for example, of trading standards in one rural county that we looked at, the use of self-assessment questionnaires (that had been in use for some time for all businesses categorised as “low risk”) was suddenly cut in 2008 to apply to new businesses only – meaning that, since that year, less than seventy returns per year have been received from the county’s portfolio of several thousand businesses.

Moreover, the reality of this less intense form of regulatory oversight was only reinforced in findings from a survey we undertook of a sample of businesses in the same county, and from which we found that hardly more than a third of retail businesses (34 per cent) recalled contact with a Trading Standards official in the previous three years.

Of course such results tell us very little about the actual consequences (or key outcomes) of such scaling-down in regulatory inspection work – for example of the extent of non-compliance, loss of protection or harm caused.  However, local regulators themselves reported to us on a sizeable increase in the incidence of ‘prima facie’ criminal breaches of Fair Trading legislation (by both “low and medium” risk businesses) over the same three year period, something they regarded to be a direct consequence of the lower-key regulatory approach.  With reduced levels of face-to-face contact with businesses, they pointed out, there is simply less opportunity for regulators to observe the problems first-hand, to explain the importance of compliance with standards or to reinforce messages verbally to business managers about the potential consequences.

Might Stafford and the horsemeat scandals be just the tip of an iceberg?  How concerned should we be about the scaling-down, if not abandonment of traditionally intensive regulatory inspection regimes?  Probably there will be a range of views on such questions.  But we surely can’t have it both ways; we can’t on the one hand grumble about ‘elf-n-safety’ red-tape and layers of governmental regulatory bureaucracy while, on the other, being shocked at further accounts, when finally uncovered, of abuses of standards, breaches of rules, injuries and worse.


John Raine is Professor of Management in Criminal Justice at INLOGOV.  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).

[i] Raine J W and H Lloyd (2013) Public Management Reform and the Regulation of Private Business: Risk-Driven, Customer-Centric and all Joined-Up? International Journal of Public Administration, forthcoming.

What Difference Might Police and Crime Commissioners Make?

John Raine and Paul Keasey

The elections on 15th November 2012 of 41 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) for the police force areas of England and Wales (outside London) represents the start of one of the biggest experiments in democratic governance. The new office of PCC, for which there is no known precedent in policing around the world, surely represents the most significant change in at least fifty years in how the police in England and Wales are governed and held to account. The replacement of Police Authorities (an assembly of nominated councillors and independent members) by PCCs has generated much public debate since it was first proposed back in 2010. Proponents argued that it would make the police more directly accountable and more responsive to local communities. Opponents, on the other hand, highlighted the potential for politicising the police and for local populist policies to take precedence over other vital, but less visible, national policing priorities; for example, counter-terrorism and serious organised crime.

Whatever the realities, it is clear that the introduction of PCCs has the potential to engender any number of far reaching and significant developments in the fields of policing, criminal justice and community safety, more broadly, and the change deserves to be closely monitored and evaluated.  While some of the key intended ‘outcomes’, such as better police performance and enhanced public confidence and trust in the police, may only become apparent over the longer term, there are other important issues concerning the change of democratic ‘process’ that are certainly of more immediate interest.

Among the many interesting questions raised in this respect three seem especially significant to us:  first, what might be the implications of the new framework for the nature and patterns of accountability, authority and influence regarding policing policy and practice?  Second, to what extent can the introduction of new framework be seen as being congruent with the Coalition Government’s policy goals of ‘localism’, enhanced democratic governance and citizen engagement? And third, how might the ‘local commissioning’ role of PCCs affect the wider criminal justice and community safety policy and institutional landscape beyond policing?

And what makes these questions particularly interesting is the complex interplay of actors and accountabilities involved in the new framework.  For example, the PCC, as a directly-elected office holder, will feel accountable to the local voters for local policing priorities and practices in their particular police area but it is the chief constable who remains wholly responsible for operational policing matters. At the same time, while local voters will have chosen their PCC primarily to address their concerns and priorities, there is also an accountability requirement on the PCC in relation to national policing priorities as established by the Home Secretary (through what is referred to as the ‘Strategic Policing Requirement’). Moreover, since most PCCs will have stood as candidates for a particular national political party they are also likely to feel some sense of accountability towards their political masters, whether/or both at national level or locally. Then one further element of complexity arises in the form of Police and Crime Panels (PCPs), these having been established in each police area, and comprising nominated local councillors, whose role is (also) to hold the PCC to account.

It will be fascinating to see just how these competing pressures on PCCs will work out in practice in different parts of the country; and how the tensions are resolved between, for example: national and local policing priorities; between local voter priorities and political party priorities; between the chief constables’ operational responsibilities and the PCC’s role in strategic oversight; and between the professional advice and authority of the chief constable on the one hand, and the scrutinizing attentions of the local Police and Crime Panel on the other.  Probably some sparks must be expected to fly in some quarters as opinions, backgrounds, sources of authority and personalities vie with one another to try and impose their way, and not least at a time of shrinking police budgets because of the austerity climate of the public finances.

A fuller description of such accountability tensions and implications is to be found in our recent article – Raine JW and P Keasey (2012) ‘From Police Authorities to Police and Crime Commissioners: might policing become more publicly accountable?’, International Journal of Emergency Services, 1, 2, 122-134.


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).

Paul Keasey is a Doctoral Researcher in the School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham.  His doctoral thesis focuses on the impact of the Police and Crime Commissioners initiative and, in part, their affect upon public confidence in policing.  Paul is also a Superintendent in West Midlands Police.

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.