When will they ever learn?

Catherine Staite

The news of the death of Pete Seeger has reminded me again of his old song ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ The line ‘oh when will they ever learn?’ has been running through my head since I saw an item on the local news about police officers and mental health professionals working together to prevent people with mental health problems ending up in police cells for want of the right support. ‘Good stuff!’ you might think.  Indeed it is  – but it is also profoundly depressing to hear such a venture being reported as ‘new’.

In 1993 I led a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary team, which diverted people with mental health problems and learning disabilities from custody.  The team included all the right skills and necessary statutory powers – a specialist social worker, two community psychiatric nurses, a senior probation officer and a police inspector.  We had the backing of all the chief officers and the team went wherever they were needed, the police station, the bridewell below the magistrates court and the remand and hospital wings of the local prison.

The approach was simple but effective. By bringing the right skills into the system at the right time, we were often able to help get the right decisions and find the right services. Within a year, the prison hospital wing was no longer full of prisoners with mental illness and learning disabilities. This was a time when the local mental hospital was being run down for closure, so it was no small feat. Of course, some of our clients were very disturbed and a small number were dangerous, or had committed very serious offences so they had to stay in prison or be moved to a secure hospital but at least we knew who they were and where they were.  We advocated for them. They were not dumped and forgotten.

We shared our learning and even wrote a book about our approach which was replicated and adapted all over the country. It was cheap and effective because it made better collective use of existing individual professional skills, capacity and powers and partner agencies’ budgets.  It was about reducing demand, reducing costs and reducing re-offending – but most of all it was about reducing risk and suffering.

‘What’s not to like?’ you might ask and you’d be right but, somehow or other, twenty years later, police officers and mental health nurses are re-embarking on the same journey. Is it because mental health services are still the “Cinderella’ – and their budgets have been cut even when the rest of the NHS has had increases in funding? Is it because we are still so ignorant and fearful about mental illness? Or is it because innovation is generated by enthusiasts on short-term funding so it doesn’t get mainstreamed or embedded? Perhaps it is all of the above.

Whatever the reason, our collective inability to use the available evidence to guide our thinking and to take shared professional and organizational responsibility for public policy challenges means we are doomed to keep making the same mistakes.

When will we ever learn?

Catherine Staite

Catherine Staite is the Director of INLOGOV. She provides consultancy and facilitation to local authorities and their partners, on a wide range of issues including on improving outcomes, efficiency, partnership working, strategic planning and organisational development, including integration of services and functions.

PCCs and appointments – When the word ‘fire’ is a verb!

Ian Briggs

This week, the news media is full of concern for certain newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) making personal appointments to their staff.  At face value it does seem rather strange that we are replacing one partially elected body with a handful of appointees with another, but perhaps a more serious issue does sit behind this rather ticklish situation.

In the run up the last year’s election of PCCs, it was highlighted that central to their role would be the power to ‘hire and fire’ Chief Constables – all police officers are technically ‘Agents of the Crown’ and therefore fall outside the scope of much of UK employment law as applied to the remainder of us. Therefore, it is more than reasonable that certain safeguards need to be in place that represent the interests of those who foot the bill for them – us. With PCCs now firmly in place the Home Secretary and other Ministers could put their heads on the pillow at night safe in the knowledge that if any abhorrent Chief Constable were to go off the rails (just think Greater Manchester Police some years back) it would be the PCC who had to deal with this – and if they did make a bit of a hash of dealing with it they could turn around and wash most of the dirt off their hands, by saying “you elected the PCC and they have the powers” so let them get on with it!

But how can you offer an elected individual the power – invested in them through the ballot box – to ‘fire’ if you cannot allow them to hire? If we must trust the PCC to make the right decisions in holding the Chief Constable to account over their performance in the job then does it not follow that we must also trust them to make the right appointments? What we need to concentrate upon here is the word ‘trust’. There is a case to be made that we have seen a progressive erosion of the level of trust that we in civil society place in public officials with successive populist headlines in the press of ‘councillors with their noses in the trough’, senior officers with salaries in multiples higher than the PM and now ‘jobs for the boys’ (and girls) appointed by PCC’s.  In other countries, and foremost amongst these is the USA, much is made of the ‘revolving door’ issue of elected officials bringing in with them a cadre of appointees only to see them disappear when the winds of political change blow and a new mayor or ‘Commissioner’ is brought in.

So what is at question here is the whole issue of executive powers invested in someone through an open and fair democratic election. It would be a fair bet that in more than one police authority there is someone looking carefully at the content of the ‘swearing in’ oath that the PCC made. For decades Tony Benn amongst others has observed that we are often too concerned with the mechanisms of giving power to people and not enough attention is made of who has the power to take that power away from them.

In the final analysis, any democratic society must be judged on the basis of where real power lifes – is it in the hand of the elected or in the hands of the electors? Any lack of transparency or any fudging of this will always lead to problems. There can be little doubt that an already democratically infirm role such as the PCC is now further weakened by these recent revelations and it will take all the political skills that elected PCCs have to bring to bear and shore up the trust we hold in them.

But is it not the weakness of Ministers in not seeing this potential moral hazard in the first place? Any fracturing of trust in PCCs could be potentially problematic upstream for the Home Office, the Cabinet and all those who made the rash statement in the run up to the elections that PCCs were not intended to be in any way political.  Perhaps the Home Secretary may not be able to rest her head on her pillow at night safe in the knowledge that if something does go pear-shared, others will take the blame?


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.

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.