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Have problems with Police and Crime Commissioners resulted in fewer applications for Chief Constable positions?

Have problems with Police and Crime Commissioners resulted in fewer applications for Chief Constable positions?
4 min read

Labour peer Lord Hunt writes ahead of his parliamentary question on 'National Police Chiefs’ Council concern that problems with Police and Crime Commissioners have resulted in fewer applications for Chief Constable positions'


Crime is up, police numbers are down, and public confidence has taken a battering.  Chief Constables may not exactly be the flavour of the month, but they have been dealt a poor hand by the Government whose funding cuts have decimated front line policing. They are also working in an increasingly insecure environment with a high turnover, lack of applicants and concerns re the arbitrary behaviour of some elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

The average tenure of Chief Constables is a mere 3.8 years according to a report of the National Police Chiefs Council published in June2018. Outside London, it falls to 3.65 years. Worryingly, the turnover of female Chief Constables is 20% higher than male colleagues. 

Trigger happy PCCs also face a lack of applicants for the top jobs. In 2015, there was just one application for more than half of all Chief Constable jobs. Two candidates per job was the national average. Alarmingly, many appointments are being filled with only one candidate interviewed: often the sitting Deputy Chief Constable. 

The power of elected Police and Crime Commissioners to remove their Chief Constable almost at will is almost certainly off putting for applicants allied to concerns over the perceived unfairness of the recruitment process. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary himself has complained that talented officers are put off applying because of an assumption that Police and Crime Commissioners have already made their minds up.

In a powerful blog last month, Sara Thornton chair of the National Police Chiefs Council pointed out that being a Chief Constable is hugely demanding with the office one of “constitutional significance’. She lamented the unwillingness of some of our very best officers to want to serve in these important roles. 

She pointed to the many reasons for this including some of the financial disadvantages of moving from a large force to a smaller one to take on the top job together with a reluctance of families to move home. But, she confirmed that concerns about the fairness of the recruitment process and the insecurity of the role of Chief Constable if their relationship with the PCC breaks down were important factors.

The Government has so far washed its hands of the issue and laid it at the doors of PCCs in consultation with local Police and Crime Panels. 

Certainly, PCCs need to look at themselves hard in the mirror to ensure they are neither trigger happy in sacking Chief Constables nor too close to the acting or deputy chief Constable to ensure a truly competitive selection.

But the risk of parochialism is so great that Home Office intervention is required. The Government has powers in the Police Reform Act 2011, to specify the appointment process. They should use it to ensure that a strong field of candidates for every appointment all of whom who should have had senior positions with outside forces.

There’s no doubting the need for Chief Constables to be held accountable given deep underlying concern about the state of policing. But we must have a system which encourages the brightest and the best to want the top jobs. 

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Following an event on 8th October hosted by the College of Policing, this statement was issued:

"Everyone involved in policing has an interest in supporting Police and Crime Commissioners and chief officers to develop effective, robust and professional relationships that benefit the public and provide forces with visionary, inclusive and enabling leadership.

"Today's round table agreed to take action in four areas that influence how we better attract, progress and retain chief officers. Firstly, the personal impact on individuals considering chief officer roles, including financial, family and relocation factors. Secondly, ways of supporting PCC and chief officer relationships while enabling effective accountability and governance. Thirdly, selection and continuing development for those taking up chief officer roles. Fourthly, developing policing leaders, from all communities, and diverse backgrounds, to progress towards future senior roles.

"Following the round table the College of Policing will write to chief constables and PCCs summarising the joint actions agreed and proposing next steps. The round table will reconvene for a further meeting in January to oversee this important work." 
 
Chief Constable Mike Cunningham, College of Policing CEO
Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners Chair
Chief Constable Sara Thornton, National Police Chiefs' Council Chair
Chief Constable Andy Rhodes, Chief Police Officers Staff Association Chair
Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, Police Superintendents' Association Vice President

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