Police and Crime Commissioners


5 Dec 2012

11 am

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): It is nice to be under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Dorries. I begin this debate on police commissioners’ role in early intervention by congratulating all the police and crime commissioners elected last month. They have an historic role, and they bring a long-overdue democratic element to policing that will strengthen both policing and democracy over time. I hope that by the next police commissioner elections, they will be an even more important and legitimate part of our society, particularly if those elections are held at a sensible time of year with properly resourced freepost election addresses and without the low-level point-scoring that characterised this year’s campaign.

Central to that mission is the clarity and relevance of the vision for police commissioners, and that is what I will address today. My first specific ask for the Minister is to accept my invitation to deliver the keynote address at a House of Commons conference of all police and crime commissioners, discussing how they can help stop crime through early intervention. The conference follows on from the highly successful early intervention and crime conference opened by the Home Secretary last March.

We need our police commissioners to hammer home the two key principles of modern policing: partnership and prevention. Those two principles come together in early intervention. The police have long since realised that they cannot tackle crime on their own. They need effective partnership, and police commissioners are the perfect people to deliver that. One of the smarter breed of top cops, John Carnochan, former head of homicide in Glasgow, says that 1,000 extra police officers would be great, but 1,000 extra health visitors would be clever. He knows that working with health, education, the third sector and other partners to stop crime before it happens—rather than just picking up the pieces afterwards —is the future of policing.

The new police commissioners could be the midwives of a cultural change in policing from late intervention to early and pre-emptive intervention. The police will always have the task of reacting to crime, but sustained crime prevention and reduction requires a strategy that unites the police with all the other agencies, whether public, private, third sector or business, that can help tackle the behaviours and lifestyles that breed antisocial behaviour and crime.

Talk to any experienced police officer, from the local bobby to the chief constable, and they will tell you the same stories about the families that cause trouble and the newborn baby destined to carry on the tradition who will come their way in 12, 14 or 16 years’ time. Many of us—teachers, health workers, councillors and MPs—have the same experience. We all know that if we were not so busy firefighting, the best time to sort out the problem would be in the first few years of life. That has been common sense for many centuries, but it is now confirmed by a robust scientific evidence base.

Bessel van der Kolk, writing in the US Psychiatric Annals, said that according to his research, people with childhood histories of trauma, abuse and neglect make up almost the entire criminal population. More than one third of the 100,000 most hardened criminals in the UK were in care as children, and half have no school qualifications at all. The Centre for Mental Health tells me that six out of 10 child offenders have speech and communication problems. Tim Bull of the Brook Trust reinforces that tackling the trauma of sexual abuse would greatly affect offending behaviour later in life. I also agree strongly with Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis, president-elect of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, who said:

“I see the new role of police and crime commissioners as an opportunity for someone to have an overview of the increasing demands in relation to community safety in its widest sense that face all public sector organisations at a local level and to look for innovative and creative, sustainable solutions.”

If children acquire a bedrock of basic social and emotional skills in the first three years of life, they have a better chance of being successful in the rest of life, achieving at school, in further education and in work, developing good physical and mental health, making good lifestyle choices and, above all, forming relationships that lead to becoming great parents or carers for the next generation. For all those reasons, police commissioners and police officers know that early intervention programmes giving a good start in the first few years of life are the best possible method of preventing future criminal behaviour.

That was the central message of the two reports on early intervention that I wrote for Her Majesty’s Government last year, and it is why I then wrote to all police and crime commissioner candidates challenging them to adopt early intervention policies as the unique selling point in their relationship with the police. Instead of treading on operational toes or seeking populism and publicity, police commissioners could use their skills, their independence and their role to bring a strategic and long-term view to reducing crime, which would be welcomed by police officers, victims and taxpayers.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the positive response that this debate has generated already. The Revolving Doors Agency reminded me that a quarter of young offenders are themselves fathers, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle that must be broken. Andrew Balchin, the communities director in Wakefield, referred to “bobbies and babies” initiatives in which police community support officers help parents keep children from offending. Councillor Maxi Martin of Merton said that “partnership, partnership, partnership” is everything. Guy Mason reminded me of Save the Children’s families and schools together programme, which is supported by Morrisons. Jean Gross talked about the social and emotional aspects of learning, or SEAL, programme used in every primary class in Nottingham between ages five and 11. Marion Bennathan of the Nurture Group Network highlighted the link between absenteeism at school and crime. Effective information sharing between partners was mentioned by Neal Kieran, principal community protection officer in St Albans.

Many other practical points have been made. The Local Government Association and the Children’s Society have taken an interest in this debate, because they see that police commissioners can play a role in getting to the source of crime rather than waiting until 15, 16 or 20 years later to pick up the pieces expensively. That demonstrates to me that massive expertise is available if Government can encourage police commissioners to use it.

Many police commissioners to whom I have spoken are well aware of this agenda. They range across the parties and include Staffordshire’s Matthew Ellis, Nottinghamshire’s Paddy Tipping, Nick Alston of Essex and Winston Roddick of North Wales, to name but a few. Police commissioners are perfectly positioned to explore the role of policy making based on evidence of what works, as well as social finance and payment by results in reducing crime.

We pioneered that approach with the police and other partners in developing Nottingham as the first early intervention city. Enlightened, forward-thinking police officers became the driving force of the new partnership. Alan Given, Shaun Beebe, Peter Moyes and many others were at the forefront of the movement. At one point, local police were prepared to signal their commitment to stopping crime before it started by financially supporting local health visitors. We then brought the family nurse partnership programme to Nottingham, giving more than 100 teen mums and their babies a dedicated health visitor and the social and emotional skills to make a bright future for themselves. It cost the same amount of money as banging up three 16-year-olds in a secure unit for a year, two of whom, incidentally will go on to reoffend. That sort of investment in cutting the supply of dysfunction and criminality is a no-brainer. I ask the police commissioners to join the rest of us in explaining this to the Treasury as the biggest deficit reduction program it could dream of. Billions of pounds that we currently spend on late intervention could be saved by small investments early in life, to prevent people from going wrong.

The police commissioners should follow the words of Sir Robert Peel, who wisely put preventing crime first in the list, when creating the Metropolitan police, even ahead of catching offenders. This is going further than police commissioners lobbying to ensure that those on the edges of the justice system or at risk of offending receive support, which they should, from mental health, social care, drug and alcohol and employment services, important as those things are. This deeper step is about pre-emption: stopping crime before it starts. With the right early intervention policies, we can forestall many of the mental and social problems that are factors in generating antisocial behaviour and crime later in life. Cut off the supply. Tackle the causes, not just the symptoms. Yes, swat mosquitoes, but drain the swamp, too.

Early intervention can break the cycle of dysfunction that makes some families nurseries for offending. It can do this much more cheaply and reliably than intervening later and can generate lasting savings for local budgets, and lasting gains in the quality of life for local neighbourhoods.

Police commissioners using early intervention to attack the causes of crime at the source will also unlock, with tiny investments, a huge new stream of money. We are already seeing payback from investment in social and emotional programmes; those involving young offenders are massively reducing costly reoffending. Such programmes —for example, at Peterborough and Doncaster prisons— are also the pioneers of social finance and innovative bond issues.

I was recently in New York, where the deputy mayor made an innovative agreement with Goldman Sachs and a provider of social and emotional development. This reduced recidivism in 16 to 18-year-olds, generated a profit for Goldman and may ultimately result in a money-saving wing or prison closure.

Police commissioners should, in their oversight of policing budgets, work with institutions like the Early Intervention Foundation and others to insist that every police service has, as standard, such long-sighted invest-to-save programmes. That will create an income stream that the police will be pleased to receive year after year, as the savings accumulate.

Doing this locally is difficult. Sharing the costs and the benefits is the key to such innovative investment. If a health visitor can help prevent the expensive costs of policing and criminal justice further down the line, police commissioners should start working with local health services to plan for the spending and saving from prevention and early intervention. Local authorities, which are now taking on new responsibilities for public health, need to join these new collective financial arrangements, to invest a little bit now and redistribute transparently the funds that are generated by stopping crime early. Building effective partnerships with education and health will enable joint spending to take place early on, followed by redistribution of the big savings to all partners later.

My second ask of the Minister is that he encourages examples of early intervention and promotes it by recruiting just 10 of our willing police commissioners and linking them with those who have the expertise to provide evidence-based programmes, the monetisation of outcomes and the sometimes complicated contractual partnership arrangements—let us try to get some standardisation into the programmes to save a lot of money—to help us make such arrangements an everyday feature of policing by the end of the first term of the first police commissioners.

This is not hopeful speculation; this is happening now. Early intervention has proven results. I mentioned attaching health visitors to teenage mothers, as is done in Nottingham. We draw on a 30-year evidence base from the family nurse partnership and see reduced crime, better job prospects and educational achievement. We introduced the family intervention project, which has seen 100% of its clients complying with community sentences while engaged on the programme. These are not just the noisy neighbours; they are the most difficult families in our city. There has been a 56% improvement in children’s attendance at school. There have been big gains. Police commissioners could also link with the new troubled families initiative and make self-financing and, indeed, profit-making deals that could reduce crime as well as harvesting dividends for reinvestment in policing.

Again, if the Minister and the Home Office wish to take this further, those of us involved in early intervention would be happy to help with the nuts and bolts.

In a typically British way, this important extension of democracy has had a difficult birth. However, police commissioners should put that behind them. They now have it within their power not only to give voice to ordinary people, but to make a strategic, lasting contribution to making our society a safer and happier place. If they use their position creatively to become champions of early intervention and argue for effective crime-reduction programmes that make us safer and generate a return to the taxpayer, they will demonstrate to all those who did not vote last week that there is a clear reason to do so next time.

11.16 am

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr Jeremy Browne): It is a pleasure for all hon. Members to see you safely back in our parliamentary bosom, Ms Dorries.

As always, I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), whom for the purposes of this debate I call my hon. Friend, on his sterling and sustained work on early intervention. To summarise what I am going to say in the next 10 to 12 minutes, I agree with him. He is right to give this issue his attention. The evidence is compelling. There are some encouraging long-term crime trends in Britain and other countries in the western world, but those will only be sustained by having a long-term analysis of and understanding about what causes crime, and with solutions to those causes that drive down the figures in future.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned police and crime commissioners. People abbreviate that, calling them police commissioners, and in doing so risk overlooking an important component of the commissioners’ work, which is the “and crime” dimension. They are not just the chairman of the local police force, organising its budgets and recruitment practices. They are also there to take a view about how to reduce crime in the area that they are responsible for, which may mean short-term interventions with immediate crime problems—I hope that they will do that—and about having a broader, longer-term view about the causes of crime and what they can do to bring about positive changes.

I will talk a little bit about police and crime commissioners, but first let me illustrate why early intervention is so important and then talk briefly about some measures that we are already putting place, which could work either with the commissioners or standing on their own, but are nevertheless important in terms of the broader issue that the hon. Gentleman brings to our attention.

On the benefits of early intervention, I want to bring two brief studies to the attention of the House. One was an American study that found that children growing up in violent households had a seven times higher chance of developing alcohol problems than children who did not suffer such adverse experiences at home in their formative years; the chance of developing illicit drug use problems was four and a half times higher, and the chance of committing violence was nearly nine times higher. There are causal links, and the likelihood of children whose first few years are the most difficult having such problems is not just 5% or 10% greater, but hundreds of per cent. greater. The second study was done in the United Kingdom, and it showed that children who were identified as being at risk at the age of three had two and a half times more criminal convictions by the time they turned 21 than those not so identified.

The value of what the hon. Gentleman has brought to our attention is obvious, and the benefits are felt sooner than some people might realise in some contexts, such as truanting from school and petty—entry-level, if you like—criminality among relatively young children. We are not necessarily talking about a 20 or even 15-year time lag; there might be a much shorter time lag before the benefits of today’s early intervention can be seen.

The Government have introduced several measures that we hope will have a beneficial impact. We are spending —if the different funds are aggregated—£2.3 billion this year, £2.4 billion next year and £2.5 billion the year after on the early intervention grant. I should not anticipate the autumn statement, which will happen in just over an hour, but I suspect that not every Government budget will receive such year-on-year increases. However, we are keen to sustain funding for the early intervention grant. The Government are also extending entitlement to free early education to two-year-olds from next year, so that more children will be given opportunities at that formative stage. A separate sum of £448 million has been allocated for the troubled families programme, to ensure that we have the right multi-agency hands-on approach for the 120,000 families around the country who have been identified as in the greatest difficulty. I know from first-hand experience, because I have sat in on the meetings, that the Prime Minister takes a direct interest in that initiative, and that it has the support of many Departments. It is hugely important for the life opportunities and prospects of the children of those families that it should succeed; and it is also important in relation to the issue that we are debating—the impact on crime in the future.

The family-nurse partnership programme is a scheme to help, particularly, vulnerable teenage mothers who perhaps do not have the support network that they need in their family or community to give their children the best start in life. We are expanding that, and thousands of young women will experience the benefits of the programme in the next three years. That is intended to ensure that children have the right early upbringing—that they are raised well and have the right diet—to stand them in good stead.

There are other schemes being run in different Departments. We hope that many of the changes in the Department for Education will be beneficial for attendance rates and ways of dealing with children who have behavioural problems, and will improve performance and exam attainment. There is a quite close correlation between success at school and likely propensity to criminality either while the child should be at school or later. The link is not an absolute one: some high-achieving children go on to be criminal, and some low-achieving ones do not; but there is a correlation. On the employment side, there is also a link between worklessness and a propensity to a life of criminality, and we are trying to do more to help young people to get apprenticeships, for example. The Government funded 360,000 apprenticeships last year, and have also spent £30 million on the innovation fund, which supports about 17,000 of the most vulnerable young people over a three-year period. I have mentioned those things because I would not want the House to form the impression that the area in question is receiving no attention. Senior and Cabinet-level Ministers, including in the Home Office—the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is another good example—are trying to do more about the problems that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

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The hon. Gentleman discussed police and crime commissioners and I want to spend the last few minutes of my speech on that subject. Their purpose is to give the work of the police greater public accountability, but also to give a sense of leadership, in public communications terms, to policing in each community. I hope that they will become important figureheads and help to give impetus to improvements in their police forces, but also drive a public debate within communities about what can be done to tackle the sorts of crime that MPs hear about every day—lower-level crime, vandalism, antisocial behaviour, late-night noise and graffiti. I hope that they will be interested in all those issues, as well as in more serious crimes such as domestic violence and burglary.

I hope that the commissioners will see—and this is the purpose of the debate—the wider benefits of working with other agencies besides the police. The police in my constituency of Taunton Deane are very responsive in working with schools, voluntary community groups, neighbourhood watch schemes, churches, cadets and scout groups. All those groups can play an important role. Local businesses are also often willing to support initiatives that reduce local crime and help with early intervention. I hope that PCCs will be imaginative about their use of budgets and time, so that as well as working with the police they can encourage the police and others to work together for the benefit of the community.

The hon. Gentleman raised two specific points—two “asks”, I think he said. The first one was easy, when he was good enough to ask me whether I would speak at an event he is arranging with police and crime commissioners. I would be delighted to speak at such an event and hope that by doing so I give force and the Government’s backing to exactly the type of activity that he brings to our attention. Diary permitting, obviously, I say yes, thank you, to that invitation.

The second point was about bringing together a group of police and crime commissioners. I think that the hon. Gentleman suggested a group of 10. I am interested in that, and would like to consider what we could do and how officials might want to organise it. Of course, the Home Office must do a difficult balancing act: we cannot tell police forces that we are letting go and that we want police and crime commissioners with their direct electoral mandate to make decisions about their time and budgets in their area and then, as soon as we have said it, tell them that we are going to organise lots of events where we will tell them how to organise their affairs. We want to get the right balance, and we want them to take the leadership role. However, the Home Office Ministers met all the police and crime commissioners on Monday to talk through some of the programme and the activities that we have in the Home Office, to introduce them to some of the ideas. I see huge virtue in sharing early intervention best practice, particularly with police and crime commissioners who are interested. I am keen to work with the hon. Gentleman on ideas of that type, and on other projects, to make further progress on early intervention.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.