Crime and Punishment- Fifty pages of anti-crime measures, but where’s the consultation?
The current UK Government has made one of its key selling points a tough stance on law and order. Over the past couple of months, we’ve seen intensely controversial legislation coming out which would take a strict approach to regulating UK borders, legislation that could heavily restrict the right to protest (we’re still waiting for a response to our FOI request on the consultation on that one), increasingly restrictive provisions on traveller groups, and a whole host of other measures designed to show a tough front. This Tuesday, they revealed the latest plank, the Beating Crime Plan.
As with many of the other proposals, they’ve already sparked controversy. Perhaps most controversial is the expansion of stop and search, a measure widely condemned as ineffective, and long demonstrated to disproportionately target ethnic minorities; and the suggestion that more visible community service, described by the Prime Minister as ‘hi-vis chain gangs’, might help to reduce crime. The legal community has also raised concerns over the capacity of courts to deal with an increase in work where there is already a backlog.
For us though, the major concern is the apparent lack of consultation on the plan. The Independent report that the police were not only not consulted on the new plan but didn’t even know it was being drawn up before its release. In the same report, they also claim that the plan was written “in a matter of days”. Whilst the latter of these claims remains unverified, the first seems to be true, with senior representatives from various police groups reporting they heard about the plan only a few hours before it was released in a briefing with the policing minister.
The idea that such a plan could be devised, let alone implemented without even speaking to the primary stakeholders seems utterly absurd. Not only does it mean that the Government is unlikely to have a proper appreciation of the practicalities of the proposals, but also it raises questions about who they have spoken to. Have these proposals just been conjured up out of thin air? What advice have they sought out? Policymaking of this sort, in this manner, and (if true) on these timescales is a recipe for disaster which at best will not have the intended effect, and at worst could have significant negative impacts on policing and society.
There is also a trust issue at stake. One of the major roles of consultation and engagement is to build trust between stakeholders and decision-makers, something that is even more important when you are going to be asking those stakeholders to be applying the new policy. Here, the Government may be taking an even greater risk. Relations between the police and Government are already strained- last week the Police Federation, the statutory staff association for police officers (other than superintendents and chief superintendents) took the dramatic step of publishing an open letter declaring no confidence in the Home Secretary. Not consulting them on matters such as this is hardly a way to begin rebuilding trust.
The proposals have left us with many questions, and we’re going to attempt to find out more about how they were arrived at, through FOI if necessary. Tackling crime is one of the most significant roles of Government and it should always be approached carefully, seriously and with a focus on evidence-based policy. We’ll keep you updated as we find out more.