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Section highlightHouses into homes This report details findings to emerge from the evaluation during the first six months of delivery (April to September 2012).
Written Statement - Update on tobacco policy »Standardised packaging of tobacco products and Sub Committees on The Smoke-free Premises etc. (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2012.Learn more »
Internet short cut for Welsh village with the longest name
The Welsh village with the longest name in the UK has succeeded in at least making one thing a whole lot shorter – the time it takes to surf the internet.
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National minimum standards for regulated child care »These standards determine whether child minding and day care settings are providing adequate care for children under the age of 8.Learn more »
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Section highlightFurther and Higher Education (Governance and Information) (Wales) Bill 2013
Removes a number of technical restrictions and controls on colleges without changing the principal powers of colleges to provide further, higher and secondary education.
Legislative programme 2012 - 2013 »
Addressing the Assembly in the Senedd today, the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, detailed the eight bills in the Welsh Government’s 5-year Legislative Programme that will be brought forward during the second year of the Welsh Assembly.Learn more »
Section highlightCommunity Infrastructure Levy
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2nd Supplementary Budget 2012-13 »
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Oral Statement - The Welsh Assembly Government’s response to the Home Office consultation on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
I welcome the opportunity to inform Members of the Welsh Assembly Government’s response to the Home Office consultation on the police reform and social responsibility Bill, and for a wider discussion of the implications of those proposals for Wales. As Members will be aware, the Home Office has published wide-ranging proposals for police reform, the cornerstone of which is the abolition of police authorities and their replacement with directly elected police commissioners.
First, let me give you a flavour of the UK Government’s respect agenda when it comes to dealing with the Assembly Government on important issues such as policing. 'Policing in the 21st Century’ was published on 26 July during recess. The consultation closed on 20 September, but despite my numerous requests, the Home Secretary found it impossible to meet me to discuss the impact of these proposals on Wales until two days after the consultation had closed, on 22 September. Nevertheless, during the consultation period, WAG worked closely with key stakeholders, such as the Police Authorities of Wales and the Welsh Local Government Association to develop our response.
If the UK Government had consulted us in a timely way, I could have told it that the proposals made no sense for Wales. She may not have wanted to hear this, but I have made clear to the Home Secretary that the Welsh Assembly Government remains firmly opposed to these proposals. We know that the WLGA is opposed, and that the chief constables of Wales have concerns. The Police Authorities of Wales has made a very strong and well argued case against the proposals, based not on self-preservation but on a well informed and reasoned analysis of the argument for reform and the practical difficulties of the Home Office’s proposals.
Why do we oppose these proposals? First, we do not think that the Home Office has made a case for changing the current system. It suggests that it will replace bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability, but forces are already accountable to their local communities through their police authorities. Police authorities already have either 17 or 19 members, the majority of whom are democratically elected councillors, and the remainder independent representatives from the communities served by the forces. It is hard to see how replacing 17 or 19 members with one commissioner will increase democratic accountability. It is also difficult to see how one person will represent the diversity of a police force area, and the argument that it is no different from an MP or an AM representing a constituency does not wash, given the size of police force areas.
The Home Office has also suggested that police authorities are invisible to their communities, but surveys conducted by Welsh police authorities suggest a high level of awareness, with a significant majority of respondents knowing who their police authorities are and what they do. It seems, therefore, that the proposals are based on fiction rather than fact.
We must ask who wants police commissioners. When I have spoken to residents in Flintshire, no-one has ever said to me, 'What we really need, Carl, is a police commissioner.’ What they have said is that they want to see more bobbies on the beat. Therefore, I suggest that the Home Secretary would be better off spending her time trying to protect police numbers rather than dabbling with bureaucracy.
There is a real problem. Figures from Police Authorities Wales suggest that even with the modest scenario of cuts currently being discussed by the UK Government as part ofthe comprehensive spending review—a 17.6 per cent decrease in funding in cash terms, or 25 per cent in real terms—there would be an annual deficit for police forces in Wales of £115.2 million by 2014-15. This amounts to a 19 per cent reduction in the overall budget over 5 years, with a third of that—just over £38 million—needing to be cut for budgets to be set in February 2011. This would equate to a 29 per cent reduction in police numbers. Just this morning I met with PAW, which told me that this could mean job losses of up to 2,000 in Wales.
Not only is the need for this highly questionable, but there are also practical difficulties with its implementation, which the Home Office seems inclined to ignore.We are fundamentally concerned about one individual having so much power, and the checks and balances proposed by the Home Office are, in our view, wholly inadequate. Can we be convinced that one individual will reflect the priorities of the many people in our communities whose needs often fall under the radar, such as victims of domestic abuse or hate crime?
The Home Office proposes to establish policing and crime panels in each force area, comprised of elected councillors and independent members who will, in theory, hold the commissioner to account. However, it is hard to see how they will do this without proper powers, and as well as powers, they need the capacity to examine activity in detail by commissioning their own reports and information.
This means that the panels will have to have some form of officer support, including in respect of financial probity and legality. Without this level of support and the appropriate powers we believe that the panels will be toothless tigers,unable to provide the sorts of checks and balances or expert advice essential to the good corporate governance and stewardship of public funds envisaged by the Home Office.
Each police authority in Wales is currently made up of 17 or 19 members with specialists contributing on matters such as financial planning.It is difficult to see how four individual commissioners would be able to carry out this level of work with the necessary breadth of understanding.
We also have concerns about the vesting of tax-raising powers in a single individual. There are significant practical implications: as the legislation currently stands, unitary authorities, as the billing authorities, cannot formally set their budget and issue council tax notices without the precept having been agreed. Unitary authority representation at the most senior level on police authorities has played a key role in ensuring that the precept agreed is reasonable, avoiding the need for any capping arrangements and the resultant cost of rebilling. We do not believe that this safeguard will exist under the new proposals.
It is also critical that the Home Office proposals around referenda on precept increases are consistent with what Communities and Local Government is proposing in relation to council tax. They also need to take into account the different approaches that we may take in Wales. I am in contact with CLG Ministers on the proposed decentralisation and localism Bill with a view to obtaining maximum legislative discretion for Wales around the setting of council tax and referendum agenda that would give us more time to consult fully on these proposals.
More clarity is needed around the arrangements for audit and accountability.The Home Office has argued that there will be accountability to the electorate, but a democratic mandate is not the same as robust arrangements for transparency and ongoing accountability and audit.
One of the arguments for reform says that it will promote more collaborative working and therefore help to save money in the difficult financial climate. Members will be aware that the police in Wales have set an extremely high standard for working collaboratively. Indeed the police authorities of Wales have won awards for their collaborative working and have, I believe, set the benchmark for other forces across the UK to aspire to. Operation Tarian is one example.
The Home Office also intends the commissioners to have a significant role in partnership working at local level. The Home Office recognises that community safety partnerships have a significant role in delivering devolved functions and Welsh Assembly Government strategies, and that a distinctive model needs to be developed for Wales. Again, however, we need to see the detail of what the Home Office proposes, and we will not accept any proposal that overlaps with our significant role in the work of community safety partnerships.
In summary, the Welsh Assembly Government remains opposed in principle to the replacement of police authorities with commissioners, and we believe that police authorities should be retained. I have told the Home Secretary that we believe a compromise whereby, in Wales,police authorities remain, but with the elected commissioner as chair, would offer the democratic accountability that the Home Office is seeking, while maintaining the important strengths of the current system.
We therefore remain concerned about the UK Government’s apparent disregard for what it calls the 'respect agenda’. The most recent example was a letter that I received from the Home Secretary on 5 October, which completely disregards our objections and asks me to give formal agreement by 7 October—two days later—to any provisions in the police reform and social responsibility Bill that vary Welsh Ministers’ functions or add to the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales.
I am happy to continue working with the Home Office on finding a resolution to our different approaches, and I very much hope that we will now adopt a constructive approach to working together.