Saturday, June 21, 2008

Foundation Limpets

Somewhat unresponsive to taxpaying customers

Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), says that police chiefs should be able to set their own priorities, guided by local people - not the Home Office. An end to Labour's top-down target driven culture and all that red tape.

Well, hurrah for that! It seems BOM and Acpo are 100% in agreement.

Just one small detail - how exactly will local people guide their local police? Elected sheriffs?

Ken says he wants local forces to be eligible for foundation status, just like foundation hospitals, and:

"For the issues that bother people like me and you, in our street, that should be down to us frankly to sit down with our local team, to do a deal with them about what it is they think is important and then for us collectively to monitor how that's done"

Hmm... frankly sit down with our local team, eh? Collectively to monitor... riiiigght...

"We ought to trust the public and neighbourhoods [to] direct their priorities, but I would insist that to guard against a free-for-all there has to be a standard approach to many other things, for example, the way we handle intelligence - organised crime and counterterrorism."

Ah. It's that old free-for-all again.

You see Ken, while we all agree we need something like the FBI to handle big national criminal problems and counterterrorism, when it comes to day-to-day local policing, we actually want a "free-for-all". We desperately need local experimentation and innovation.

And as for local accountability, "sitting down with" and "collectively to monitor" just doesn't hack it I'm afraid. We need the clearcut ability to sack you. We need elected sheriffs.

It's the limpet problem. Foundation status may be great for service producers, and it may possibly eliminate the worst lunacies of Whitehall driven management, but it does absolutely nothing to give us customers a say. It certainly doesn't allow us to chop the management.

Take the BBC. That's had foundation status since its foundation. It constantly claims to be consulting and monitoring. But essentially it's a huge tax-funded quango that serves itself and its political paymasters, not its customers. And it clings to its anti-competitive position like a superglued limpet, rejecting all movement. Just yesterday its Director General solemnly warned "you tinker with that [the allocation of telly tax] at your peril" . Oh, yeah? What's the worst that could happen? Wossy gets paid less and we lose a few me-too reality shows?

So Acpo is halfway there, but only halfway.

Unfortunately, it's the other half that's the really important bit.

PS We've been taking a closer look at Sheriff Joe from Maricopa County Arizona, trying to discover whether his robust methods have actually reduced crime. It must be said the jury hasn't yet returned. Crime in Arizona has certainly fallen since the early 90s, but it's fallen right across the US, after voters demanded an end to soppy 1960s "justice". So while Joe looks decidedly tougher than your average US sheriff - and has become a hate figure for American liberals - it isn't clear his tent jail and chain gangs have actually cut crime any more than the general toughening up of US criminal justice.

1 comment:

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