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Labour backs PCC system reforms

Labour has backed demands for reform of the new system of directly-elected police and crime commissioners by a former head of Scotland Yard whose review found "fatal flaws" in the set-up.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the status quo was not an option and changes proposed by Lord Stevens as part of a wide-ranging review of policing set up by the Opposition would now be examined.

Ed Miliband said the report - which also calls for a renewed focus on neighbourhood policing and tougher disciplinary procedures among its 37 recommendations - would "set a new direction for policing in the 21st century".

But he ruled out the creation of a single national police force - one of the suggestions made by the Lord Stevens' expert commission to end what it called the "untenable" 43-force structure in place in England and Wales.

The first wave of 41 police and crime commissioners, who have the power to set force budgets and even hire and fire chief constables, were elected in November last year for a four-year term.

A very low turnout fuelled concerns over their legitimacy and there has been a catalogue of complaints against them including f iddling expenses, electoral fraud and bullying in a turbulent first year in office.

Ministers insist PCCs "are here to stay" and have pledged to beef up their role.

But the review - which involved a wealth of experts - concluded that the present model is "systemically flawed as a method of democratic governance and should be discontinued in its present form at the end of the term of office" in 2016.

It recommends devolving more funding and control of local policing priorities to local councils and replacing PCCs with a board made up of the leaders of all the local authorities within a force's area.

However it also put forward two alternative options: having a directly-elected chair of that board or hiving off PCCs' powers to set priorities and commission services to a directly-elected board.

Lord Stevens said that despite some doing good work " the current PCC model appears to be failing to deliver".

He added: "Over the past year there have been well-documented problems with how the PCCs have appointed their staff, how they handle their relationships with chief officers.

"It is therefore our opinion that the single individual model of accountability that has been introduced has serious failings and does not provide effective democratic governance of police forces covering large areas, diverse communities and millions of people."

Ms Cooper pointed out that Labour had opposed the Government's creation of PCCs and had consistently pushed for reform.

"Labour PCCs have been working hard to make the best of the current system in the meantime and deliver valuable work," she said.

"But the system itself is flawed and the question now is not whether to reform but how to reform. So we will consult now on options for reform."

Shadow policing minister Jack Dromey is to lead a public consultation on the commission's proposals - of which Mr Miliband said he expected the "vast majority" to be included in Labour's 2015 general election manifesto.

The commission conceded that there was "little or no consensus" on how to reduce the number of forces but put forward three recommendations: locally-negotiated mergers; a move to around ten regional forces; or single national forces, perhaps separate in England and Wales.

The last Labour government failed with an attempt to merge forces and Ms Cooper said she wanted to see voluntary collaborations put in place to help drive efficiencies.

"We will not support a national force as we believe that would be too large, too centralised and the wrong approach," she added.

In recognition of policing scandals including Hillsborough and the Plebgate row involving former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, Lord Stevens recommends a fundamental shake-up of professional standards in forces in England and Wales.

A new chartered status for police officers - similar to that for nurses - could see them struck off a professional register if they are found guilty of misconduct.

The College of Policing should decide misconduct hearings in public, unlike the current, opaque, disciplinary process, the panel said.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) would be scrapped and replaced by a new Independent Police Standards Commission (IPSC).

The IPSC would be responsible for enforcing the standards set by the College of Policing under the commission's proposals.

Lord Stevens, who introduced neighbourhood policing at the Met, said his commission heard that officers were in danger of "beating a retreat from the beat" to a "discredited" reactive form of policing.

The report recommends the introduction of a Local Policing Commitment, guaranteeing minimum levels of neighbourhood policing, response times and proper updates of investigations.

Other suggested reforms include:

:: Setting out "coherent and principled" requirements on the use of the private sector;

:: Scrapping the new lower £19,000 starting salary for constables in favour of one reflecting "qualifications and experiences";

:: More work to improve the number of ethnic minority and female staff;

:: New guidelines to "rebuild trust and confidence" and "encourage" police contact with the media;

:: "Urgent attention" to better forensic services;

:: A single platform for all officers to access intelligence.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Mr Miliband said it was " the most serious and comprehensive look at policing for at least half a century".

He said: "Be in no doubt: this report will not gather dust on a shelf; it is a real plan for the next Labour government.

"Neighbourhood police on the beat, held to the highest standards, with priorities set by local people.

"Labour PCCs have been working hard to make the system work as well as possible and doing some good work. But as the commission makes clear, the system is flawed and change is required.

"That doesn't mean that we should simply return to the past. We will consider and consult."

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